Three Reasons to Visit Tokyo's Nezu Shrine
Many visitors to Tokyo have never heard of the Nezu Shrine, a small natural haven north of the city’s center. More secluded than the larger Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in the capital, Nezu remains a wonderful off-the-radar spot for travelers seeking a bit of peace and quiet. Read on to find out why The Art of Travel loves the Nezu Shrine.
A Shinto Oasis in the City
According to legend, Nezu Shrine was founded at a site near the current location approximately two millennia ago. It originally housed Susanoo, the deity of fierce storms, but nowadays the grounds convey a far more calming atmosphere.
Nature plays a huge role in Shintoism, and this is very evident at Nezu Shrine. A green oasis in a city awash in concrete and metal, the shrine complex stands out as a peaceful respite from the rest of the world. Towering trees shade the grounds and overhang the walking paths that beckon you deeper into the shrine.
Perhaps the most photographed area of Nezu Shrine is the long tunnel of vermilion torii gates. Sponsored by local businesses and citizens, these simple wooden arches stand as offerings to the Shinto gods that inhabit the world along with us mortals. The most famous display of torii is undoubtedly Fushimi Inari in Kyoto, but it’s also the most popular. Nezu Shrine offers a less-traveled spot for admiring these striking arches free of crowds. If Kyoto isn’t on your travel itinerary, Nezu Shrine is a perfect alternate for picturesque Instagram shots.
In the heart of the complex lies the honden main shrine, an inviting edifice colored in vivid hues and glittering gold. Although damaged in the allied bombing raids of WW2, the honden was carefully restored after the war to its former grandeur. In fact, Nezu Shrine is the largest of the restored Edo period Shinto shrines in Tokyo. The honden’s bright appearance is sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your visit to Nezu Shrine.
Springtime Flower Festival
After the last of the cherry blossoms have fallen, visitors to Nezu Shrine have little to be sad about. The shrine grounds contain thousands of azalea bushes that burst into color in late April and early May. Various shades of purples and pinks stand out beautifully in contrast to the long procession of torii gates that wind over the low hills on the shrine precincts. It’s this colorful festival that earned Nezu Shrine the moniker of “Tokyo’s Most Beautiful Shrine.”
Nature lovers should consider a trip to Japan that begins in Tokyo right at the start of May. You’ll avoid the crunch of cherry blossom crowds and still be in time to catch the azaleas at Nezu.
A Delightful Local Neighborhood
Nezu isn’t the only locals-only secret in the area. The district to the northeast of the shrine is known unofficially as Yanesen, a nickname created from the real names of the three surrounding neighborhoods: YAnaka, NEzu, and SENdagi. It’s here that you’ll find great local scenery, inviting backstreets lined with old houses, and some very shoppable ateliers and stores.
Yanesen is well populated with art galleries, and our favorite is a uniquely reused building called SCAI THE BATHHOUSE. As you may guess, this was once a public bath, but it now serves as a minimalist venue for contemporary art exhibits. SCAI is a wonderful blend of local art promotion and redevelopment of classic buildings.
There are plenty of spots to pick up a few snacks in Yanesen as well. Streetfood is big here, with stands offering taiyaki red bean sweets, crispy senbei rice crackers, and even donuts shaped like cat tails. Speaking of cats, feline fans will find their favorite souvenirs at a local shop that specializes in maneki neko lucky cat statues.
Yanesen has plenty to see, and the area can easily become a half day destination, especially with a local guide by your side who knows all the best spots off the main streets. The Art of Travel can even arrange for a guide that focuses on the area’s unique food offerings. Be sure to stop by this fun district after your visit to Nezu Shrine.