Architectural liberty & shintō sense of style
Today’s excursion introduces us to yet another corner of Tōkyō which is largely unknown to foreign tourists. However, every step you take in this area may find you thinking: “Yes, indeed! That’s the real Japan!”
It’s about the quarters of Nishi Ogikita (西荻北 / にちおぎきた) and Zenpukuji (善福寺 / ぜんぷくじ) in Tōkyō’s Suginami distrikt (杉並区 / すぎなみく), the westernmost of the city’s 23 central wards. While Nishi Ogikubo station (西荻窪 / にしおぎくぼ), the starting point for our little walk, still has a rather metropolitan flair, it doesn’t take long after you’ve left the station via its north exit, to know that you’ve left the centre of Tōkyō behind you. Not much unlike the other quarters alongside the Chūō main line (中央本線 / ちゅうおうほんせん) of Japan Rail (JR), also the area around Nishi Ogikubo station is a lively business and shopping district. The shopping street, pardon, shōtengai (商店街 / しょうてんがい) here is, however, a bit more comfy, a bit more quirky than around the stations closer to the centre of the big city. And since the area north of Nishi Ogikubo station is mainly residential (largely consisting of detached houses), it should also not come as a big surprise, if the facades lack the names of internationally renowned brands. But that is more than compensated by a more rustic atmosphere. Everyone who loves old furniture and curios of the world (however, mainly Japanese items) is in the right place here.
We are crossing the residential area north of the station on our way to the ravishingly beautiful shrine, Igusa Hachimangū (井草八幡宮 / いぐさはちまんぐう). And that is the perfect opportunity to have a closer look at Japanese everyday-architecture. Should you believe that Japanese major cities are monsters without any cognizable urban planning, you may find that it doesn’t look much different in settlements of a smaller scale. Architectural liberty appears to be of greater importance than rules of urban development. At the sight of these “individual” houses you may come to wonder how it is possible that “harmony” is the Japanese reason of state. However, like elsewhere in Japan, you should not look for harmony in the “big picture” (because that’s where you won’t find it), but in the detail.
Here some examples for private residences and smaller businesses/restaurants in the “central suburbs” of Tōkyō (I know, I know, “central suburb” sounds strange, but after all, Tōkyō is so large that even the central districts have their own suburbs):
The contrast of this aimless-looking and individualistic way of building a town could hardly be starker when compared with the sublime but simple elegance of traditional and sacral buildings. Just 1,500 metres (as the crow flies – by foot it may take you some 20 to 30 minutes) north of Nishi Ogikubo staition you’ll find such a gem in form of the shintō shrine called Igusa Hachimangū (井草八幡宮 / いぐさはちまんぐう). This shrine is not only famous for its annual festivals and Nō-plays, but also for a yabusame (流鏑馬 / やぶさめ / horseback archery) festival that is held here every five years. And, to top things off: The Igusa Hachimangū is surely one of the most beautiful in the city. Dip into an atmosphere of serenity and tranquility.
The Zenpukuji park (善福寺公園 / ぜんぷくじこうえん), in the vicinity of the Igusa Hachimangū, may invite you to a leisurely stroll along the banks of the two ponds that have been formed of the waters of the Zenpukuji river (善福寺川 / ぜんぷくじがわ). Should you forget there that you are still in the heart of the multi-million-metropolis, it won’t necessarily mean that you are developing signs of temporary amnesia. You’ll be just a victim of the magic that may happen to you in many of Tōkyō’s parks.
Even in winter this park is a sanctuary for all sorts of birds. And if it’s true that the kingfisher is sign for a sound natural environment, you’ll be in the very heart of nature here – with a little luck you’ll also be able to watch the tiny kingfisher.
How to get there:
The easiest way is by taking the JR Chūō line (JR中央線 / JRちゅうおうせん) to Nishi Ogikubo (西荻窪 / にしおぎくぼ). Leave the station via its north exit and follow the little shopping- and business street on the left for about 400 metres in north-western direction. At the next T-crossing take the main street in northern direction – or, if you think you can trust your sense of direction, have a little stroll right through the residential area there.