Not far from the hustle and bustle of more popular districts, Zoshigaya is a quiet and underlooked area that clearly has this old Tokyo, or “shitamachi” feel to it. When walking in the streets of Zoshigaya, it is hard to believe that the busy district of Ikebukuro is just a few minutes away. But this is actually the kind of place that I love in Tokyo: in just a few meters, the atmosphere can completely change. For my visit today, I was accompanied by volunteer guides that kindly explained me about the history of the places I was going to visit.
From hunting ground to famous cemetery
The first spot to go once you arrive at Zoshigaya is the eponym cemetery. In a way, it is similar to the more renowned Aoyama cemetery, with its mix of famous and anonymous graves. However, it also has the pleasant and quiet atmosphere that is sometimes hard to find in Tokyo. Once a hunting ground, the cemetery was established as a burial ground in 1874. It is the final resting place of some 8,000 local and foreign personalities. Among them, Nakahama Manjiro, the first Japanese who went to the United States, where he worked as a translator and interpret. But you can also see other famous figures such as Natsume Soseki, who even described Zoshigaya cemetery in his 1914 novel, “Kokoro”. His imposing grave, located in the plot number 1-14-1-3, is quite a unique sight: it looks like as if the master novelist was resting sitting on a chair. Even if visiting a cemetery might sometimes seem strange, it is a perfect place for a walk and enjoys the open sky.
Zoshigaya Cemetery 雑司ヶ谷霊園
- Address 4-25-1 Minami-Ikebukuro, Toshima 171-0022, Tokyo Prefecture
A temple with a unique history
Another landmark in the area is the Zoshigaya Kishimojindo Temple, also known by the locals as a site to replenish energy. On the way to the temple, stone-paved paths are surrounded by 400 years old ginkgo trees. But even more interesting, it is actually where Osamu Tezuka, the creator of Astroboy, used to live before he got married.
Zoshigaya Kishimojindo is a place of worship is dedicated to Kishimojin, a deity that has quite a unique history. According to the legend, she was a demon that used to abduct and murder children’s. However, touched by Buddha’s teachings, she repented and transformed herself into the goddess of safe birth and child rearing. This particular temple is actually part of a group of religious complexes composing Homyoji Temple. The hall is made in the traditional wooden Japanese-style. One of the most impressive sights is the large ginkgo tree that stands in the middle of a semi-circular tori path. My guide tells me that it is 700 years old. And indeed, such an age can only inspire respect.
In the path of foreign missionaries
Japan has quite a unique and fascinating story with Christianism, which was shaped with the Japan’s periods of opening and isolation. To get a glimpse of that past, Zoshigaya Missionary Museum is a quite interesting place to visit in Tokyo. It takes only a dozen of minutes to walk there from the Koshimojindo Temple. This western-style two-story house was originally built for John Moody McCaleb, an American missionary who came to Japan with his wife Della, in 1892. Now, both floors are open to the public for viewing. This place may offer more intrigue to locals.
But, regardless, the cultural and architectural contrast between this home built in the manner of nineteenth-century American suburban houses, and most sights available in Japan, makes of it a great stop in the area.
One of the most interesting parts about Zoshigaya Missionary Museum is that how it was constructed with. This architecture has both Japanese and Western styles of building techniques in its best way to be mixed with each other and it is being blended in one piece of architecture.
If you would like to discover a Tokyo that few tourists know of, Zoshigaya is a great place to go!
Zoshigaya Missionary Museum 雑司が谷旧宣教師館
- Address 1 Chome-25-5 Zoshigaya, Toshima, Tokyo 171-0032