Pearl on the banks of the Sumidagawa (Part 3)
During the first to parts of my “Mukōjima-Trilogy” we have seen the first stations on our little pilgrimage to the seven lucky goods. Today we’ll conclude our walk.
Depending on how much time you can spare, this is the time and place to decide whether you would like to continue your pilgrimage right away or whether you’ll like to spoil yourself with a stroll through the old and picturesque alleys of Mukōjima. On the occasion of my first visit I voted for the “old part of town”. And one of the most charming ones can be reached easily from the “Kototoi Dango” (言問団子), which we have passed shortly before, if you don’t turn right from here but follow the main street (no. 461, called Bokutei-Dōri /墨堤通り) in northern direction. You’ll pass the Asahi Brewery (アサヒビール) (on the left-hand side of the street) on your way to the next traffic light (about 400 meters from the Kototoi Dango) and then turn right into the Hatonomachi Dōri (鳩の街通り/ はとのまちとおり ).
I am pretty sure: Everyone who knows other “shitamachi” (下町 / したまち) (downtowns) of Tōkyō and thought they were awesome, will fall in love with the Hatonomachi Dōri. Here you really feel like you have traveled back in time into a world of bourgeois tranquility long gone. The numerous little shops, pretty side streets and the residential quarters are certainly worth a little detour and stroll. At the same time, Mukōjima is – compared to Yanaka (another, more famous “shitamachi”) – refreshingly free of masses of tourists. It’s “real people” who live here. The residential buildings and shops are more authentic, less blatant – well, they are more charming. It certainly is an experience to walk through this part of town for half an hour or so (at least it’s always for me) – an experience that doesn’t need to fear the comparison with the famous tourist spots in Tōkyō. Mukōjima isn’t one of those super-modern places, but it is “alive” and not suffocated in fashionable chique. Who would have thought to find “country life” in the middle of the big city?
Where the Hatonomachi Dōri ends in the southeast, you’ll have the choice to ether follow the Mito Kaidō, a wide and not that charming shopping- and business street, back to the Sumida Kōen (about 1,500 meters), or to continue your pilgrimage to the other three lucky gods of Mukōjima.
In the North you’ll find the Mukōjima Hyakkaen (向島百花園 / むこうじまひゃっかえん) (garden of hundred flowers). Unfortunately, I haven’t been there yet – that’s why I also can’t share any pictures with you. You’ll get there following the Mito Kaidō until you reach the crossing “Higashi Mukōjima” (東向島), where you have to turn left (to the West) and head for the Meiji Dōri (明治通り / めいじとおり). After about 400 meters you’ll find the garden on the left side of the Meiji Dōri. Even though the garden has neither a shrine nor a temple, it is home to the lucky god called Fukurokuju (福禄寿 / ふくろくじゅ), the god of wealth, wisdom and of a long life.
There is a small admission fee, if you want to enter the garden.
After you’ve visited the Mukōjima Hyakken (or not), keep on following the Meiji-Dōri in north-western direction to the crossing “Shirahigebashi Higashimusubi” (白鬚橋東結 / しらひげばしひがしむすび), and turn left (i.e. into southern direction) to the Bokutei-Dōri (墨堤通り). After about 300 meters you’ll find the Shirahige Jinja (白鬚神社 / しらひげじんじゃ), the “shrine of the god with a white beard” on the left-hand side of the street. This shrine was burnt down by terrorists during the coronation of the present Japanese Emperor (Heisei / 平成 / へいせい) – but all signs of this act have been remedied. After its restoration, the pretty but not too big site reminds on the days of its foundation in the middle of the 10th century. The name of the shrine is in reference to Jurōjin (寿老神 / じゅろうじん), the god of long life and health, which is usually depicted as an old men with a long beard.
A little bit far away is the home of the last of the lucky gods, Bishamonten (毘沙門天 / びしゃもんてん), the protective goddess of the military, also all kinds of self-defense and of sports: The Tamon-ji (多聞寺 / たもんじ) – a very neat and well-groomed, small temple that shows that Bishamonten is obviously taking good care of it.
If you want to spare yourself the long walk from the Shirahige-Jinja (about 3 km), you can also take the Tōbu Isesaki line from Higashi Mukōjima station (東向島駅 / ひがしむこうじまえき) to Kanegafuchi station (鐘ヶ淵駅 / かねがふち) (they are just one station apart). From Kanegafuchi station you’ll have to walk back to the Bokutei-Dōri (墨堤通り) and from the crossing “Kanegafuchi Rikkyō” (鐘ヶ淵 陸橋 / かねがふちりっきょう) in northern direction. It’s best to take a map with you and refer to it on your way. But don’t be shocked: The temple itself is located in a rather cozy residential area, but this is surrounded by a large and quite ugly commercial zone and the stilted highway of the “Shuto Expressway No. 6”.
The Tamon-ji is one of the oldest original buildings of Tōkyō and dates back to the early 18th century. And since Bishamonten is the goddess of the military it should also not come as a big surprise that there is a small memorial on the right-hand side of the main gate reminding on the damage the city suffered during World War II.
Once you’ve dared to advance that far up North, you may wish to return to the starting point of your walk by train. It’s, therefore, easiest, if you return to Kanegafuchi station (鐘ヶ淵駅 / かねがふち) and take the Tōbu Isesaki line to Asakusa (浅草 / あさくさ) (four stations to the terminal in Asakusa) – from there follow the signs to the subway stations in the south of the Tōbu Isesaki line’s Asakusa station.