Tokyo’s former name was “Edo”, which was the de facto capital of Japan during the Edo period (1603 – 1868).
With over 400 years of history as the capital, travelers may expect there to be an abundance of preserved historical districts remaining in Tokyo.
Unfortunately, the majority of Tokyo’s historical sites were lost in the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and the bombing of Tokyo during World War 2.
Nevertheless, there are still places you can go to get a taste of historical Tokyo.
A lot of guidebooks recommend visitors to go to “Asakusa”. The main attraction in Asakusa is Sensoji which is a very popular Buddhist temple. It’s always crowded with many tourists who want to experience the atmosphere of “Edo”.
But today, I want to introduce another location.
It’s one of the hidden gems of Tokyo.
It’s actually in Shibuya!
Most people think that Shibuya is a popular shopping and entertainment district where young people gather.
While that’s true, Shibuya features fascinating historical locations as well!
For example, Konnoh Hachimangu Shrine, only a 10min walk from Shibuya Station, has a long history.
It was constructed in the Gongen-Zukuri style, which is the same architectural style seen at the temple of Nikko Tosho-gu.
It is also known as the shrine for Sangaku.
Sangaku were wooden votive tablets given as a sign of devotion to a shrine. They featured math problems and puzzles and sought to entertain guests and other passers-by. Some also included the methods behind solving certain problems. They were most commonly gifted by mathematicians/math enthusiasts during the Edo period.
Math problem is illustrated.
Mathematicians would often gather to attempt to solve particularly difficult problems.
This custom of dedicating math problems/puzzles to a religious site is said to be a culture unique to Japan, with no parallel in the world.
By the way, there’s a movie called “The Samurai Astronomer” about these mathematical geniuses of the Edo period. If you’re interested, I recommend you check it out and learn more!
Just another 10-minute walk away from this shrine, you can find the oldest shrine in the Shibuya Ward, Shibuya Hikawa Shrine.
Within the temple grounds, there are the remains of the sumo arena of the Kinno Sumo, one of the three major sumo tournaments which took place in the suburbs of Edo. Sumo is not only a Japanese style of wrestling but also a Shinto ritual.
This is why some Japanese shrines feature a sumo ring, and the traditions have long been intertwined.
Kokugakuin University Museum is located next to the Shibuya Hikawa Shrine. This museum is free to enter.
If you visit this museum you can get a pretty good overview of Japanese history, ranging all the way from the first settlers called the Jōmon, right up to the modern era.
After enjoying the museum, you can even head on over to Ebisu station if you’re interested. Because the museum is right in the middle of Ebisu and Shibuya, it’s conveniently located.
Shibuya is generally considered an exciting city for younger people in their twenties, but adults in their thirties and older prefer Ebisu because it has a classy and sophisticated image.
There are an abundance of nice restaurants or izakaya(a kind of Japanese pub) for foodies looking for a bite to eat.
If you feel Shibuya is a bit too noisy and crowded, I recommend that you visit Ebisu.
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