While the historic aspects of Tokyo aren’t as immediately obvious as in some other Japanese cities, there’s plenty to see if you do a bit of digging. From old town areas (also known as Shitamachi) such as the Yanesen District to historic breweries, and ancient temples and shrines, Tokyo rewards the explorer who’s ready to go beyond the high-rises and neon centre.
While there are many old buildings in Tokyo that have been restored or rebuilt (like the three-hundred-year-old Nakajima no Ochaya teahouse which was restored recently, or the famous Sensoji Temple which was originally built in the seventh century), here we are focusing on those places that have withstood the test of time.
Historic Places in Tokyo
Here are some of the oldest things to see in Tokyo to get you started on your heritage trip through Japan’s capital.
Fujimi-Yagura Watchtower in Edo Castle (Imperial Palace)
There’s so much to see in and around the Imperial Palace so a visit to one of the most important historical places in Tokyo should be firmly on your list. While most of the areas in the palace have been restored or recreated, one of the oldest locations is the Fujimi-Yagura Watchtower in the Edo Castle area. The three-storey watchtower remained after the great fire in 1657 which destroyed the castle and stands as a testament to the Edo Castle and other watchtowers which were not rebuilt. The watchtower sits on a fifteen metre high stone wall and is a truly impressive sight. The watchtower gained its name from the fact you could once see Mount Fuji from within.
Shofuku-ji – The Oldest Temple in Tokyo
A short walk from Higashimurayama Station, you can wander the grounds of Shofukuji Temple which is thought to be the oldest building in Tokyo (dating back to 1407) and a fine example of Kamakura period architecture. The outside of the building can be visited any time but the inside can only be seen during Jizo-matsuri in November. Designated a national treasure thanks to its 5th-century Jizō hall, this is old Tokyo at its finest.
Mukojima Hyakkaen – The Oldest Tokyo Garden
More than a century old, and Tokyo’s only surviving garden from the Edo period, this garden in Sumida district is strongly associated with art and literature. This is reflected in the choice of flora within the garden which is influenced by Japanese and Chinese ancient poetry. You can find the authors and artists represented by finding the 29 stone monuments to them throughout the garden. A fine example of Japanese garden landscaping, Mukojima Hyakkaen is a peaceful place to spend some time wandering.
Found in Ueno Park, this Buddhist Temple is easy to reach and you can combine it with a visit to some of Tokyo’s best museums or a picnic. Built in 1625, Ueno Park was once all part of Kan’ei-ji Temple, and the temple itself was where the troops of the last shogun made their final stand. In fact, in the temple graveyard, you’ll find the graves of six of thirteen of the Tokugawa clan who became shogun. The oldest parts of the temple and points you’ll want to visit include Kiyomizu Kannon-do, the Five-storied Pagoda, and Toshogu Shrine. The temple is actually closer to Uguisudani Station than Ueno Station but you can walk from both.
Asakusa Shrine – Tokyo’s Oldest Shrine
Visiting Asakusa and wandering the Senso-ji Temple and Asakusa Shrine area is on most visitor’s Tokyo itineraries. While Senso-ji didn’t survive the bombings during World War II, the adjacent Asakusa Shrine and Nitenmon Gate did and have since been named Important Cultural Properties. Asakusa Shrine is a Shinto shrine and one of the most famous in the city – it was constructed in 1649 to honor the men who established and constructed the Senso-ji temple.
Ozawa Shuzo Brewery
Most of the older sake breweries are situated outside Tokyo but that doesn’t mean you can’t find great breweries in the capital. The oldest brewery in Tokyo can be found in the west of the city in Ome and is open for visitors and well worth a visit. It’s also surrounded by the lush Okutama Forest making for a picturesque and interesting day out with nearby hiking trails and museums. The brewery was founded in 1702 and features restaurants, a shop, and garden area with a barbecue. The brewery is free to tour but you should make reservations in advance. While there are several Japanese tours a day, the English tours are held a few times a month so it’s worth checking their website for more information. One of the oldest things to see in Tokyo and a wonderful chance to try some sake.
Toki no Kane – Kawagoe
Though not found in Tokyo but, rather, in neighbouring Saitama, the Bell of Time in Kawagoe makes for a wonderful short day trip. Kawagoe itself is known as ‘Little Edo’ and perfect for those who want to enjoy traditional architecture but don’t have time to visit destinations like Kyoto, Kanazawa, or Kamakura. The Bell of Time is a bell tower dating back to the Edo period and can be found on Kurazukuri Street – it’s considered to be the symbol of Kawagoe. Passing under the bell tower will also take you to Yakushi Shrine. You can visit the area by taking the Seibu-Shinjuku line to Hon-Kawagoe Station.
Post by Japan Journeys.