Though Japan has a long history, it is not easy to trace back the local history of our hometown. I had not noticed this before I first went to Germany, where I was shocked and impressed by the abundance of literature on local history. Every state, city, town or even small village has its history available for everybody. In pamphlets of communities I found detailed explanation of their history since stone age all through Celtic civilization, Roman colonial era, Medieval period and modern times. There were also many books which collected communal histories and we could instantly see what prominent personalities were from the village or which buildings had relations to certain historical events.
Unfortunately, we can scarcely find good materials on local history in Japan. Though there are many history books, they mostly concentrate on certain popular historical topics or personalities, or they are related only to nation-wide affairs.

When I was a child I was interested in history, in particular ancient history of Mesopotamia. Then, my father told me that I should give up my wish to become a historian, because I could at most become a "local historian", lest I had fortune to invest in research or I were extremely talented. I accepted his advice and gave up studying history. But, now I regret my decision ;-(

When I started to live in Tokyo, I became interested in the history of Tokyo, especially in its Edo period, the latest pre-industrialization period of the Japanese history, because people in Edo era appeared to enjoy life albeit the country was isolated and there was no outstanding economic growth.

I read many books including 26 bands of the works by Mitamura Engyo. Then I came to notice that I needed guidebooks even for the history of my grandfathers and great-grandfathers' times as well. Japanese people are so forgettable and average Japanese don't know how the world of our grandparents looked like.

Then, recently I encountered books on Yanaka and Nezu, both northeastern areas of Tokyo, written by Ms. Mayumi Mori. I was fascinated by them. Ms. Mori not only studied lots of old literature, but also made numerous interviews with the people living in the area.
She then made extremely interesting books collecting very comprehensive records of the local history and life in the recent past.

The selection of the areas, Yanaka and Nezu, are particularly interesting as they survived the earthquake in 1923 as well al the air raids in 1944 and 1945, and still keep the traditional milieu, though buildings are more and more replaced by newer and less charming concrete blocks and the number of people who know the traditional atmosphere of the region is becoming less and less. So, such books are very important as a record of our recent history. I can read there stories of every corner or house of Yanaka and Nezu.

So, last Saturday, I took Ms. Mori's books and went to Yanaka to discover the charm of old Tokyo. This is the report of the first part of my stroll in Yanaka.

Yanaka is the hilly area inside of Yamanote JR line between Ueno and Nippori stations. Because of the policy of Tokugawa Shogunate to relocate temples from the downtown to the then rural Yanaka, nearly a hundred temples now exist there. Since Meiji restoration, the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music and the University of Tokyo were established in the vicinity.
    Let me start from a long house near the Kototoi Rd. I happened to discover this house, which is inhabited by several families. Till the beginning of 1960s such wooden long houses were no rarity even in Tokyo. But, I didn't expect that I could find such a house in present Tokyo. It's really a surprise.
    The house on the next photo looks tidier, because it is maintained as a museum. This is a sample of old shops.
    Just on the opposite corner of the crossroads, a similarly old house stands and is used as a coffee shop.
    A few steps northwards we find an old sweets shop "Okano Eisen", the branch shop of the Okano in front of Ueno JR station.
    Further down the road and you see a tall chimney on the left which is a symbol of public bath. "Kashiwa Yu" was established in 1804. It seems that many English speaking people try this bath, for there are explanations in English !
Then Yanaka came to be connected with intellectuals, academics and artists. So, when we stroll in the narrow streets and slopes of Yanaka, we can also trace the modern Japanese spiritual history. However, as I should not make this article too lengthy, I would limit myself to several characteristic scenes of Yanaka. (See the map and thumbnails below.)

These constructions certainly transmit the atmosphere of Edo or Meiji era. "Discover Tokyo" became a fashionable slogan some years ago. This slogan has not become obsolete yet.
I met many walkers in Yanaka who were enjoying the stroll with a guide book and a camera in their hands. We feel as if we were a half or even an entire century back.