Your Finnair Guide: Hidden gems of Tokyo
If you wish to escape the tourist-filled streets of Tokyo, many hidden treasures and intriguing places await. Follow in Finnair Cabin Crew Kaori Kyppö’s footsteps and explore a side of downtown Tokyo full of interesting religious beliefs, local dining, beautiful gardens and shopping – just like locals do.
Sugamo – improve your health the local style
This quaint downtown area awaits within just 20 minutes of Tokyo Station on the Yamanote Line. While Tokyo’s famous Harajuku area is known as the centre of youth gathering, Sugamo could be playfully described as "Grandmas' Harajuku".
The centrepiece of the town is the Kogan-Ji temple. According to an old legend, the temple’s Jizo statue appeared in a samurai's dream, telling him that his wife's illness would be cured by throwing pictures of Jizo into the river. This proved to work, so since then, locals have believed that praying for Jizo brings them good health. Unfortunately, the Jizo statue is a hidden treasure and not open to the public, but you can purchase pictures of the statue instead.
There is another healing statue in the temple that you are welcome to visit. It is believed that the Arai-Kannon statue heals your ill body parts when you wash the same part of the statue. Perhaps worth a try?
After the temple visit, enjoy shopping and dining on the shopping street in front of the temple. You may notice that many shops sell red underwear, which is considered good for health in oriental medicine. Thus, people who wish for a long and healthy life buy red underwear. In the area, you’ll also find many shops with traditional Japanese sweets, Instagrammable unique food, and restaurants in which you can enjoy well-balanced Japanese set menus.
If you walk 10 minutes in the opposite direction of the temple from Sugamo station, you’ll reach Rikugien, a famous scenic spot. In this Japanese garden with a history of about 300 years, you can enjoy seasonal flowers and see gardening techniques unique to Japanese gardens. Take a break in the teahouse and take in the beautiful scenery with traditional matcha green tea and a sweet bite.
Kappabashi Tool Street – find your favourite kitchen item
If you take a step further from Asakusa and Tokyo Sky Tree areas, which are known as Tokyo's top tourist attractions, you come to a shopping street called Kappabashi Dougu-Street. This special place is a little different from ordinary shopping streets, and customers gather here from all over Japan.
Even though this shopping district is meant mainly for professional chefs, you are very welcome to shop here even if you aren’t a professional. You’ll find wonderful, good-quality souvenirs and gift items here. Let's see why people come all the way to Kappabashi to shop.
Traditional and stunning tableware
Many tourists like to purchase Japanese tableware as a souvenir from Japan. Each region in Japan has its traditional pottery with its own characteristics. In Japanese dining etiquette, Japanese hold dishes in their hands when eating. Compared to Western tableware, Japanese dishes are lighter and more comfortable to hold in your hands.
In recent years, many Japanese tableware items have been designed to suit not only Japanese cuisine but also many other types of food as well. You may find your favourite one right from this shopping district without having to travel all over Japan.
Besides pottery, there are many wooden, glass, and lacquerware items in Kappabashi. As this area is mainly for professionals who need a huge amount of tableware, many of the products are at a reasonable price compared to major department stores.
World-famous kitchen knives
Knives made by Japanese craftsmen are known for their high quality and preferred by top chefs around the world. The sharpness of Japanese blades is known for Japanese swords, and the same technique is also used in the making of kitchen knives. Master craftsmen say that it takes a lifetime to master all the techniques required to create a perfect knife. Not only their skills but also good materials, firing and polishing are essential in producing high-quality knives.
A knife made with a craftsman's soul continues to be used for generations. You’ll be able to find many types of knives, but if you only want to buy one knife, you should get the Santoku knife suitable for cutting fish, meat and vegetables. It will be a big hit in your kitchen!
When wandering around Kappabashi Street, are you able to spot a golden Kappa statue? A kappa is a type of Youkai, a Japanese monster in old tales, which looks like a frog with a plate on its head. It’s meant to symbolise prosperous business for the merchants.
Jindaiji temple area – escape from the hectic city life
Located in western Tokyo, Jindaiji temple is a historic temple built in the 8th century. Though this quiet area full of greenery is easily accessible from the city centre, you will forget the hustle and bustle of the city quickly and spend the day as if you had stepped back in time.
The street to the temple is lined with quaint restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s fun to get small sweets such as soft-serve ice cream with a Japanese twist and skewered dango-dumplings, and eat them while walking around.
Kitaro-Chaya teahouse is perhaps the most eye-catching cafe in the area. On its roof is a large Yokai that looks down upon the people passing by. Kitaro is the main character of the Yokai-themed manga "GeGeGe no Kitaro'' by the famous artist Shigeru Mizuki. If you walk around Jindaiji Temple, you’ll find its characters everywhere, not only in this teahouse but also on bus exteriors, monuments in the shopping district, and more. One of the greatest attractions of the Jindaiji area is that you encounter the Kitaro manga, which has been loved by many Japanese people for a long time.
While in Jindaiji, the soba noodle is a must-try. The Jindaiji Temple area has abundant spring water, and soba noodles made with it are a local specialty. You can eat them with hot soup in the winter or with cold soup in the summer – they’re delicious in any season. If you choose Juuwari-Soba made from 100% buckwheat flour, you can fully enjoy the unique flavor and texture of soba gluten-free.
After visiting the temple, how about visiting the Jindai Botanical Gardens on the north side of the temple? Many precious plants are planted next to the beautiful spring water. Among them are 5,000 roses of around 300 varieties, which are in full bloom every autumn and spring to our delight.
If you get tired of walking, visit the hot spring Onsen Yumorinosato before returning to your hotel. While many hot springs are located in mountain areas, here you can enjoy natural hot springs right near the city centre by taking a bus from Chofu Station or Musashisakai Station. As you will go into the hot spring naked, there are separate sides for women and men. You don’t need to bring your own towel or shampoo; however, it’s good to remember to cover any tattoos as they are not allowed.
Your Finnair Guide series showcases different Finnair destinations through the eyes of finnairians. Join us to discover unique and not-so-obvious areas, places, sights and experiences that are worth a visit – those that locals also enjoy.