Mining gems in Okachimachi

| Jan 26, 2013

Mining gems in Okachimachi

On early maps of Edo, as Tokyo was known prior to 1868, Okachimachi is rendered as a town (machi) densely packed with the tiny dwellings of okachi — low-ranked, poorly paid samurai infantry.

The fall fires of Nishigahara

| Nov 25, 2012

The fall fires of Nishigahara

Burning to see fall colors, I head to Tokyo’s northern Kita Ward, where Kyu Furukawa Teien, the former estate of copper magnate Ichibei Furukawa, features not only a traditional Japanese garden but also Western-style flowerbeds of autumn-blooming roses. At this time of the season, ...

Seeking out what's in store for Kuramae

| Oct 28, 2012

Seeking out what's in store for Kuramae

Back when Tokyo was Edo and Tokugawa shoguns ruled the land (1603-1867), the burgeoning city’s most vital staple, rice, was protected in kura (storage houses) along the right bank of the Sumida River. Then, by the simple expedient of adding mae (in front of) ...

Over the top ambitions in Mukogaoka

| Jun 24, 2012

Over the top ambitions in Mukogaoka

The neighborhood of Mukogaoka — literally, “Yonder Hill” — huddles under clouds clustered like violet hydrangea blossoms the morning I arrive to explore. From Hon-Komagome Station on the Nanboku subway line, I head east with a cautious eye skyward through a rust belt of ...

Rolling around Sendagi

| May 27, 2012

Rolling around Sendagi

The Yanesen district of central Tokyo, whose name features bits of the names of the three neighborhoods it comprises (Yanaka, Nezu and Sendagi), charms visitors with its temple-studded streets, craft shops and prewar architecture. Oddly, though, maps in either Japanese or English rarely guide ...

Foxtrotting around Asukayama

| Apr 29, 2012

Foxtrotting around Asukayama

Rising amid flat farmland, Asukayama had long been an untended haunt of foxes and their small prey when, in 1720, Yoshimune Tokugawa, the eighth shogun to rule in Edo (present-day Tokyo), had the hilly upland planted with 1,200 cherry trees, 100 maples and 100 ...

Plum nuts about Ikegami

| Mar 25, 2012

Plum nuts about Ikegami

Whether you call the Prunus mume a plum or an apricot (it is related to both), the flowers are plum elegant on their leafless, shiny branches and help cheer us through winter’s finale. To enjoy them to the full, I seek out Ikegami Baien ...

Venturing into the zone on Showajima

| Feb 26, 2012

Venturing into the zone on Showajima

In his “Meditation XVII,” the English Metaphysical poet John Donne wrote in 1623 that “no man is an island, entire of itself.” Well, yes — but some islands are entirely more manly than others. Take Showajima (Showa Island) in Tokyo’s Ota Ward, for example. ...