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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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Tokyo (Asakusa – Part I) January 12, 2010

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 (Asakusa – Part I)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-ke

Asakusa is one of the must see places in Tokyo.  For any resident, however, it’s a place to avoid, unless you live in the area.  It’s a typical tourist location.  There is really only one thing to do in the area, but it can take up to half a day to complete it.  Asakusa itself is one of the oldest entertainment districts in Tokyo, and one of the oldest neighbourhoods.  If you take the Shitamachi bus line from Tokyo Station, you will essentially be travelling in the oldest areas of Tokyo once you reach Ueno.  You can see some of the oldest houses in the area if you know where to look.  You can also enjoy the beautiful Sensoji temple or shopping for very kitsch souvenirs.  Be aware that this being a tourist trap, you may want to keep a closer eye on your wallets and purses.  It can get very busy, which can bring out the pickpockets.  Do note that this is still Japan, so the chances of a pickpocket are still extremely low.

The best thing to do when arriving in Asakusa is to get there early, say 9 or 10am and head straight for Sensoji.  Head to exit 1 from the Ginza line and A4 from the Asakusa line.  From here, you can head straight to Kaminarimon, or Kaminari Gate.  This is the main entrance to Sensoji, and Nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This gate will be very busy and any pictures are sure to include other tourists.  This spot is also popular for hiring rickshaws.  Prices can vary and they are all eager to take you around the streets for a private tour.  Prices start at 5000 Yen for one person, for 30 minutes, 8000 Yen for two people, all the way up to 30,000 Yen for over 2 hours.  These people can be very colourful, but do your best to find someone who can speak English, at least a little, so that you can understand the history of the area better.  The gate itself is fairly large and lit up at night.  There are four large statues located within the gate.  The two facing the street are Shinto gods, while the opposing two are Buddhist gods.  While these are not the most fascinating statues in Japan, they are the easiest to access and it provides a taste of what you can see in other areas of Japan.

Once past the gate, you will be within the Nakamise Shopping Arcade area.  This area is where tourists tend to buy everything.  You can get things from key chains, head bands that say “Japan” with the rising sun logo, and even yukatas.  While you may think you are buying a kimono, do note that you are more than likely buying a basic yukata.  There are a few shops selling these clothes and they can be very beautiful.  It may not have a traditional print, but for most tourists, it’s still very popular.  You may even get a small deal if you buy a few of them as gifts.  If you are looking for real kimono, you would be looking at spending at least 100,000 Yen for a very basic one.  About half way up the street, there is a small branch leading to Shin-nakamise Shopping Arcade.  This one offers a more modern style shopping and it feels like you are in a smaller Japanese city.  There are shoe shops, drug stores, and various restaurants and snack shops.  It’s worth a quick romp, but do note that things probably won’t open until 10am.  Towards the end of Nakamise, there are lots of food shops selling Dorayaki, a pancake like sandwich with sweet red bean paste inside, and senbe, a Japanese rice cracker.  These places aren’t the cheapest, but they are very good and made fresh.  I’d suggest buying some if you want to try traditional Japanese junk food.

This is Part I of a II part series.  Please continue reading about Asakusa in Part II.

Asakusa Information:

Asakusa (Japan Guide):  http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e3004.html
Asakusa (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asakusa
Asakusa (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Tokyo/Asakusa
Asakusa (English):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index_e.html
Asakusa (Japanese):  http://www.asakusa-e.com/index.html
Rickshaw Information (Japanese):  http://www.jidaiya.biz/kanko-j.html
Tokyo Shitamachi Bus:  http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/english/bus_guide.html

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