Looking at Kagurazaka from Shinnai Alley (1)

I Love the Old Kagurazaka

Although rivers continue to flow, the water in them is never the same. Bubbles appear, gather, and disappear, never persisting for long…… The people dwelling in this world are like that.

This passage, exuding a feeling of the transience of worldly things, is the beginning of Hōjōki, a well-known work written in the Kamakura Period by Kamo no Chōmei.

I am the fourth generation of my family that was born and raised in Kagurazaka. I have lived here for 74 years, except for the period that my family was evacuated from Tokyo during WWII. While I have lived here, I have seen Kagurazaka undergoing transitions. Many of the established shops disappeared, new residents replaced the old, things changed at a rapid pace, and the atmosphere changed completely.

My home is located in the same place as it was before the war. Strictly speaking, the house was located at the entrance to an alley next to the current Tokyo Metropolitan Government Office Board of Education Building (it was Akagi Elementary School before the war). In part of our house, starting in 1928, my mother ran a small restaurant called Kikuya. The restaurant closed in 1998. Even before the war, this small street, which I call Shinnai Yokocho (Shinnai Alley), was busy. Next door to Kikuya were a fish shop and a sushi restaurant. Across from our house there was a Chinese restaurant, and at the end of the alley, there was a café. I’ve been told that my mother’s restaurant was very popular. That is how things were long ago.
On the Akagi shrine side of Okubo street (between Shinjuku and Banseibashi on metropolitan street car line #10) is Kagurazaka 6 chome, which used to be called Tsuuji-cho. In this area, there still exist shops that have been there since before the war, such as Hanatoyo, Yamamoto Tofu Shop, Mikuri’s goban shop (selling items related to the game of go), Ouchi’s barbershop, Wada’s photo studio, and the Kato-ya footwear store. The Fujimura-ya coffee shop called Koban has also continued from the pre-war time, but its business has changed; it used to sell traditional jimanyaki sweet snacks and azuki ice in summer time. Both were very delicious. I often bought and ate them when I was a child. Later they started a bistro called Sho-Ichigo, which was also very popular. There were others, but most of them have disappeared.

In the Bishamonten shrine neighborhood, some long-established shops that are still there include the Somaya stationery shop, Ryukou-tei, the Natsme photo studio, and the Sukeroku shoe store. Other shops have survived by changing their business. Shops that opened after the war are, from my point of view, not “long established”, but they are getting busier and becoming famous as representing Kagurazaka. That is very encouraging.

There are several shops that often bring back memories to me to such as the Shiose yokan shop, the Meigetsu ramen shop, and Uokin near Bishamonten, Nishida liquor store, the Tahara-ya restaurant which served western food, all of which were located in front of Bishamonten, and the shichimi red pepper shop located near the present A3 exit of the Oedo subway line. At Honda Yokocho, there were the Hoseido pharmacy, the Meiji-en Japanese tea shop, Takezawa furniture shop, and the Musashino movie theater (the Yoshiya supermarket is in that location now), and Tomasa. Especially, Tomasa’s kogori (food prepared in natural gelatin) and suji (boiled tendons) were consistently delicious, and I have never found better. Absolutely!
Even though I have fond memories of those shops, Kagurazaka’s special character is thanks to its pleasure quarters. If gorgeous, seductive women disappear from its cobbled paths, no longer walking there while holding up the hem of their kimono, the real Kagurazaka will be finished. If the lively sound of the shamisen and Japanese drums are no longer to be heard from behind its black walls, the lights of Kagurazaka will be extinguished. No matter how busy the streets are and how full of people, Kagurazaka will not be Kagurazaka any longer if the sound of rustling clothes and geta when people leave restaurants is no longer heard, and white tabi are no longer seen.

Even if Japanese youngsters and foreigners are strolling on the slopes of the hills of Kagurazaka, and no matter if the shops there are flourishing, the pleasure quarters are always what represents Kagurazaka.

Kagurazaka is sustained by you. That’s why I want to support it.

It’s because I like the pleasure quarters. Because I love Kagurazaka. No matter how the rivers of the world continue flow, no matter how much they change.
As a Kagurazaka native and shinnai professional, I will write in this series of essays about my life history up to now, including descriptions of my travels for overseas performances.

From Kagurazaka Community Magazine, April-May 2013 issue, issue #67.

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