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Tokyo – Sumida River March 1, 2011

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo – Sumida River” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Cu

The Sumida River is one of the major rivers in Tokyo.  There are three famous rivers, the Kanda, Sumida, and Edogawa.  There are others that are equally as famous, but in terms of rivers that everyone knows and can easily point out on a map, these are the three.  The Sumida River is one of the rivers that I know very well.  I live very close to it and cross it daily as I head into Tokyo to get to work.  I run up and down the river and know almost every inch of the river from Asakusa in the north to Tsukiji in the south.  The entire river front area is a unique area in Tokyo and something that most tourists miss, along with most locals.  If you have a few hours of down time, between running to Asakusa and shopping in Shinjuku, I’d recommend a quick visit to any section of this river and you won’t be disappointed.

Starting in the north, for most people Asakusa is the best starting point.  North of Asakusa, the Sumida River is a very peaceful location.  Along the western bank, there are various parks and schools making this a very pedestrian friendly location.  The views of Tokyo Sky Tree and the Asahi buildings are very famous and a typical photo opportunity for those visiting Tokyo.  The north side is also home to the Tokyo Water Bus which has its main terminal here.  It’s very popular for people to start the day in Asakusa visiting the Sensoji before boarding the water bus and heading to Hamarikyu Gardens or Odaiba.  I’d suggest a quick walk around the park as well as it’s a great way to relax.  On a nice sunny weekend you can expect to see lots of families in the area with their children.  Of particular interest, if you walk along the eastern side, you will come close to the elevated highway which provides an experience that only Tokyo can provide.  Being mere metres from the looming highway above can invoke strange feelings that can’t be explained.  I wouldn’t suggest it for everyone as the idea of hearing cars overhead also brings screams of environmental chants calling for a curb on carbon emissions, but that’s beside the point.

Heading south will take you towards Ryogoku.  This is a great opportunity to see some of the more interesting bridges in the area as well as visit Ryogoku.  Ryogoku is home of the most important sumo stadium in Japan where they hold 3 tournaments a year.  For most of the trip, you will be pleasantly surprised by the detailed art located within the railings of the river walk as well as the details of the bridges.  From the famous red bridge in Asakusa to the equally vibrant yellow of Kuramaebashi, you will see some of Tokyo’s most brightly painted bridges.  While this is the case, most of the time, not every bridge will be as beautiful, and to be honest, not everyone likes a bridge.  Towards the Ryogoku area, you will may be surprised to see large canvas drawings.  These pictures vary from school kids helping to define the area to traditional Japanese paintings to describe the area’s past.  It is a great way to learn about the area and how things have changed and all of this is free.  Be sure to avoid leaving the riverside as the areas on the other side of the dike are not as interesting, but you can find a few gems along the way.

Once past Ryogoku, you will come upon the Hamacho and Hatchobori area.  For this area, it’s best to keep to the west as there is less of a need to exit the riverside area to cross a small river.  This area, along with most areas along the river, is popular for runners.  It is common to see runners at all times of the day running both up and down the river.  For the casual tourist, there are a number of paintings on the walls as well as various gardens and art displays.  I would recommend this area for its relaxing views and the ability to just sit down and enjoy the views.  While it isn’t a natural as the Edogawa, in fact there is almost no nature in the area at all, it is still fairly peaceful.  The architecture of the area is also noticeably different.  You will notice that the buildings are a little higher and a little newer in this area compared to the Ryogoku and Asakusa areas.  Both Asakusa and Ryogoku both have tall buildings but they tend to be focused whereas this area tends to be evenly distributed.  If you travel along the east side, walking around in the streets can be very interesting as you will be walking in an area that is filled with locals.  It’s a popular residential area that tends to be on the high end of the social ladder.  For this reason, the area tends to be more peaceful and distinct.

Just south of Hatchobori is the last section of the Sumida River.  Tsukiji, Tsukishima, and the Hamarikyu gardens mark the area with their own distinct flavours.  The Tsukiji area is relatively calm and a wonderful area to walk as you get beautiful views of Tsukushima and Kachidoki.  It’s also a great way to end a walk by heading in and getting some sushi.  If you head to the other side and visit Tsukishima, you can easily get good monja yaki.  While both areas don’t have much to offer, I do recommend you to visit as both areas provide another unique look at Japan.  In contrast to the area just to the north, this area does its best to combine modern high rises with nature.  It’s very common to see small plazas everywhere.  You can easily take a break and just enjoy the view.  If you head along the east side, you will have to travel past Monzennakacho.  There is a very small island located between Monzennakacho and Tsukishima.  While this island is not very significant and almost never on any tourists “to do” list, I’d recommend a visit if you just happen to be in the area.  It’s a peaceful place with hardly anyone there.  Of course there are a few homeless but the views up and down the river are spectacular and show off the urban beauty of a city built around a river.

For most tourists, I would only recommend visiting the Asakusa to Ryogoku section of this river.  The main reason is that the entire river is long and that’s the only section which would be interesting to a casual tourist.  Even for residents, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this area unless they lived in the nearby area.  If you are a runner and looking for a nice place to run, and you happen to be staying in Asakusa or somewhere near the river, I highly recommend that you go for a run if you have the time.  It’s a wonderful experience and being able to run part of the area is worth it.  It’s better than trying to fight your way through traffic and trying to avoid getting hit by cars on the regular streets.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome) June 8, 2010

Posted by Dru in Japan, Kanto, Tokyo.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Tokyo (Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-qv

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is a small residential district adjacent to Nishi Shinjuku.  The area is full of high rise buildings and a mix of both residential and commercial use buildings.  The atmosphere is loud and busy making it a very dynamic place to visit.  Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is located west of the Nishi Shinjuku skyscraper district.  It is very common for people to stay in hotels located in Nishi Shinjuku such as The Park Hyatt, The Hilton, and various other major hotel chains.  The Park Hyatt was even used in the movie “Lost in Translation”.  It is very easy for tourists to wander over and check out the closest thing they can get to a residential area.  All you have to do is head west.  Once you pass Shinjuku Central Park, you are in the 5-Chome area.

There aren’t really any landmarks in this area.  Locating the exact area can be very difficult.  The best way to find the area is to find the station, Nishishinjuku Gochome.  While that is easier said than done, another method to find the 5-Chome area is to just head west from any of the major hotels in the Nishi Shinjuku district.  Once you see Shinjuku Central Park, you are almost there.  It’s basically on the other side of the park.  The most obvious “attraction” in the area would have to be the schools.  This area is the central area for the TOHO group of schools.  You can see various kids walking around at all hours.  The main field of study for these schools is anything to do with entertainment.  They teach everything there is to know about film, theatre, and music.  From time to time, you can even see some of the school festivals where they sell various foods to eat.  If you are lucky, you might be able to hear a free concert from within one of the school walls, but this is a very rare occasion.

The main thing to do in Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome is to eat.  There are various restaurants that are good, and many that can satisfy you with a quick cheaper meal.  There is a nice Okinawan restaurant that is more fusion than real Okinawan.  The fusion style is less Western-Okinawan than Japanese-Okinawan.  If you go at the right time, they have a happy hour where beer is pretty cheap.  It’s also the only place in the area with seats outside.  It’s common for people in the middle of summer to buy a scoop of ice cream and enjoy it while the world passes by in front of them.  They sell the famous Blue Seal ice cream brand and you can get Orion beer, which are both famous in Okinawa.  If you are looking for good pasta, there is a good place to eat called Popolare.  It’s extremely hard to find if you don’t know where to look.  It’s behind one of the TOHO schools just past Yamate Street.  Mostly locals visit this restaurant, but it has been getting more and more popular.  It can be busy at times but the quality is generally good.  It’s rare to see a line outside, so reservations aren’t always necessary, but if you have a group of over 4 people, you might want to think about a reservation.  If you love the Beach Boys, you’ll also love this place as the chef/owner always has it playing all the time.  There are several other good restaurants in the area, but you do have to walk around to find them.  The adjacent areas are also very close by, within a 10 minute walk, and worth a quick visit.  The good thing about 5-Chome is that there are many fast food shops in the area so you are never far from food at any hour of the day.  If you get hungry, and you are staying in the area, you can easily go out and get some snacks to satisfy your late night urges.

If you have the energy, heading south will take you to Hatsudai or Tokyo Opera City.  This is a nice area.  The complex is hard to miss as it’s the tallest building in the area and a beacon in and of itself.  Inside, there is a museum and a concert hall.  Once, the annual Kohaku Concert was held there.  The main public complex also holds a small shopping area.  There aren’t many shops but there are a few restaurants as well.  If you are lucky, you can also enjoy a nice festival, usually in the latter half of the year.  Adjacent to the Tokyo Opera City complex is a small shopping street called Fudo Street.  It’s a local only shopping street.  There are various small shops, but the main type of shop is ramen.  You can find a lot of good ramen shops on this street.  The area is also known for some of its Indian or South-East Asian cuisine.  It’s important to try it out if you have the time.  There are also a few izakaya in the area, but they tend to be for locals only.  You can also cross the major highway to the south of Tokyo Opera City.  This area is very similar in tone, but you start to head further and further away from 5-Chome.  If you do have the energy to walk back to Shinjuku, you can always stop off at the Sword Museum which is a nice small museum.  The cost to enter is not really worth it, but if you are very interested in seeing samurai swords and such, it’s worth a visit if you are in the area.  It’s better to go to a major museum as they are only slightly more expensive, but they are at least three times bigger with more things to see.

If you want to try another smaller area, there is Nakano Sakaue.  It’s an area that’s about 15 minutes north of 5-Chome and just one stop down.  It’s very similar to 5-Chome and Hatsudai, with the exception that it’s a little busier.  It’s easier to find things in the area, and there are a few more restaurants that are delicious.  If anything, the main reason to head this way is for the large bookstore and Daiso.  Otherwise, it’s more interesting to head towards Hatsudai.  If you live in the area, it’s great if you head towards the Kanda River.  It’s a very small river that looks more like a concrete canal than anything else.  It’s a great area to go running, but beware that major streets make it difficult to run completely at times.

All in all, this area is great to visit.  It isn’t really worth it when you are only visiting Tokyo, but if you are on your second or third trip with nothing new to see, it is fun to just pick a direction and head out that way.  Many things are great to see a second time around, but heading to this area, especially if your hotel is around here, is worth a visit.

Nishi Shinjuku 5-Chome Information:

Tokyo Opera City [English]:  http://www.operacity.jp/en/
Tokyo Opera City [Japanese]  http://www.operacity.jp/

Japanese Sword Museum:  http://www.nbthk-ab.org/Japan.htm

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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