Pearl on the banks of the Sumidagawa (Part 1)
Here, at last, the (updated) English version of an older German posting of the kind this website was created for…
I am taking you with me on a little stroll in one of my dearest corners of Tōkyō: Mukōjima (向島 / むこうじま). This “shitamachi” (下町 / したまち) (downtown) of the old Edo (江戸 / えど) (for those of you who don’t know: in the days of the Tokugawa shōgunes Tōkyō was called “Edo”) is not one of those places in Tōkyō Mr. Baedeker would know much to write about, hence, it’s also not a place a lot of tourists from abroad come to visit (even though the famous temple district of Asakusa is just around the corner). But that’s maybe one of the reasons why this part of town is worth the visit. If you are yearning for the Tōkyō of the old days, if you want to get that very special „shitamachi-feeling” (下町情緒 / したまちじょうちょ), this is the place you should go. And here is how you get there:
We take the Ginza line (銀座線 / ぎんざせん) to its last stop in the north of central Tōkyō, to the station “Asakusa” (浅草 / あさくさ) and leave the station via exit number 4.
This exit (or exit no. 5 opposite of the the “Ekimise”-building) brings us to the southern west-side of the bridge called Azumabashi (吾妻橋 / あずまばし). And this bridge also let us conveniently cross the Sumidagawa (隅田川 / すみだがわ) (Sumida river). But it also opens the most spectacular view to the eastern side of the river and its buildings of the Asahi Brewery (アサヒビール) and its unusual “golden piece of art” on the roof of the „Asahi Beer Hall” (アサヒビールホール) – it may be left to your own fantasy to decide what it may represent; officially it’s the “flag of beer” (and I’m not going to share my personal theory about the nature of this “art”, as it may not be deemed appetizing). And since 2011 Tōkyō’s latest gem is gracing the skyline here – the Tōkyō Sky Tree (have a look at the “before & after” below).
Of course, this view is spectacular, but don’t miss a look to the river itself. There you can see lots of so called „yakatabune” (屋形船 / やかたぶね) (house boats), which are most popular for dinner cruises on the river and to the Tōkyō Bay. Since the boats can only be reserved in large groups and since the dinner cruises are not entirely cheap, not a lot of tourists have the chance to participate in such a cosy and exciting tour.
Cross the Azumabashi to the east banks of the Sumidagawa beneath the highway (Shuto Expressway Nr.6, Mukōjima Linie) and head north following the river promenade at the Sumidagawa. You may feel that there could be a more romantic spot at the banks of a river, but be happy: This area looked even much less inviting some years ago, before it was refurbished – the concrete walls of the 70s were all that could be seen here. Now the promenade at least remotely resembles the old Edo charm of the area, which used to be – and is again – most popular during the cherry blossoms season. In the old days it was the preferred place for an outing of the noble and rich people. However, no matter how hard it is being tried to re-instate the old style, the promenade suffers immensely (at least optically) from the impressive highway construction above it.
Don’t be shocked if you pass the “homes” of some homeless people here – the highway provides at least some protection for their fragile huts made of paper and plastic. The city administration may not be in favour of the homeless people (but they also don’t do much for them…), but you’ll never see more “orderly” homeless people in any other city of the world. After all: Not even the richest persons in Europe would consider taking off their shoes before entering their homes. But even the homeless in Japan would not dream of bringing the dirt of the street into their “homes”. I know, I should write something more sensible on the subject of homeless people in Tōkyō, but here and today isn’t the proper place for it. Anyway: Don’t be scared! None of the homeless people will beg you for something or molest you in any way. But also keep in mind: Homeless people – regardless of what the reasons might be for them becoming homeless – are not to be mistaken as “exotic animals” and further degraded to a photographer’s object.
Anyway, we continue our walk: After the path along the river has made a turn the right, we are crossing a branch of the Sumidagawa via the Makurabashi (枕橋 / まくらばし) Makura bridge)…
… and – after we have crossed below the railroad tracks – we can see on the right-hand side the Sumida Kōen (隅田公園 / すみだこうえん) (Sumida Park). Depending on the time of the year, this park is definitely worth a visit – in summer or winter probably less then in autumn or spring (but that would count for most of the parks of the city).
It was here where prince Tokugawa of Mito had his suburban residence. Its garden enjoyed particular appreciation (even by the Emperor and the Empress). However, after it was largely ruined by the Great Kantō Earthquake (1923), the garden was declared “public space” in 1931. In the following years it was restored to its original splendour as a traditional Japanese landscape. A rather pretty example of a Japanese garden, however a bit crowded on weekends and – depending on the season – sometimes a bit neglected.
Nevertheless, the Sumida Kōen is the right starting point for a little pilgrimage to the temples and shrines of Mukōjima, home to the Shichifukujin (七福神 / しちふくじん) (seven lucky goods) – our route will lead us to all of these blessed locations.
One of the places not related to any of the shichifukujin is the Ushijima Jinja (牛嶋神社 / うしじまじんじゃ), (Ushijima shrine) the first shrine we are going to see, right at the northern edge of the park. It is dedicated to the local diety.
Even though the Ushijima Jinja is surely not one of the “famous” places in Tōkyō, it’s one that catches one’s heart at once. It’s one of those spots in Tōkyō where you can dive into a different world. It has a quaint character, it emanates endless tranquility, and its unostentatious but elaborate wooden architecture are the elements that catch the attention of the visitor from the west. But not only the buildings of this shrine complex are interesting, there is also the statue of a cow that shouldn’t be missed. This statue of a cow was donated to the shrine in 1824 and it has the reputation of healing any kinds of sicknesses. Touch the part of the cow’s body where your own body is plagued by any ailment, and remedy will be on its way. And faith can move mountains…. Have a closer look at the cow – the most shining spots on the sculpture’s body give an indication of the prime sicknesses in this area. And should you wonder why a cow was given to Ushijima Jinja, here is the very simple explanation: In Japanese “cow” is “ushi” (牛 / うし) – no more suitable animal for this shrine.
To be continued……
More about Mukōjima:
– “Mukōjima – Pearl on the banks of the Sumidagawa (2)”
– “Mukōjima – Pearl on the banks of the Sumidagawa (3)“