Deep into the Roji (narrow alleys) of Tokyo: Exploring two historic and human-scaled districts through Jane Jacobs’ eyes -- Part 1

Shunji Suzuki, March 10, 2017

We conducted two Jane’s Walks in Tokyo on May 8, 2016: in the Kagurazaka district in the morning, and in Mukojima in the afternoon. Both of these are historic and human-scaled neighborhoods. About 80 participants enjoyed the day. The walks were coordinated by Shunji Suzuki, with help by Prof. Toshiya Yamamoto, Yamamoto Lab members of Meiji University, The Ikimachi Club of Kagurazaka and The Mukojima-Gakkai Association. These reports from the walks were submitted by participants.

Part 1: Kagurazaka Walk

The name Kagurazaka translates to “Kagura Slope,” and as this indicates, there are many gently sloping streets. The buildings stand narrow and deep, and we felt a sense of old Edo [the name of Tokyo prior to 1863]. Zenkokuji Temple is the site of fairs and night markets. Wakana is the long-established inn where great writers stayed and worked. Such venerable properties still remain. The alleys of Kagurazaka are paved by cobble stones, and many sites have black walls. It is impressive that they are owned and maintained by the local residents. There are many French restaurants and immigrants in the area.

(Report by Kurita, Fujii, Mitsumoto)

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Historic alleys of Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka is in the central urbanized area in Tokyo, yet there are historical alleys and atmosphere. The name Kagurazaka comes from a saying that traditional Shinto shrine music (kagura) is heard here. At its peak period, more than 600 geishas lived and worked here. Because of modern urban redevelopment, vestiges of the district are being lost. However, local residents and nonprofits are working to preserve the alleys and make district plans and rules for redevelopment.

(Report by Mukoyama, Machii, Ichikawa)

Our team walked to discover new and old Kagurazaka. Zelkova trees, planted along the main street, are rather new and add rich green. In the alley area, cobblestones and black wood fencing preserve the character of the historic neighborhood. The public baths and old wooden houses are still there. There are also fashionable cafes, French restaurants and high-rise condos, and art galleries in the quiet residential area. (Report by Sato, Kobayashi)

In this area, Roji (narrow alleys) are important. Sloping Kagurazaka Street is the main road and has a lot of pedestrians and auto traffic. There is a plan to widen the road, but it should not divide the area into two. (Report by Furukawa, Kashiwagi)

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The “Bishamonten” Zenkokuji Temple, located in the centre of Kagurazaka, is a landmark.

What we found:

  • - Usually, statues of dogs are placed as guardians at the gate of a shrine, but tigers are placed at Zenkokuji Temple.
  • - Koshoji Temple, located at the highest point in the area, used to be a castle and seat of local government.
  • - There are many publishing companies in the district.
  • - Akagi Shrine was recently re-designed by Kengo Kuma and given an updated, modern style.
  • - There are some fashionable restaurants that utilize renovated old houses.
  • - Local people united in response to this tall residential tower, and this led to the making of a district plan.
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