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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 – Ryogoku February 22, 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 – Ryogoku” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-Cr

Ryogoku is part of the Shitamachi area of Tokyo.  The Shitamachi area can simply be thought of as the eastern area of Tokyo if you draw a line, north south, from the centre of the Imperial Palace.  It has often been referred to as the old area of town and where you can meet many new characters.  In the past it has been populated by the lower class of merchants and to this very day the entire area has a friendlier and more forward style of life compared to the west which tends to be more high-brow.  Ryogoku can now be considered part of the Shitamachi sould for many reasons.  While the old centre was in Ueno, the heart appears to be in Asakusa, the body in the surrounding suburbs, and its soul lies in Ryogoku.  Ryogoku has one major claim to fame and it has to be the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

The Ryogoku Kokugikan is located on the north side of Ryogoku Station.  It is the main arena for all sumo tournaments in Tokyo.  There are 3 tournaments a year in Tokyo, January, May, and September.  Visiting Ryogoku during any of these months is a wonderful experience whereas visiting on other months will be special, but not as interesting.  During the tournament month the entire front fence of the stadium is adorned with tall colourful banners for each of the Sumo stables.  Each stable has its own banner and they proudly display it during the tournaments.  During the tournaments, it’s not uncommon to see hundreds of people, if not thousands, lining up outside and around the stadium.  The people who are lining up are generally trying to get tickets, enter the stadium, or just get pictures of the sumo wrestlers as they enter or leave for the tournament.  Within a year of living in the area I have seen many sumo wrestlers at the stadium.  If you happen to be in the area in the afternoon, you have an even greater chance of seeing them at the train station, but don’t expect to see the top Ozeki and Yokozuna.  They tend to get their own cars or have others who drive them.  Sumo is a very old and respected sport in Japan, and part of that tradition dictates that they must live in the old traditional styles of Japan.  This includes their clothing as well as their ability to drive.  Most sumo are not allowed to drive as this goes against the tradition.  There are instances where they do not wear their traditional clothing, but this is not very often and they have specific reasons for this.

While Ryogoku is defined best by the Ryogoku Kokugikan, it isn’t the only important thing in the area.  Next door is the Edo-Tokyo Museum.  Edo is the old name for Tokyo and the museum itself is a look into the past of Tokyo.  It is located in a very unique building.  It was designed to look similar to an old style store house but the best way to describe it is to imagine a roof structure on 4 pillars.  The museum is located inside the roof structure and there is a large open area around the pillars.  It’s best to be seen with pictures in order to understand it.  The museum itself can be centred on one floor located in the “roof”.  While there are special exhibits on the main floor, most tourists will want to visit the Edo museum upstairs.  This is a very interesting museum.  There is a full scale replica of the original Nihonbashi bridge, albeit cut off due to space restrictions.  They detailed it perfectly.  The entire area is primarily lined with miniature models.  Everywhere you go you can see miniature models of what Tokyo looked like during the Edo era.  While most of the descriptions are in Japanese, the intricate detail of each model is amazing.  Unfortunately, photos are very difficult to take inside due to the lighting.  They utilize a very dark mood which makes most photos without a tripod nearly impossible.  The main floor adds a bunch of life sized replicas of the way of life in Tokyo.  They include the pre-war and post-war eras.  It’s amazing to see some of the artifacts in the museum from old bicycles to bombs and even a replica of a house built after the war.  The admission is worth it for those who want a little culture, but if you aren’t interested in culture, you might want to skip this museum.

Heading east of the station, along the train tracks, will take you to a large wall.  This is actually a dike built by Tokyo to keep the flood waters of the Sumida River out of the city.  It’s fairly easy to climb this wall and get to the riverside.  The riverside called the “Sumida River Terrace”.  This is a long promenade that stretches for kilometres in each direction.  The section around Ryogoku stretches from a point several hundred metres to the south and about a kilometre to the north.  I will detail as much as possible in a future post, but the area immediately around Ryogoku is worth mentioning here.  If you start at the train tracks themselves, you will be greeted by two things, the Sumida River Art Gallery, and the water bus terminal.  There is a small port used on weekends and holidays for river tours, but due to the relative lack of tourists in Ryogoku, I rarely see the ferries stop in Ryogoku on days other than weekends.  The Art Gallery is a public art gallery that showcases various pieces of art done by people of all ages.  It’s interesting to see some of the pictures the school kids in the area have drawn as well as some of the old pictures of the region.  The information on the pictures are difficult to understand as it can be a little sparse or completely in Japanese.   Most of the art is located on the dike wall but that is not the only place to look for art.  On the floor itself you can see pictures of sumo wrestlers and on the railing before you fall into the river are various metal depictions of sumo moves.  These are all very interesting and extremely informative.  Spending a lot of time to enjoy these depictions and to learn the typical moves in sumo is enlightening.  It is something that you cannot experience at the Ryogoku Kokugikan as the Kokugikan is used for show rather than education.  There may be information on this inside the Kokugikan, but I haven’t been inside so I can’t comment on this.

There are still many other things to see and do in Ryogoku.  You can take a small tour of the area and see small shrines and parks.  Unfortunately, they aren’t as significant as many of the other parks and temples in other areas so they tend to be skipped.  The good point is that when you enter, there won’t be many people so you can enjoy the park as if you were the only one there.  I highly recommend spending a few hours just touring the area, especially to the north.  You can also try some chanko nabe.  It’s a type of hot pot where they boil a bunch of food together.  It’s a traditional sumo dish and being Ryogoku, many past sumo wrestlers have started their own shops.  It’s very easy to find a shop everywhere.  The charm of Ryogoku comes from being part of Shitamachi and the prestige of the sumo.  It can make any visit extremely memorable.

Ryogoku Information:

Sumo:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumo

Sumo (Official Website) [English]:  http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/

Sumo (Official Website) [Japanese]: http://www.sumo.or.jp/

Sumo Tournament Schedule [English]:  http://www.sumo.or.jp/eng/ticket/nittei_hyo/index.html

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Official Site) [English]:  http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/english/

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Official Site) [Japanese]: http://www.edo-tokyo-museum.or.jp/

Edo-Tokyo Museum (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edo-Tokyo_Museum

Shitamachi (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yamanote_and_Shitamachi

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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