The Shogun's Fire Safety Plan and the Laughter of the GodsThe area southwest of Nippori station (Yanaka) is crowded with old temples and shrines.
Most of the area's temples were relocated here in the 19th century from central Tokyo (Edo). It was all part of a plan ordered by the Shogun (Tokugawa Ienari) to reduce the risk of fires in Edo. Edo was densely packed with wooden buildings that made fires extremely dangerous. Temples were considered fire hazards because they were large wooden structures that always seemed to be catching on fire.
Back then, Nippori was on the very outskirts of Tokyo. Temples were moved to the area and their plots of land left as fire buffers in central Edo.
Ironically, the areas around Edo Castle where the temples originally stood have burned to the ground many times. The Nippori area (where the fire-prone temples were moved) has never had a major fire.
Most of central Tokyo burned down twice in the 20th century as a result of two catastrophic events — the Great 1923 Tokyo Earthquake and the firebombing of Tokyo in WWII. The Nippori area and its temples remained untouched through both events.
In Japanese culture, Temples and Shrines are often thought to provide protection (the protection of the gods) from fire.
Yanaka Cemetery (谷中霊園)Yanaka Cemetery is a large cemetery of 25 acres and 7000 graves that was established in 1872.
A private section of the cemetery is dedicated to the Tokugawa clan that ruled Japan from 1603–1868. The last Shogun of Japan is buried here (徳川 慶喜, Tokugawa Yoshinobu). The area is closed to the public but can be peaked at through its gate.
Most of Yanaka Cemetery is open to the public. It's filled with interesting old graves. It's also a popular spot for hanami in spring.
Yakana cemetery is also known for its autumn foliage.
Nippori Fabric MarketNippori has a large fabric market on the east side of the station centered around Nippori Chuo Street (Dori). It's the largest fabric market in Tokyo — a paradise for the city's sewing fanatics and fashion designers.
Yanaka GinzaYanaka Ginza is another well known market in Nippori. It's filled with odds and ends.
Yanaka Ginza begins at a stair case west of the station known as the sunset staircase. It's possible to view the sunset from here when conditions are right.
Half the office buildings in Tokyo have a view of the sunset. However, it's rare to see the sunset in the city from street level. In the Edo-era, the sunset and Mount Fuji could be seen from many of Tokyo's districts.
The Appeal of ShitamachiTokyo (Edo) was once divided into two districts known as Yamanote (山の手, towards the mountain) and Shitamachi (下町, low town).
Yamanote was the rich part of town — the site of Edo-castle and home to the Shogun, Daimyo and Samurai. It was located on higher ground closer to Mount Fuji.
Shitamachi was home to merchants, artisans, pleasure districts and everything else that was considered lower class. Nippori was part of Shitamachi. It's the only major part of Shitamachi that's relatively free of fire damage (no massive fires for the past 300 years). As a result, it's considered one of the best places to see old Tokyo.
Tokyo is a city of modern buildings. Its few old buildings are mostly temples and castles. In Nippori it's still possible to see old houses (merchant houses of old Shitamachi).
Nippori For TravelersNippori has one of Tokyo's highest concentrations of Edo-era temples. It's a popular spot for walking tours.
Area MapYanaka Cemetary, Nippori Ginza and Nippori Fabric Market are all within a few minutes walk of JR Nippori station. The area around Yanaka Cemetery is known for its old houses and temples.
To the south of Nippori is Ueno Park. Ueno Park features a large zoo and dozens of museums and cultural attractions.