Where can you dine atop a carrot, ride a rickety old train, and pray to the feline god of mercy? On the Setagaya line, snaking through Tokyo’s second largest and most populous ward.
Your first stop should be the Carrot Tower perched atop Sangenjaya station, which, at 124m, is Setagaya’s tallest building. From the observation deck on the 25th floor you can take in serious views of the urban sprawl while listening to the ward’s very own radio station (FM 83.4)—broadcasting from Studio Carrot, of course. There’s also Sky Carrot, a restaurant with a fine view of Roppongi Hills, Midtown and Tokyo Tower.
Next, hop on the Setagaya line—one of Tokyo’s only two remaining trams (the other is the Toden Arakawa line), snaking along the northern edge of the city. This is all that remains of the 1907 Tamagawa tram network that once stretched from Shibuya out past the Tama River, but was dismantled in 1969. The Setagaya line makes the 5km, ten-stop journey from Sangenjaya to Shimo-Takaido in 17 minutes, winding its way at a leisurely pace through quiet backstreets.
Detrain at Shoin Jinja, where you can pray to the god of learning at the shrine that gives the station its name. The hallowed grounds are dedicated to the spirit of Yoshida Shoin, a bright young man who, in the Edo Period, became a master in military arts, which he subsequently taught to a local lord. Shoin was a freewheeling spirit and actually tried to board one of Commodore Perry’s warships in an effort to see more of the outside world.
On Boro-Ichi Dori in Kamimachi, two more stops down the line, you can visit Setagaya Daikin Yashiki, an Edo-period farmhouse—the only one of its kind remaining in Tokyo. The property was formerly owned by a magistrate that oversaw 20 villages in the area, but is now open to the public (free entrance; open from 9am-5pm). Boro-Ichi Dori is also the location of one of Tokyo’s oldest flea markets, dating back 430 years.
Gotokuji temple, a short walk from the next station, Miyanosake, is said to be where the ubiquitous maneki-neko good-luck charm originated. (A local folktale tells the story of a cat that saved the life of a local lord.) The spacious grounds house a pagoda and a temple dedicated to the feline god of mercy. To the right of the temple is a shelf full of cat statuettes of various sizes, placed there by worshippers whose prayers were answered.
Make a wish and you might get lucky—but exploring one of Tokyo’s best-preserved neighborhoods on a railway that time forgot, you may already feel blessed.
¥320 for a one-day ticket that allows unlimited rides. www.setagaya-line.com (Japanese)
Name: Chinese Garden
Location: Noboribetsu City, Hokkaido
History: Opened in 1992 as a theme park featuring Chinese architecture, acrobatic performances and cuisine. After enjoying initial success, it suffered a decline in popularity and closed seven years later
Highlight: Five 40m-tall towers Access: Noboribetsu is located 80min via express train from Sapporo (www.city.noboribetsu.lg.jp); Chinese Garden is near Noboribetsu Onsen, a 15min bus ride from Noboribetsu stn
Hiroyuki Tsuzuki’s “Haikyo Deflation Spiral” (http://home.f01.itscom.net/spiral)
Want to glimpse life in Showa-era Japan without even leaving Shinjuku? Make your way to the Hayashi Fumiko Memorial Hall, a rustic house built by the noted Japanese author in 1941, and opened to the public in 1992. The mini-estate is replete with a serene garden and period architecture hard to find elsewhere in the capital. Divided into two wings, the one-story home features rooms preserved from when Hayashi (1903-1951) lived there with her husband, painter Rokubin Tezuka. Pick up an English-language pamphlet and browse the library, guest parlor, study (now converted into a gallery space), and the veranda overlooking the garden. It’s easy to imagine Hayashi sitting, gazing out at the greenery and penning some of Japan’s most renowned feminist prose.
2-20-1 Nakai, Shinjuku-ku. Tel: 03-5996-9207. Open Tue-Sun 10am-4:30pm, closed Mon. Admission: ¥150. Nearest stn: Nakai (Toei Oedo line).