Historical Tokyo Walk: Nihonbashi – Fukagawa

名所江戸百景
Hiroshige’s views of Nihonbashi to Fukagawa, Edo’s Shitamachi. Source: Wikicommons

As part of the Historical Tokyo Walks that follow Edo Tokyo cultural sites, the Nihonbashi-Fukagawa route (日本橋本所深川コース) was taken from the Japanese website guide Sanpo Reikibun. The city has 23 Historical Tokyo Walks, one for each ward. My map has the English translation for the Japanese route summary as well as added some additional historical context or information. Major sites covered along the route include: Nihonbashi, Mitsukoshi flagship store, Tokyo Stock Exchange, haiku poet Mastuo Basho’s neighbourhood, the Fukagawa Fudoson, Tomioka Hachimangu, Kiyosumi Garden, Ryugoku Gokugikan, Former Yasuda Garden, Edo Tokyo Museum, Karamae Bridge. For anime watchers, the 3-Gatsu no Lion, Tsukumogami Kashimasu, Onihei Hanakcho. The route also overlaps with many cafes that I’ve covered in East Tokyo.

Nihonbashi to Fukagawa Historical Tokyo Walk

This complete walking course should take a day if you stop to look at shops and eat. You can stop at any point and take transit as well. You can save and pre-load this map onto your Google Maps App. I have included a layer for the walking route and sites, a layer for local food (because I used to live around there), and a layer for my favourite places. The focus of this post is on historical information, rather than “how to get there”.

It’s hard to arrive in Tokyo with a blank canvas. The world’s most populous city looms large in the global imagination, ascribed for decades by writers, filmmakers, and now the masses with smartphones. Even before we’ve landed, we’ve seen the city lights, the sushi in Bordain’s food tours, the crowds from every angle of Shibuya crossing, the “weird” and the “wonderful”, whatever those may be for each of us.
historical tokyo walking route
Example map for the Sunamachi-Shiokaze Walk. Look out for similar ones around Tokyo!
Arguably no-one (except perhaps refugees before arrival and aren’t acknowledged in Japan), has the “benefit” of Tokyo as a blank canvas. Modern day Tokyo emerged out of the US fire raids that burned Edo to the ground Tokyo may have come across plaques with area maps scattered throughout the city. The plaques are for historical walks, one for each of the 23 Wards of Tokyo, that introduce people to the renown figures, iconic buildings, and distinct features add flavour and texture to what might seem at first like uniform rows of concrete. 
Modern Tokyo still has some interesting historical quirks.
I chose to do the Nihonbashi – Fukagawa walk because it is my centre of Tokyo. Virtually unheard of until the cafe boom at Kiyosumi-Shirakawa, Koto Ward is one of those forgotten backwaters where many a Tokyoite will stumble locating in their mind, before struggling further to find anything to say about. Nihonbashi has much more prestige, as the home of established trading houses like Mitsukoshi and fanciers, but is now written off as a stiff bastion of conservativism. The two areas of Nihonbashi and Fukgawa are an unlikely pairing — the wealthy silk merchants and money lenders who founded the nation’s banks had little in common with the fishing villagers who later tended the lumber yards and rice market. In Edo times, the might Sumida River ensured that their worlds rarely collided. Rivers naturally divided the city of Edo, and to this day still shape our mental geography of the city.
The Shitamachi, the Low City, defined by its dark and crowded, fire-prone alleys that bordered on expansive wetlands criss-crossed by waterways are where the early peoples of Edo gathered to serve the Shogunate, and later Meiji, courts. In the corners of nondescript streets and the ubituitous, unassuming canals, a walker can retrace the the city of merchants that laid the foundation of modern-day Tokyo.

Part 1: Edo Nihonbashi Walk (Otemachi ~ Yoroi Bridge) 

nihonbashi tokyo
Part of the Nihon River, seen from around the Nihonbashi area.
This walk runs from Otemachi along the Nihonbashi River, cutting across Nihonbashi in the heart Edo Tokyo. The Tokugawa Shogunate’s gold minting building once stood on at the location of the current headquarters of the Bank of Japan. The current Mitsukoshi flagship store was built on the site of the former Mitsuiechigoya, or Mitsui-Echigo Shop. The original store housed the Echigo kimono store, which has now become Mitsukoshi as well as the precursor to the Mitsui Group, which grew from its origins as the Mitsui Bank. Nihonbashi was once the economic center of Edo. A bustling fish market used to be sit on the bank of the Nihonbashi River, beyond which lay Kabutocho, Japan’s Wall Street. The Tokyo Stock Exchange (TSE), established in 1878 during the Meiji Era as the Tokyo Kabushiki Torihikijo, still has its office there.
Unlike trendy areas like Shibuya, Shinjuku or even Ginza just south of this walk, Nihonbashi’s wealth is not worn as glitz nor glamour. It sits in small wooden houses sandwiched between department stores and office towers, where suited professionals line up slurp soba made with safe-guarded Edo techniques, and small dignified women step out in their seasonal, handmade kimonos. 

Part 2: Ningyocho-Hamacho Walk (Yoroi Bridge ~ Shin Ohashi) 

edo tokyo anime location
Likely the Edo Shin-Ohashi, the first bridge across the Sumida River from the anime Onihei Hankacho.
Cross over the Yoroi Bridge to Ningyocho. During the Edo period, this was the street where the Nakamura-za and Ichimura-za, two of Edo Tokyo’s main three Kubuki theatres, would hold competitive performances. Crossing Hamacho and into Amazakayokocho, you can still feel the whiff of the old Shitamachi, Low City, of Edo Tokyo in the small streets. Pass Meiji-za, which continues its legacy of putting on theatre performances and head toward the Hamacho Park. From here, you will be venturing into the historically vast wetlands beyond the mighty Sumida River.

Part 3: Fukugawa-Basho Cottage walk (Shin-Ohashi ~ Kiyosumi Gardens)

onihei hankacho anime fukagawa
An inn in Fukagawa during the Edo Period from the anime Onihei Hankacho.
The Shin-Ohashi bridge to the reclaimed wetlands was built in 1693 during, the height of the Tokugawa Shogunate. The Ryogoku Bridge in the same area was the second bridge across the Sumida River, and the Senju Bridge further north was the third. The Edo poet Matsuo Basho, famous for popularizing haiku poetry, and his travellogue Road to the Deep North, left central Edo and secluded himself in Fukagawa. When Basho secluded himself in the area in 1680, just before the Shin-Ohashi bridge was built, the area was still small fishing villages that relied on ferry crossings. Basho’s cottage retreat was located in between the Onagi River and the base of the Mannen Bridge. The Basho-An Memorial Hall holds several documents related to Basho on display.
koto ku ferry service
Koto ferry service is free and open from late Spring to Early fall.
iki espresso kiyosumi shirakawa
iki Espresso is run by a couple who also brought Allpress Coffee to Japan.
One of my favourite cafes, iki Espresso, is close by. The cafe is a couple’s flagship example of how to run a hospitality business. They live around the area and are deeply committed to the community.

Part 4: Shitamachi-Fukagawa Walk (Kiyosumi Gardens ~ Monzennakacho)

深川不動尊 門前仲町
The Fukagawa Fudoson is free to enter and hosts goma fire rituals every 2 hours.
The Kiyozumi Gardens are what remains of the secondary residence of the wealthy merchant Kinokuniya Bunzaemon, who traded lumber, citrus, salmon under the protection of one of the Shogun’s advisors. In nearby Jotoin is the location of Bunzaemon’s grave. Historically, the town of Fukagawa was known for its lumber and canals, some of which still remain throughout the modern-day Koto Ward.  During the Edo period, nets placed over canals were used as lumberyards and this area was home to the traditional art of “log rolling”. These waterways are now repurposed as recreational parks, boardwalks, and has its own Koto-ku waterbus / ferry service.
tomioka hachimangu tokyo sumo
The Tomioka Hachimangu is where national sumo wrestlers pray and give thanks for victories.
The course ends at the Tomioka Hachimangu, home of the largest Mikoshi shrine in Tokyo and some say the Kanto region, as well as the site of the first Shogunate-approved sumo matches that still has visits from sumo professionals. Beside the Tomioka Hachimangu is the Fukagawa Fudoson, a branch of the Narita Fudo Buddhist Temple.
largest mikoshi in kanto tokyo
The largest Mikoshi shrine in Tokyo is brought out every 3 years for a summer water festival.
monz cafe monzennakacho
Monz Cafe right between Monzennakacho Station and the Fukagawa Fudoson.

Fukagawa is also famous for its Shio Daifuku, which is sold by the shop right beside the Monzennaka-cho Station exit with the large red Torii gate.

shio daifuku
Fukagawa is supposedly famous for Shio Daifuku, “Salt daifuku”, which is a larger mochi.
This specific area, called Monzennaka-cho was once a red light district. Now, in addition to being a local attraction for the Hachimangu, which is a Shinto Shrine, and the Buddhist Fukagawa Fudoson, the area still has a local bar scene with some interesting bartenders. If you find this little street close by, stroll past and you might hear some 70s-era kareoke wafting out of the shuttered shops. At night, these signs will light up and transform into a lively night life corner.
monzennakacho
Local bars, izakaya, just outside the Tomioka Hachimangu.

Part 5: Central Kuramae Walk (Shin-Ohashi to Asakusa Bridge)

coffee taito-ku asakusa
Leaves Coffee Apartment faces the Sumida River — Photo by Athena Lam

From the base of Shin-Ohashi, head north towards the Ryogoku Bridge, the second bridge built over the Sumida River and formerly one of Edo’s busiest areas. Midway you’ll find Ekoin where kanjin sumo, the precursor to modern-day sumo took place. These sumo matches began as fundraising events to collect money for the building of temples and shrines. Historically, sumo matches were lively, outdoor events. The wide main street going east to west at the end of the Ryogoku Bridge has always been a popular location for viewing fireworks ever since they were introduced. From here, continue heading north until you reach the Kuramae Bridge. Cross over to enter the Kuramae neighbourhood, which was once lined with the Bakufu (Shogunate government) granaries. 

 Komakata Dozeu 駒形どぜう 本店
Trying out an Edo-style eatery called Komakata Dozeu between Kuramae and Asakusa.
 

Other things I’d recommend

I’ve written this in the style that I would do for my friends, which tends to linger on history with the assumption that people are intelligent enough to Google Map routes and do their own restaurant research. Having said that, I’ll make a few final neighbourhood recommendations (which are already on my map:
  • Futaba — which has my favourite goma daifuku, sesame daifuku, made fresh daily by a grandpa and sells out once the school kids get to it in the afternoon
  • Iki Espresso — my favourite cafe in Tokyo. They have great coffee, good food, and wonderful, genuinely friendly (not just polite) staff. The two owners live in the area and you see the husband (Japanese) at the shop often with his bike. They brought Allpress Coffee, the New Zealand roaster, to Japan and that’s close by too.
  • Kokaibo Ramen — my favourite ramen in Tokyo because it’s hearty, with a delicious broth, thick noodles, an incredibly long wait for a permanently compact neighbourhood line because the couple who run it really make every group that goes in welcome (they gave us 2 tables for 5 people even though we tried to just take 1 and never rushed us out).
fukagawa tomioka hachimangu
This traditional Japanese sweets shop is just outside Monzen-nakacho Station and the Tomioka Hachimangu.
I dare not say anything in Fukagawa is the best. I can’t see how any place is the best — though it is home to a high-end tempura restaurant that requires reservations. Tokyo has great places in every corner and I have go-tos for most of the areas I visit. But having said that, despite having lived in / stayed in other areas, it has just the exact combination of nature (cherry blossom lined canals with no crowds), history, honest local establishments, and proximity to my centre of Tokyo, Nihonbashi — where I restock on quality cooking ingredients and fill my dessert cravings.
Hanabi Fireworks Tokyo Sunamachi Arakawa 2016
The summer Koto-Ku fireworks retains a neighbourhood friendliness less obvious in bigger events around Tokyo.

FAQs

  1. How long is the total walk? 10.6 kilometres if you follow the exact route.
  2. Do I need to start from the beginning? No. I personally would recommend approaching this from a chill perspective.
  3. Do I have to follow that route? No. The route (I think) follows the plaques, which are in Japanese mostly. For maximum enjoyment, I recommend wandering around the neighbourhoods.
  4. Will this have a lot of tourists? No. In fact, most locals don’t even know about these historical walking routes. I noticed them in different areas and looked them up. Plus, I used to live around the area, so I learned a lot about the history of the neighbourhoods through various channels (including anime).
  5. Is this something official? The city government has historical plaques the way London’s city government also has signs in front of buildings. If you like history, treat it as a fun treasure hunt underneath the concrete jungle. It makes Tokyo far more friendly.
  6. You mentioned anime. What anime are set in this area? The ones I’ve watched are both set in the Edo period: Tsukumogami Kashimasu, and Onihei Hanakcho. 3-Gatsu no Lion is in modern-day Tokyo and down south in Tsukishima, but I recognized many spots where I used to ride into the downtown area. There’s an anime tourism list for Koto Ward. I don’t know how updated it is as I haven’t watched many of the ones on there.

You might also find these other pieces useful:
Of course, please do your friends and me a favour and share this piece if you liked it! Thanks!

One Comment

  1. Thank you for introducing this relatively unknown walk, especially to English readers. So much to explore! This is such a good read.

    Like

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