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The accompanying wood-block print is a panoramic view of Shibuya about 180 years ago, seen from the top of Dogenzaka hill.

A traveler stands by a beautiful pine tree in the foreground, looking back on the path he has traveled, including Fujimizaka hill, depicted in the distance (top left). Fujimizaka, now Miyamasuzaka, has clusters of houses, indicating a village. Along the village’s right-hand perimeter, the Shibuya river zigzags toward undulating hills in the top center, where Konno Hachiman-gu shrine is located on the site of the medieval fortress of the Shibuya clan (see this column Oct. 7, 2005).

From the bottom of Fujimizaka, a winding path leads toward the picture’s center, ascending into the wooded hill of Dogenzaka. (The horizontal lines dividing the hill, which resemble haze, are a traditional technique of Japanese painting.) The forlorn landscape was once the haunt of a highway robber. Called Owada Dogen, he was a wretched fugitive from a battle in 1526 that marked the demise of the Shibuya clan. Probably arousing sympathy from local villagers, he was commemorated, and the hill was named in his honor.

The pine tree with stone statues at its trunk existed at the bottom of the hill, according to local elders. They especially remember a statue of the god Jizo in a wooden shed by the pine, with accounts of legends and memorable occasions told over the generations. For better or worse, that was where villagers would come to pray or make their wishes.

As Dogenzaka was rapidly developed into a commercial district after the advent of railways, the Shibuya river and its tributaries were covered up to provide space for shops, and the Jizo was moved to another location nearby. The pine remained for some years, but eventually succumbed to the effects of urbanization and died.

Prosperous Shibuya was blasted by air raids in May 24 and 25, 1945. When World War II ended in August of the same year, Dogenzaka was a wide stretch of burned ruins. From among the debris of bombings, a wrecked Jizo statue was found. By the date on its base, 1688, it was identified as the one at the pine tree and was placed in safety at the local community center. A continuing search by local historians led to the discovery of more statues, including the other statue in the print, which is depicted between the pine trunks. They are all being placed at Udagawa Community Center to protect the statues from being dispersed further.

Our walk this month starts at JR and Toyoko Line Shibuya Station, West Exit. Crossing over to Tokyu Plaza, turn left and soon right to walk to the top of Dogenzaka, about 5 minutes. The hilltop is where Route 246 and the Shuto Expressway both curve left, and Dogenzaka forks to the right. If you pause where the traveler stands in the print, what you see is a hill going down which is chockablock with high rises and bears no resemblance to its rustic past. The congestion is alleviated by the zelkova trees lining the main street, which are adorned with illumination in the evening.

Continuing along Route 246, turn right at a brown-roofed entrance to the pedestrian underpass. Walk straight to a T junction ahead, turn right, and then left at the next T, crossing rail tracks. At another T, go left and take the first right where you will soon notice the wooded Nabeshima Shoto Park in the distance. Before the park entrance, a short detour left will take you to the Shoto Museum of Art in a uniquely designed building by Seiichi Shirai (1905-83).

The Nabeshima Shoto Park is what remains of a large tea farm maintained by ex-daimyo lord Nabeshima to create jobs for his samurai retinue. The samurai class had been dissolved as a result of the 1868 Meiji Restoration, when the new government could not afford to continue payment of the hereditary samurai stipend. Gradually encroached on by housing developments, the once extensive farm shrunk to a fraction of the original, which was donated to the city of Tokyo in 1932. The landscape around the pond has a vestige of the terraced tea plant cultivation. The “Shoto” in the park’s name means “the music of the wind in a pine grove.” During the May 1945 air raids, the park became a haven for many refugees.

Leaving the park from its far end, turn right to walk through Shoto, one of Tokyo’s most exclusive residential districts. Bearing left at the Kanze Noh Theater (easily spotted with the large pine at its front), cross over at the second traffic signal and go right. The slow curve in the road mostly follows the culvert of the Udagawa, a tributary of the Shibuya, which merges with the main stream at the junction near Shibuya Station.

Just past a construction site on your left, a modest house with a tiny strip of land is the Udagawa Community Center, home to the old stone statues. Though no one lives there, the little garden is always swept clean and adorned with fresh flowers given to each statue. Of the right-hand stones, the far left is the one depicted in the print, recognized by an eroded bass-relief image of the six-armed Blue Warrior god. The Jizo dated 1688 is enshrined on the right of a new statue at the center, seemingly just a block of sand stone about to disintegrate at any minute.

Every year on Nov. 24, community people gather here to celebrate the continuing worship of their endeared Jizo, inviting a priest for a little ritual. Amid the din and bustle of redevelopment in the surrounding areas, the humble shrine of Jizo, though hardly a match for the shogun-affiliated Konno Hachiman-gu, stands firm with an air of timeless tranquillity.

Leaving the community center, go left and follow the map to return to Shibuya Station.

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