A little stroll in Ikebukuro

The other day I arranged to catch up with a friend, who suggested we meet in the Mejiro neighborhood, not a part of Tokyo I visit often. As my appointments for the day worked out, I had about an hour and a half to kill between my previous appointment and the set time to meet my friend. In the pre-pandemic days, I might have “nested” in a coffee shop with a good book to while away the “down time”. But the weather was good, so I decided instead take myself for a little walk.

I started from Ikebukuro, one station above Mejiro on the JR Yamanote line. Coming out of the station to the southwest I found myself on Metropolitan-dori, a street named for the Metropolitan Hotel nearby. I had already checked a map and found the Toshima Historical Museum nearby, the perfect place to begin to learn a bit about this neighborhood.

The museum is on the top floor of the IKE-biz Community Center and, while small, packs in a lot of information, going right back to archaeological evidence of prehistoric human habitation and then coming forward in time and explaining the modern history of the area, complete with maps.

Ikebukuro Station has been a gateway to Tokyo’s northwestern suburbs since 1885, and grew as a transportation and shopping hub especially after the Yamanote loop line was completed in 1925.

During the reconstruction after World War II, the area was also the site of a popular black market with as many as 1,200 vendors in operation. The museum makes this easy to understand with a delightfully detailed diorama.

After my museum visit, I exited left and turned left again to follow a crooked road known as Agariyashiki-dori. After about 5 minutes, a road to the right had a block embedded in the pavement telling me Jiyu Gakuen was nearby. Jiyu Gakuen was originally a Christian missionary school for girls that is best known for Myonichikan (House of Tomorrow), designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and originally opened in April 1921. Yes, it just celebrated its centenary. It is one of the last (if not the last) extant Wright-designed buildings in Tokyo.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 10 am to 4 pm (5 pm on holidays) and also closed to visitors when in use for events, the building is a Frank Lloyd Wright classic replete with art deco geometrics. Check the calendar (in Japanese here) for when entry is permitted.

After enjoying this architectural classic, I turned right and continued to the second street (the easy landmark was playground park ahead on the right). Turning left I came to the tracks for the Seibu Ikebukuro train line after about 250 meters. While there is little sign of it today beyond a slightly wider right of way than is usual in suburban Tokyo, there was once a train station called Agariyashiki a few dozen meters down on the right.

Just beyond the train tracks on the right I came to Mejiro Garden, a picturesque little garden around a carp-filled pond, so picturesque in fact that it’s a popular spot for bridal photos, although most visitors seemed to simply to relaxing and enjoying the garden’s serene atmosphere.

A sign told me that the tea house in the garden, known as Sekicho-an (House of the Red Bird), was the location where Ryunosuke Akutagawa and several other early twentieth century Japanese literati conceived the children’s magazine Sekicho (Red Bird), first published in 1918 and paving the way for children’s literature in Japan.

My perambulation around the garden’s pond completed my little foray into this neighborhood. When I left the garden, I continued to the right another 200 or so meters to Mejiro-dori, with Mejiro Station another 50 meters away on the left. I had just enough time to get there to meet my friend.

One of Tokyo’s special gifts is how much history one can pack into just a short walk.

© 2021 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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