Waseda, home to Waseda University in Shinjuku-ku and only about 15 minutes by JR and metro lines from Shinjuku station, is one of my favourite areas in Tokyo. It's where I go for my weekly shakuhachi lessons (Japanese traditional, vertically-blown bamboo flute) and so I often spend a relaxing afternoon, happily mooching around there. So here's my suggested day's itinerary, allowing you to also enjoy Waseda's beautiful parks, bizarre architecture, peaceful temple and my hands-down favourite cafe in Tokyo.
10am: Eisei Bunko Museum & Basho Hermitage
Get the day off to a cultural start at the Eisei Bunko Museum. The museum, established by a descendant of the 16th Feudal Lord of the Hosokawa clan in the 1950s, is home to national treasures and thousands of artifacts amassed by the Hosokawa family throughout their 700 year history. Therefore, it’s a great way to see a variety of traditional Japanese items; from masks carved for use in Noh theatre to priceless tea bowls used in tea ceremonies, from samurai armour to Buddhist statues from as early as the 6th Century, there is something to interest everyone. Special exhibitions vary; throughout April, the museum will be exhibiting works and artifacts relating to Kumamoto Castle and Kato Kiyomasa, the feudal lord of Kumamoto during the Edo Period, who established the castle.
Eisei Bunko Museum
Access: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-4.30pm (last entry: 4pm).
Adult ticket: 800 yen, Senior: 600 yen, Student: 400 yen, Middle school and younger: free.
Address: 1-1-1 Mejirodai, Bunkyo-ku 112-0015. 15 minute walk from Waseda Station (Tozai line) or Edogawabashi (Yurakucho line)
On your way down the hill, heading from the museum towards the Kanda River, you will see the tiny Basho Hermitage (関口芭蕉庵, sekiguchi bashouan) — a small house on your left where arguably Japan’s most famous poet, Matsuo Basho (1644～1694) lived for 3 years. Between 10am-4.30pm, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, you can enter the beautiful garden of the great master of haiku — for free!
Sakura in the garden of the Basho Hermitage
Autumn leaves and koi carp in the garden of the Basho hermitage
12pm: Higo Hosokawa Park or Hotel Chinzanso
Once you have descended the hill from the museum and Basho hermitage, you will be facing the Kanda River (certainly a must-see in early April - cherry blossom season!) You could then either turn right to head to the newly re-opened Higo Hosokawa Park, or turn left to explore the beautiful grounds of Hotel Chinzanso.
Higo Hosokawa Park (formally known as Shin-Edogawa Garden) is a Japanese-style stroll garden with a large pond at the centre, also originally established by the Hosokawa family. There is an observation floor and events are often held in the ‘Shouseikaku’, the building situated where the residence of the Hosokawa family once was. The grounds are stunning in any season; the autumn leaves made quite an impression on me!
Autumn leaves in the Higo Hosokawa Garden
Hours: Shouseikaku is open 9:00 am-9:00 pm. The observation floor is open until 5:00 pm.
Garden Hours：9:00 am-5:00 pm (last admission 4:30 pm), February to October.
9:00 am-4:30 pm (last admission 4:00 pm), November to January.
(Closed: December 28th to January 4th)
Address: 1-1, Mejirodai, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo
Hotel Chinzanso’s grounds are open to the public and are not only beautiful but rich in history; the three-storey pagoda is believed to have first been built in the 9th Century, statues of various gods are enshrined along the many walkways and information about all of these historical artefacts are provided in English on accompanying signposts. If you are also feeling rich in pocket change, you could splash out on a kaiseki lunch (Japanese style multi-course meal) in one of the high-end restaurants… but never fear, Waseda has many more budget-friendly and tasty options!
Address: 10-8, Sekiguchi 2-chome, Bunkyo-ku, 112-8680 Tokyo
Sakura over the pond at Hotel Chinzanso
Three-storey pagoda in the grounds of Hotel Chinzanso
Statue of Benzaiten; Goddess of music, eloquence and fortune
Time for lunch! Whilst making your way back towards Waseda metro station and the university campus from the river, stop off at Cat’s Cradle, a very cosy cafe situated opposite the unmissable and unique ‘baroque’ building, home to a gallery, book shop and hair salon. I love the laidback atmosphere of this cafe: The walls are lined with books in a variety of languages, mainly covering travel, art, music and photography, which customers are free to peruse. The food is comforting, home cooked fayre at reasonable prices with a wide selection of drinks to choose from. Alternatively to lunch (or after lunch!), a home-baked cake and drink set whilst reclining in their comfy chairs is another recommended option! They also have a good selection of guide books on Japan in a variety of languages, great for planning your next adventure.
(Note: if you are pushed for time and prefer to grab some noodles for lunch, there is a vast selection available around here and near the metro station – including Sapporo ramen, Tokushima-style soba and (not noodles but worth mentioning for comedy value) ‘death’ mapo tofu!)
Cat’s Cradle access: (Closed on Mondays) Usual open hours, 11.30am-6pm.
Address: 538 Waseda Tsurumakicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo
The unique ‘baroque’ building
Toasted sandwich set at Cat’s Cradle (the veggie option is egg salad)
3pm/4pm/post-lunch: Anahachimangu Shrine and Takoyaki
Once you have filled up on food and literature, make your way towards the Shinto shrine, Anahachimangu (穴八幡宮) via the bustling streets surrounding Waseda University campus. It’s pretty hard to miss; the impressive red torii gate at the crossroads marks the entrance to the shrine’s grounds. Despite its location, the surprisingly spacious shrine is an oasis of calm where the spirits of the Emperor Chuai, the 14th Emperor of Japan, his wife Empress Jingu and their son Emperor Ojin dwell. You can also visit Hojoji Temple (放生寺) located within the shrine’s grounds by exploring the winding pathways leading down the hill from the main shrine complex. It is a good opportunity to explore Shinto and Buddhist places of worship that share the same grounds.
Access: 2 chome 2-1-1 Nishiwaseda Shinjuku, Tokyo. Usually closes by 5pm.
And to round off the day…
As you make your decent from the Anahachimangu Shrine, facing you on the opposite side of the road is a superb taiyaki shop, Gin no An (銀のあん). Taiyaki, for those of you yet to experience such a yummy treat, is a fish-shaped cake filled with a variety of sweet fillings, but most commonly red bean paste, that has been a popular snack in Japan for many years. This shop always has an exciting seasonal option; since my most recent visit was in April, you can see I indulged in the cherry blossom flavour!
Access: 16 Babashitacho, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo. Open everyday, 11am-9pm.
Gin no An store front
The seasonal sakura flavoured taiyaki — a perfect partner for hanami (cherry blossom viewing!)