Fukagawa is located in the “shitamachi” area of eastern Tokyo, a traditional commoners’ town. There are no big commercial facilities here; rather, there are many smaller outlets that meet local needs. Over the years, Fukagawa has been a popular haunt for celebrities, artists and the like. Small tributaries from the larger Sumida River run through the town. Let’s stroll around the town alongside the rivers, enjoying three characteristic areas as we go: Monzen-nakacho, Kiba and Kiyosumi-Shirakawa.
The intersection of Eitai-dori and Kiyosumi-dori streets lies in the heart of Monzen-nakacho. Beneath these streets run the Oedo and Tozai subway lines, which give you good access from both Central Tokyo and the bay area. On Eitai-dori Street you will find an arcade that has the ambience of a traditional Japanese town. Here you can enjoy shopping and eating in stores or restaurants, or simply browsing the storefronts.
Entering an alleyway north from Eitai-dori Street leads you to Fukagawa Fudo-do Temple. During the Edo period (1603-1867), kabuki plays were increasing in popularity. The Buddhist deity Fudo appeared in the last scene of a famous play, ensuring its everlasting popularity. People have got a very strong desire to pray directly to the Fudo deity. In 1703, the Fudo deity first arrived at the Eidai-ji Temple (which once stood here) for exhibition, and this is said to be the origin of the Fukagawa Fudo-do Temple. The town’s name, Monzen-nakacho, refers to the temple town of Eitai-ji Temple. Many Buddhist statues are housed in the Naibutsuden building, and these can be seen free of charge. The ceiling mural in the Hozo Dainichi-do hall on the fourth floor is a must-see. There are shakyo/shabutsu hands-on classes offered every month, where you can try writing Buddhist sutras or sketching Buddhist statues with brushes and ink.
The neighboring Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine is known as the place where sumo wrestling originated as a fundraising event during the Edo period, while the official sumo tournaments were also held in the shrine compound. Even now, when a new Yokozuna (grand champion) is selected, a ceremony and a ritual dedicated to the shrine deity are held there. The Fukagawa Hachiman Festival (held around August 15th every year) is one of the three best Edo festivals – its fame attracts many worshippers and visitors. Regular fairs and antique markets are also held at this shrine. Inside the shrine site, there is a statue of Ino Tadataka (1745-1818), the first surveyor of the Edo period, as well as a display of mikoshi (portable shrines used during the festival).
Walking out to the east from the back of the shrine, you will come to Hachiman-bashi Bridge, which is said to be the oldest iron bridge in Tokyo and which is designated as a Nationally Important Cultural Asset. Beneath the bridge is a promenade, so why not observe it from beneath if you are interested in its construction. You can also see the elaborate chrysanthemum decorations on the bridge girders.
This area was named Kiba, meaning “lumber sites,” because many lumber-related businesses had been flourishing here. Later, the lumber businesses moved to an adjacent area of reclaimed land now known as Shin-Kiba. Kiba Park was constructed on one such former lumber site, just five minutes’ walk from Kiba Station. The park has a botanical garden and barbecue sites, so many families enjoy their lunch under the blue skies here on weekends.
The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) is located in the northern part of Kiba Park. The museum was opened in March 1995, and has about 4,000 items of modern Japanese art on display as its permanent collection. Special exhibitions are held on a regular basis, too. The museum is open from 10am to 6pm, closed on Mondays.
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa to Morishita
Let’s take a walk across the Onagi River, heading north to Morishita from the Kiyosumi-Shirakawa Subway Station on the Hanzomon and Oedo lines. This area has many interesting facilities, stretching from Edo culture right up to a taste of modern animation.
Kiyosumi Gardens is a circuit-style garden filled with trees, small hills and a pond surrounded by rocks. It is designated as one of Tokyo’s scenic spots. It is believed to have been the residence of a business tycoon during the Edo period. In 1878, Iwasaki Yataro, the founder of Mitsubishi Zaibatsu finance group, acquired the ruined residence and land. He rebuilt the garden to use it as the Mitsubishi employees’ recreation facility, as well as a place to entertain guests. Later, ownership passed to Metropolitan Tokyo and the garden was opened to the public in 1977.
In the garden there are numerous famous rocks from all over Japan; these were collected by the Iwasaki family. Among the rocks collected here, the Sado Akadama rock is so scarce that today quarrying of it is forbidden. Also, you can enjoy viewing seasonal flowers such as azaleas. Iso-watari (stepping stone pathways) are established on the edge of the pond. It is nice to hop across the stones to view the fish, enjoying the changing reflections seen on the water. However, be very careful not to slip – watch your step!
Fukagawa Edo Museum is located across from Kiyosumi Gardens on Kiyosumi-dori Street. The museum has displays of everyday life on the streets of Fukagawa during the Edo period, using real-size exhibitions including nagaya (rows of houses), sailors’ inns, and greengrocers’ stores. Using lights effectively, morning to night scenes are recreated every twenty minutes. Visitors, with their shoes off, can enter into the houses experience the exhibitions through contact. Walking along the narrow alleys between houses, you may feel as if you have traveled back in time to the Edo period.
*This museum will be closed for one year from July 2009 for renovation.
Crossing Taka-bashi Bridge and heading to the north side of the Onagi River, you will come to Takabashi Shopping Street, a road known as “Norakurodo (Norakuro Road).” A popular animation series called Norakuro was created by local cartoonist Tagawa Suiho (1899-1989). Norakuro, a black and white dog, is a soldier serving in an army of dogs. The story depicted wars in a comical way, using sarcasm, and it became very popular. The street is now turned into a vehicle-free promenade every Sunday, creating a festive mood where many stalls sell takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and cotton candy, and goldfish catching games can also be played here. The Tagawa Suiho Norakuro Museum in the Koto Ward Morishita Culture Center is located close to the street. In this museum, you can see the cartoonist’s biography and works on display. You can also buy Norakuro merchandise at several shops along the Norakuro Road.
Mannen-bashi Bridge is located one street west from Taka-bashi Bridge, which crosses the Onagi River. In the Edo period, Mt. Fuji was viewable from this bridge. At the time, Onagi River was a canal used for distribution and transportation. The scenery here was described by famous Ukiyoe (wood block print) artists such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).
A two-minute walk from Mannen-bashi Bridge takes you to Basho Inari Shrine. Prominent haiku poet Matsuo Basho (1644 -1694) lived in a hermitage on the north bank of the Onagi River. This shrine was built on the site where Basho was believed to have lived until he was 37 years old. If you go further to the west, you will come to Basho’s Hermitage Historical Site View Yard, which commands a panoramic view of the Sumida and the Onagi rivers beside a bronze statue of Basho, with comfortable breeze.
Going further north, you will find The Basho Museum exhibiting letters and materials of this renowned haiku poet.
Walking northeast through the residential area from Mannenbashi-dori Street, you will find Fukagawa Shinmeigu Shrine next to a kindergarten. Shinmeigu Shrine was established by Fukagawa Hachirouemon, who developed this entire area. He built this small shrine in his residence and enshrined a part of a deity divided from Ise Jingu Shrine in Mie.
Shinkosai Festival takes place once every three years. The festival is also known as Mizukake Matsuri (water splashing festival), in which many participants shoulder twelve mikoshi (portable shrines) and carry them around the town. Head further north for a couple of minutes and you will arrive at Morishita Station.
Fukagawa Seven Gods of Fortune
The seven gods who are said to ward off seven evils and bring seven doses of good luck are enshrined at seven shrines in Fukagawa. It would be a good idea on a fine day to visit all seven gods and wish your happiness to them. When visiting shrines during the period between January 1st and 15th, you will be given colored paper, bamboo leaves, and a bell.
Ebisujin (Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine) – Benzaiten (Fuyuki Bentendo Shrine) – Fukurokuju (Shingyo-ji Temple) – Daikokuten (Enju-in Temple) – Bishamonten (Ryuko-in Temple) – Hoteison (Fukagawa Inari Shrine) – Jurojin (Fukagawa Shinmeigu Shrine)
Away from the hustle and bustle of the big city, you will feel a relaxing breeze in Fukagawa, even though it is a part of Tokyo. On the way, if you get hungry, try some delicious Fukagawa-meshi. The rice boiled with clams is second to none. We could find nice cafes for a rest along Fukagawa Museum Street or near Basho Inari Shrine. There are also many casual stores you can freely visit during your trip.
Enjoy exploring Fukagawa – a real shitamachi town.