Sakura and sunshine

So, as evident from my last post, I have made it my mission to enjoy the lovely sakura while they’re still around. I awoke on Saturday to blue skies and sunshine. After my morning class (yes, I have class every Saturday morning from 9:00-10:30 am.. Yuck), I decided to check out an area in Tokyo called Yanaka, which I had been meaning to visit for a while.

I honestly don’t think I could have picked a better time or day, because the cherry blossoms were in full bloom, and starting to lose their petals.

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Yanaka is an area known for it’s old-fashioned houses and atmosphere, so as I made my way towards popular market street known as Yanaka Ginza, I found myself walking down quiet little streets, overflowing with trees and flowers from all sides.

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(So, heads up: there are a LOT of photos)

As I approached the entrance to the market, I was greeted by the friendly, laid-back atmosphere which I had heard that Yanaka is known for.

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Although there were lots of tourists crowding the streets (aren’t there always?), it seemed like many of the people shopping were locals, simply going through their daily routine. It’s hard to tell who here is really a “local” local, and who is actually from another part of Japan, and just drawn here for the same reason as the many foreign tourists. Maybe that’s just the way Yanaka is, but there was definitely a sense of familiarity that many shoppers shared with the vendors that made it seem like everyone knew each other.

As I made my way down the street, I began noticing that Yanaka has some sort of cat theme going on. There were statues and images of cats everywhere and on everything. There was even a store that advertised “no cat, no life,” and sold a wide variety of cat-themed things.

I did some research and discovered that Yanaka, and the Cemetery Park in particular, is home to a plethora of stray cats. Although I didn’t see many of these fabled felines, apparently many of them are quite friendly, and approach many people looking for a belly rub or handouts (however, feeding them is discouraged).

As I reached the end of the Ginza market, I was greeted by a large staircase, which is apparently quite famous in Tokyo.

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I even managed to grab a shot of two people dressed in traditional Japanese outfits.

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I was mostly interested in the shoes, and how difficult walking up those stairs must have been, but it also emphasized the old-fashioned feeling of the area.

My destination was the Yanaka Cemetery Park, which is one of Tokyo’s most famous graveyards and holds over 7000 graves (and what feels like the same amount of cherry trees). I could see the beginning of the graveyard just down the street from the top of the staircase, so I headed towards the mass of green pink and white.

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The area also hosts over 100 temples, so I was prepared for some detours along the way. And sure enough, I made it less than a block before getting distracted by a temple on the side of the road.

The temple itself wasn’t all that spectacular, so the only reason I mention it is because I feel like it offers yet another example of the strange mix of modern and historic which permeates the city

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Right smack in the middle of the temple grounds was a shiny new car, parked next to something-hundred year-old shrubs and trees. It’s just… Strange for me…

Ok, so I’m getting to the good part soon, I promise.

I found the entrance to the graveyard easily, although as I had stopped to look at a map, an old Japanese man came over to try to give me directions (but mostly I think to practice his English). Although he basically just pointed out where we were on the map and told me where the train station was, it was fun chatting with him and I even got to try out a couple of Japanese phrases as well.

As soon as I entered the graveyard, a calm fell over me, and I knew that I had found a very special place.

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The massive size of the cemetery thinned out the crowds of people, allowing for a quiet and serene atmosphere. Cherry blossom petals covered the ground, and coated the graves in pink. The sun was warm and bright, but there was a cool breeze which kept the temperature mild, and pulled the cheery blossoms off the trees.

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I soon came across the Tennoji Temple, which actually used to be the temple that the graveyard was designated to.

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Through my research (yes, more nerdy stuff) I discovered that the  Buddhist Tennoji Temple was separated from the cemetery in 1872 when the Japanese government tried to popularize the Shinto religion. In an attempt to increase the amount of Shinto funerals, the Japanese government began to detach Buddhist temples from their graveyards and make them public property. Shinto funerals never really took hold, but the cemetery still remains public.

But anyways, the temple itself was very beautiful and boasted a huge bronze Buddha, as well as several other statues and buildings.

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Following the temple was the famous Sakura-dori (literally “Cherry Blossom Lane”).

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Understandably, this street was much busier with people, but still nothing compared to Ueno or Chiyoda. Walking down this street, as cherry blossoms drifted gently down around me, was almost too magical to believe.

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Coupled with the many beautiful graves, both modern and ancient, Yanaka has so far put all other sakura spots to shame (as far as I’m concerned, anyways).

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I could have spent days just wandering through the tiny graveyard paths, the lovely neighbourhood back roads and the many unique temples.

I enjoyed seeing all the people just going about their day-to-day activities. Clearly everyone was enjoying the great weather and the beautiful blossoms. I especially loved seeing some children playing in the streets with the fallen cherry blossoms like leaves in Autumn.

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I might even try to make it back there before the cherry blossoms are gone, because there was so much I didn’t get to see. But the week looks like it will be a busy one, and the sakura are fading fast, so I might not get the chance. At the very least I’ll have the memories (and hundreds of photos) from Saturday.

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