Tsukishima, Kachidoki and Harumi
– The “older ones“ among Tōkyō’s man-made islands
(Eine deutschsprachige Version finden Sie unter: “Mondinsel, Triumphschrei und sonniges Meer“)
It’s widely known that housing space is a rarity in Japan. It’s also said that people live in rabbit hutches and capsules in Tōkyō. Like with all of the other cliches that flourish when it comes to Japan, also these have true core – but they remain what they are: cliches and they paint a rather distorted picture of reality.
In order to create more living space, even at the era of the Tokugawa Shōgunes (1603-1868) there was a rather ambitious land reclamation programme in Tōkyō Bay (at that time: Edo Bay). The largest parts of the city in the east and the south of the Imperial Palace, which house some of the most important centres of the city, were reclaimed from the sea at that time.
But also during the Meiji period (1868-1912) the land reclamation was continued. For example, Tsukishima (月島 / つきしみあ), the „Moon Island“, was completed in 1892 and the southern part, Kachidoki (勝どき / かちどき) (which can be literally translated as “Shout of Victory“) two years later.
Also the name ”Tsukishima“ provides a beautiful example for how names can be „glamorized“ in Japanese, without changing their spoken sound: Even though the island has been named “Tsukishima“ right from the beginning, it is said that, originally, the kanji “築島” were used which are also read “Tsukishima“, but man „man-made island“. Nowadays Tsukishima is written “月島” which means “Moon Island“. And, quite frankly, that sounds much more poetic, doesn’t it?
In the southeast of Tsukishima the “Harumi” (晴海 / はるみ) district was reclaimed from the Tōkyō Bay and named that way in 1937. The three island parts named so far are our distinations for our walk today – and they couldn’t be more different.
Let’s start our walk at the subway station “Kachidoki“ (勝どき / かちどき) of the Toei Ōedo line, which is located not far from the canal between Tsukishima and Kachidoki. While we leave the station via exit A3, we head in southeastern direction on the right side of the Harumi Dōri (晴海通り / はるみどうり). The Harumi Dōri connects the island Harumi (晴海 / はるみ) via Kachidoki with the “onshore” district of Tsukiji (築地 / つきじ) – home of the biggest fish market in the world – and the newer islands further in the southeast. And because we’ve learned about that kind thing already above, we know already: since the Japanese way of writing “Tsukiji” uses the kanji “築” one could translate its name with “reclaimed land” – or, with other words: also this land did not exist until this 18th century.
During recent years a lot of gigantic apartment- and office towers have been built Alongside the Harumi Dōri on Tsukishima and Kachidoki. And, as we are going to see later, they are going to seriously change the face of this part of Tōkyō.
Our first destination is Harumi (晴海 / はるみ), the southernmost island in the bay which still belongs to Tōkyō’s central district Chūō-ku (中央区 / ちゅうおうく). The Name “Harumi” can also be translated rather poetically with “Sunny Sea”. There used to be the International Trade Centre (kokusai bōeki sentā / 国際貿易センター / こくさいぼうえきセンター) on this island. The southern part of Harumi, which is our destination, has only two “real” points of interest left: The Harumi Futō Park (晴海ふ頭公園 / はるみふとうこうおえん) and the Harumi Passenger Terminal (晴海客船ターミナル / はるみきゃくせんターミナル). Apart from that, this part of Harumi is mostly waste land (utilised as training grounds for the police and the fire fighters) which is eaten bit by bit by advancing building activities, hence, further gigantic apartment towers.
The Harumi Passenger Terminal is – in a way – an anachronism. The present terminal was opened in 1991 with great pomp on the occasion of the 50th birthday of the port. Despite this, the terminal is hardly ever used during the course of a year, because there are only very few ocean liners who accidentally make it to Tōkyō. For example, in August 2012 it was just two ships (MS Club Harmony, MS Nippon Maru), in September 2012 even only one ship (MS Silver Shadow) landing here. The port of Yokohoma, some 40 km further south seems to be more attractive for cruise liners. However, from the Harumi Futō Park and the Harumi terminal one has an almost spectacular view of Tōkyō Bay (see at the top of this posting) – and that’s exactly the reason why we are here today.
On my way back from the passenger terminal I took a little detour to the twin towers called „The Tōkyō Towers“ (ザ・東京・タワーズ) in Kachidoki. They are still the second tallest apartment buildings in the country (the even taller tower on the right of the twin towers on the picture below belongs to a waste incineration plant). Since January 2008 the complex is able to provide ample living space for about 8.000 people – distributed over 58. floors in each tower and all together more than 383,000 square metres of space. May be some of the inhabitants may have had little fun only living here in March 2011 when the elevators had to be put out of service from time to time for security reasons durning the long row of earthquakes. Architecturally these both towers may not be a gem, but they design of the facades is quite eye-catching when you cross Tōkyō Bay or the Rainbow Bridge.
Back on Tsukishima we are visiting a quarter of the island which is particularly dear to me, because it still offers a picture of the “old Tōkyō” that cannot be found to often any longer. Naturally, it’s a bit of a shame that this quarter may have been like that for the longest time, as the giant living towers are gaining ground. It’s the little alleys on the left and right of the Nishinakadōri (西仲通り / にしなかみせどうり) in Tsukishima sanchōme (月島三丁目 / つきしまさんちょうめ) I’m talking about. The close-packed one-family-houses show how cramped but also homey living used to be in most parts of the city. Modern fire protection laws wouldn’t allow this way of building development any longer, but this friendly-cranky neighbourhood is anyway getting smaller and smaller as I had to realise when I compared my impressions with a visit to this area four years ago.
Yet another attraction is the Nishinakadōri itself. This street is lined by a long row of restaurants on both sides. And most of these restaurants offer a Tōkyō specialty for which Tsukishima is famous: monjayaki (もんじゃ焼き / もんじゃやき). If you know the famous “okonomiyaki” (御好み焼き / おこのみやき) from Ōsaka and Hiroshima, you’ll have a rough picture of what “monjayaki” is all about. Also monjayaki is being prepared on a hot steel plate, but is all together more “liquid”. And – if you pardon the expression – it doesn’t look particularly appetising at a first glance. The basic ingredients are flour, potato, egg, cabbage and fish stock. And they are “enhanced” by meat, fish and/or vegetables. Since all these ingredients don’t really gain a firm consistency during the course of frying it’s eaten directly from the steel plate by using a little spattle. It may not look to yummy, but monjayaki is not only delicious, it is also a most “communicative” delicacy, as usually everyone has to cook it him/herself at the table.
The Nishinakadōri looks particularly charming during the evening hours and seems to be quite popular with young people who enjoy this rather inexpensive dish.
How to get there:
- Take the Toei Ōedo line (都営大江戸線 / とえいおおえどせん) to Kachidoki (勝どき / かちどき) or Tsukishima (月島 / つきしま) or
- Take the Tōkyō Metro Yūrakuchō line (東京メトロ有楽町線 / とうきょうメトロゆうらくちょうせん) to Tsukishima (月島 / つきしま).
- There is no subway connection to Harumi directly, but there is a regular bus route to the Harumi Passenger Terminal (e.g. Toei bus line no. 5 coming from Tōkyō Station).