Tokyo Time Warp (5)

 

 

Ginza

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Show this image to any Tokyoite and few will be able to tell you where this place is. They’ll guess it is somewhere abroad. But this is Ginza, Tokyo’s celebrated high-class shopping avenue as it looked in the 1880s.

A horse-drawn streetcar casually runs along an almost empty sandy road flanked with magnificent willow trees and Western-style brick buildings. How immensely different from today’s noisy and crowded Ginza.

Pointing his camera toward Kyobashi, photographer Kimbei Kusakabe stood near what we now know as Ginza Wako, a shop famous for its expensive watches, jewelry and other luxuries.

The Tokyo Fish Market

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The Tokyo Fish Market

If you ask anybody in Tokyo about the city’s Nihonbashi district, they’ll most probably call it a staid business area. The Bank of Japan and the Tokyo Stock Exchange are located there, so too the headquarters of many financial companies. Even the Mitsukoshi and Takashimaya department stores there are thought conservative.

This hasn’t always been the case. Until 1923, Nihonbashi housed a colorful and busy fish market right next to the famous Nihonbashi bridge, the point from which even today all distances to the capital are measured. For hundreds of years at the empire’s navel, the smell of fish and the shouts of fishermen, brokers and peddlers penetrated the air. Some 300 fish wholesalers were located at the market. From fishing villages as far away as Hokkaido, fish arrived early in the morning every day of the year. “Piscine types almost as varied and as beautiful as those at the marvelous Naples Aquarium may be seen,” gushed Terry’s Guide to the Japanese Empire in its 1920 edition.

Asakusa Souvenir Shops

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THE large photo of a crowd walking past shops along the approach to the Buddhist temple Sensoji was taken some time in 1934. Notice that while most men and even the children wear Western clothing, the women still wear kimono.

The shops, known as Asakusa Nakamise, were great crowd pleasers. Their origins are rooted in a harvest festival called Tori no Ichi. Held in November, long lines of people would wind their way along the rice pad- dies to pray and enjoy themselves at Sensoji. Naturally, this attracted a large number of merchants and entertainers, who were mostly located in the entertainment district behind the temple. Eventually, neighborhood merchants were allowed to open their shops in the approach to the temple as well.

Many of the shops developed “Asakusa Meibutsu,” or Asakusa specialties. These included Asakusa Nori (sheets of edible seaweed), Asakusa-gami (a kind of paper), Tondari Hanetari (small toys that jumped) and Fusayoji, or fairly large tufted tooth- picks made from willow trees or shrubs and used to clean the teeth as an early version of the toothbrush.

Hanayashiki, Asakusa

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Hanayashiki, Asakusa

By Kjeld Duits

A MAJOR tourist attraction in Tokyo is the Buddhist temple of Sensō-ji in Asakusa. Every year nearly 30 million visitors pass through the huge entrance gate, and many people are surprised to find a long row of shops on the temple grounds. It actually takes a while to reach the temple buildings.

Some visitors never make it to the temple. Their progress is stalled by the delicious and interesting items for sale. The shops even made an impression on American scholar Alice Mabel Bacon, the first western woman to live in a Japanese household. She visited the temple grounds in 1889 and wrote:

“When we had come as near to the temple as the kurumas (rickshaws) were allowed to approach, we got out to walk the rest of the way; but we had to pass a line of small shops, in which every conceivable variety of toy is kept, and so attractive was the display that we succumbed to the temptation, spent all our time at the toy-shops, and did not reach the temple at all.”

Time Warp

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Time Warp

Nijubashi, Imperial Palace

AMONG the most photographed spots in Tokyo is the entrance to the Imperial Palace. Every day thousands of people stand here, their backs to the castle, their legs slightly apart, to have themselves photographed. The stately stone bridge, the old castle gate, the traditional turret and the many trees make for an iconic photo.



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