|A forgotten corner of Yanaka or Nezu in 1987|
This actually proved more difficult than I'd imagined, as my very first residence, provided by my erstwhile sponsor, was right out on the very edge of Tokyo in a new town that was even younger than me. It took a few months before I could eventually find a place of my own choosing, by which time I'd had plenty of time to explore the old districts of the city. From the moment I first walked around Yanaka I fell in love with the area and knew this was where I wanted to live.
|A typical scene in Yanaka in the 1980's. What is it like today I wonder?|
|A favorite shop of mine, Isetatsu in Sendagi, famous as a specialist in Japanese paper. The shop is virtually unchanged today.|
|Memorial to one of my favorite Ukiyo-e woodblock print masters, Suzuki Harunobu (1725-70), and his muse Kasamori Osen (1751-1827), in Dai'enji Temple, Sendagi|
Finding a place to live there was difficult though, because many rental real estate offices simply would not deal with foreigners, claiming they "had nothing available" before I'd even told them what I was looking for, or "the owners would not be comfortable". One even suggested I "try Roppongi". The fact was, few Westerners lived in the area and that's the way they wanted to keep it. Nevertheless I persevered, and eventually found an apartment in Ueno-Sakuragi, just off Kototoi-dori near Yanaka Cemetery, not an old traditional house as I'd hoped, but it was at least in the right region. I was a few minutes walk from Geidai and Ueno Park, Yanaka and Nezu were my local areas.
|Stray cat in Nezu Shrine, which was (and probably still is) teaming with feral cats|
I lived in the apartment for just one year, soaking in the history and aesthetic culture of Yanesen. During that time I photographed, painted and drew the buildings (most of the artwork now unfortunately lost), studied Japanese and worked on adapting my illustration portfolio for the Japanese market.
|The view from my window towards Ueno, with Jomyoin Hakaen in the centre, top right can be seen the roof of the Kaneiji Temple|
Yanesen was the perfect place for inspiration, I loved it to bits and would have stayed longer. However things were moving rapidly for me, and eventually escalating illustration commissions, relationships and other factors persuaded me very reluctantly to move uptown to the other side of the city. And there I stayed, much to my regret.
|Very close to my apartment was the shop of a famous brushmaker|
|Yanaka 1Chome, 6 Banchi|
|3rd generation Shin Fuji Soba restaurant, which stood close to Nezu Station on Kototoi-dori.|
Watercolour sketch, Spring 1988
|A photo I took of the same location in 1987|
|The same view today (from Google street view). The restaurant is still there (much spruced up!) but everything else around has changed.|
|Kawasaki Shoten on Kototoi Dori, 1-15 Yanaka, in 1987|
|The same location today|
It's not all bad news though, Yanaka and Sendagi attracts tourists, buildings are being saved by people dedicated to preserving something of the old town's atmosphere, Yanesen has become a haven for artists and others looking for a lost part of Japanese culture. Many of these artists are people from outside the area, including foreigners - it's ironic that the very people who 25 years ago would have found difficulty moving into the area are now those who are safeguarding it's old buildings.
|Nezu 2-Chome 33 Banchi in 1987 (my photo)|
|And the same location now (Google). Where's it gone!|
Here I've posted some of my old photos from 1987-88, compared to Google street views of the same locations today. I've many more photos of the area, but virtually all my sketches from the period have been lost. If I find anything though I'll post it!
You can find more 'then and now' photos of the area by others comparing to the 1980's in this Japanese language blog.