So you want to see a bit of Tokyo and you have half a day for a tour. Forget zooming around on a tour bus as you rubber-neck to get a photo of famous or popular sights. You are not likely to pick up anything about Japanese culture, heritage, beliefs or sense of place in the world from such a tour. No, what you need is a local guide who knows the side streets and can point out and give you appreciation for the little, yet significant things that you would otherwise bypass like a stone fox at the entrance of a shrine, covered in green lichen. What does it mean and why is it there?
Clouds hung low over the tops of the towers and high-rises of Tokyo. Although it was late April, and just as well could have been t-shirt weather, my teeth chattered and my hands were clammy cold. I had wisely worn a raincoat and carried an umbrella for my walking tour, but I hadn’t thought to bring dry socks. Fog, grayness and dampness otherwise provided a perfect atmosphere for the tour.
I chose "Ghosts and Goblins of Old Tokyo," one of five tours provided by Haunted Tokyo, simply because that tour was at a convenient time for me, on a Saturday morning. The tour departs from near Inaricho Station (Ginza Line). I gave myself some extra time to find the meeting place, McDonalds. It was easy to find and I had time to spare, so I ordered something for breakfast. Soon another foreign lady wearing all black took a seat nearby to nurse a coffee, and spread a number of papers across her table. She may be my tour guide, I decided. She finished her beverage and left. Ten minutes later in front of the restaurant, some others had gathered and were talking to the lady in black. I had found my tour guide and group members: an older couple from England and their teenage daughter, a lady from Malaysia, two young ladies from Russia, and a couple of Japanese guys. For Japanese people keen to learn English, what better way to immerse yourself in the language than to take an English tour?
After introductions, we started our tour at a fox shrine just down the street. Already I was getting spooky vibes. Our guide pointed out the weird gothic artifice on an empty looking building nearby. Teddy bears were staring out from an upstairs window from another nearby window. Rain pattered on my umbrella. I huddled close to the others and our guide and strained to hear about folklore, spirits, Tokyo’s history and Japanese culture related to the spiritual. I was captivated. At a cemetery later on the tour, not everybody was up to entering a small building at the rear where the temple housed the spirits of the unnamed dead. I entered alone. It felt special and out of respect, I left my camera snug in its case.
I'm glad I left my ghost-loving young son at home. A lot of places we explored were not stroller-friendly. Younger children would probably distract from the tour; conversely, if they listened, they might have nightmares.
Our tour guide kindly answered questions as we went along. We had time to use the public washroom. We had time to take photos. I won’t tell you exactly what we saw or learned—that would spoil the tour—but you can see a teaser video below.
One of the most interesting things for me was visiting a shrine that showcased a fossilized hand of a kappa. When I say showcased, I don't mean we had to stand in line to purchase tickets. Rather, at a very small shrine, along a small street, we could climb some stairs and peer into a dusty window to see it. Only locals and our guide would even know it was there.
If I have any friends or relatives from abroad visiting, I will encourage them to take a Haunted Tokyo tour; heck, even local Tokyoites can learn a lot walking the city with a knowledgeable, attentive guide, investigating spirits and spiritual things.