I recently discovered that a 15-30 minutes walk past the hustling streets of the Scrambling Crossing (Shibuya, you got me right!) takes you to either a sparkling date spot (for example, the Ebisu Garden Place or Daikanyama), or to a small local neighbourhood, where the number of bicycles outstand the number of cars.Yutenji (祐天寺), being a cozy community, where you could see everyday conversation between the local residents on the shopping alley just in front of the station.
I visited Yutenji with a friend after reading an article in a random magazine I picked up during my break at work. The article was subtitled, “a place in Tokyo where time flies slowly” underneath the words “Yutenji” and “Sanpo (散歩)” which means "to stroll" were printed. There was a handwritten map with illustrations of small shops for the ease of the readers while strolling around the area. Being a “Sanpo freak”, I felt obliged to visit this area and witness, how different it was from Shibuya. Here’s the overview of the course my friend and I followed.
LUNCH: SASHIMI AT SHIOKAZE
We met at Yutenji Station at around 12:30 pm quite hungry, so lunch was our first stop. This dish of shining gems fresh from under the sea could be eaten for ¥1000 ~ ¥1500 with a large bowl of white rice, miso soup, and pickles (which I wished they sold). Located in a residential area Shiokaze is difficult to find unless you know the name of the restaurant. This restaurant serves amazing fresh sashimi and other delicious cuisine for a cheap price during the afternoon.
After lunch, we returned to the alley. This place reminded me of scenes in Hayao Miyazaki’s Ghibli films. I can’t say which but the landscape Yutenji illustrates can probably be seen in some Ghibli movie.
We found an old stationary shop, two stories high, full of a variety of pens, pencils, and other stationery. This place reminded me of my childhood when one of my first priorities was to collect 3D stickers and perfumed erasers. The gum-ball machine right by the entrance brought back some nostalgic feelings, though I hardly ever inserted a coin inside one of them.
SNACK TIME: ANMITSU AT KOSHIJI
Having walked around the alley for a while, we entered a small old fashioned shop that sold traditional “Dango” (団子) treats for less than ¥100, some side dishes or “Souzai” (惣菜), and Japanese “Anmitsu” (あんみつ) parfaits. The shop had a built-in cafe area for customers to sit down and eat their “Anmitsu” with green tea. We were the only customers at first but soon after, an old couple, probably over their 70’s came in, with another old woman following after. All of these customers ordered their food in a casual matter, and the owner, another aged woman, would answer “Itsumono ne~” (いつものね) meaning “the usual right?”
Our final destination was of course, Yutenji - the temple as it represents the area as a whole. I assumed the temple to be a small, popping-out-of-nowhere kind of place. But I was proved wrong. Yutenji is a fairly large temple, with high walls surrounding it. Despite the obstacles that shield the temple from being visible from the outside, once you enter, you would probably be accompanied by other solo strollers. A mere 20-minute-stay at the temple ended my slow adventure of that day.
After this “Sanpo” tour with my friend, we walked back to Shibuya within half an hour. As the random article I read mentioned, Yutenji was indeed a place where time flowed unconditionally slow, despite the fact that it is located right next to one of Japan’s busiest cities.
If you need to kill time around Shibuya, or are looking for some nostalgic peace, I would totally recommend visiting Yutenji, even alone (unless you’re planning to stop by Ebisu or Daikanyama).