TODEN ARAKAWA LINE
As many as 41 lines operated during its heyday, with their power lines built in a lattice-like pattern. Almost all of the Toden streetcars have been replaced by buses and subways today, except one – the Arakawa Line. And so I set out on a new journey on the Arakawa Line.
I started the journey from the Waseda stop, which is about a 10-minute walk from Tokyo Metro Waseda Station. I excitedly took a series of photos when I saw a tram running along Shin-Mejiro-dori Street. Walking along the line, with the tram on my left, I suddenly noticed the flow of the Kanda River on the opposite side of the road. The sound of leaves blown by the breeze felt so relaxing. On the other bank of the river, I could see the Tokyo Somemonogatari Museum.
■Tokyo Somemonogatari Museum (Tokyo Dyeing Museum):
Run by Tomita Somekogei, a dyeing company, whose traditional dyeing techniques of “Tokyo Some Komon” and “Edo Sarasa” are famous. The studio is open to the public on weekdays (10am-12 noon, and 1pm-4pm). Visitors can enjoy a workshop tour and a dyeing experience on the third Saturday of each month (reservations required).
I got on the tram at the Omokage-bashi stop. The tram turned right at the intersection and arrived at the second stop, Kishibojin, where I got off. I walked along a street lined with Japanese zelkova trees, and then found the torii (gate) of the Kishimojin-do. After praying to Kishimojin, a Buddhist goddess, I took a rest at a candy shop standing just in front of the main shrine building. This shop is proud of the 200 years of history since its establishment.
■Homyo-ji Temple Kishimojin-do:
Kishimojin is a Buddhist goddess associated with easy birth, protection, and parenting of children. The Kishimojin here is described as being one of three great Kishimojin in Edo (old Tokyo) as well as those in Iriya and Ichikawa. Homyo-ji is also called Zoshigaya Kishimojin. Its present main building was built in 1666.
I got on the tram again at the Kishibojin-mae stop, and saw the Zoshigaya Graveyard out of the window on the right-hand side. Stone tombs stand in the green bushes, where many famous figures are buried. The tram ran through a residential area going to Ikebukuro and Otsuka.
Then I found the tram strangely stopping at a station for quite a while; the driver was waiting for an old lady who was running towards it with a smile, and who finally got on the tram and said “Thanks for waiting.” The driver told the passengers in a soft voice, “Please hold on to the handrails,” and gently restarted the streetcar.
The Kojinzuka stop, where I got off next, is close to Jizo-dori Shopping Street, always crowded with people. After visiting Kogan-ji Temple, I felt like something sweet. Daifuku (a bun of sweet beans wrapped in a rice cake), or taiyaki (sweet bean paste wrapped in a fish shaped pancake), both looked delicious, Mmm… I chose the daifuku at last and enjoyed it.
■Jizo-dori Shopping Street:
The shopping street leads from Kojinzuka to JR Sugamo Station. Visitors there tend to be older people and the area is also known as “Grandma’s Harajuku.” Kogan-ji Temple is located in the middle of the shopping mall. This temple is famous for its “Togenuki Jizo” statue. If you put a drawing or picture of his image on a painful part of the body or eat it, it is said that your pain will go away. The temple holds ennichi (fairs) on the 4th, 14th, and 24th of each month, where about 200 stalls attract many people.
Next, I got off at the Asukayama stop, one stop before Oji. There are three parks in the area; Asukayama Park, which displays old streetcars; Otonashi-Shinsui Park, which has a stream with a water mill; and Nanushi-no-Taki Park, which has four waterfalls. Each had its own healing character, and I enjoyed them differently.
At Kajiwara stop, I dropped by a confectioner called “Akemi,” which sells original cakes called “Toden Monaka.” Bean paste and rice dumplings are sandwiched in the tram-shaped wafers – it’s so delicious! Each cake is wrapped in a cute tram-shaped paper box. I bought 10 “cars” of Monaka in a gift box that has a train depot design.
Drivers changed at Arakawa Shako (depot), where old trams are displayed. The next stop, Arakawa Yuenchi-mae, is adjacent to Arakawa Yuen Theme Park. A child standing next to me pulled his grandmother’s hand and they hurried off the train, apparently headed for the theme park.
The train kept going on and soon it merged into the wide road, where the cars and tram run side by side. The train seemed to run safely and elegantly on the central lane. I got off at Miyanomae stop and visited the Oku Hachiman Shrine. Seeing the brave figure of Toden to my left, I walked along the road to the next stop and browsed shops in the mall. Croquettes sold here smelled so delicious. Here at Kumano-mae stop, you can transfer to the Nippori Toneri Liner (local train system).
■Take the Nippori Toneri Liner to get a little further:
Get a “Toei Marugoto Kippu” (one-day economy pass, 700 yen), and you can ride the Nippori Toneri Liner, Toei Subway Lines, and Toei Buses as well as Toden streetcar for one day! Nishi Arai Daishi Shrine is 20 minutes on foot from Nishi Arai Daishi Nishi Station, and is famous for its peony garden. Minumadai Shinsui Park is 4 minutes’ walk from the last station. You can enjoy walking on the trekking path and viewing the seasonal flowers. Or perhaps you would prefer to enjoy a spot of crawfish fishing there.
Going back to the Toden streetcar trip, as I was a little hungry, I bought some doughnuts at Machiya and took a rest at Arakawa Shizen Park, two stops away from Machiya. Swans were swimming happily in the pond. The weather was good and the wind felt so refreshing.
The Toden left the wide city roads and ran into the residential area again. The train passes between a city hall, junior high school, local stops, and peaceful scenery. Finally, I arrived at the last stop, Minowabashi. There is a traditional shopping mall crowded with shops and people. As you go down the street, the smell of breads and Chinese dumplings will stimulate your appetite. The stop is also close to Tokyo Metro Minowa Station.
This is a shopping street with a roof covering the entire mall, extending 460 meters. It has about 140 stores crammed beside each other, and these sell reasonably priced goods including food, tea, miso soybean paste, and pickled vegetables.
I used the Toei Streetcars One-Day Economy Pass for this trip (adult 400 yen). Buy the pass from the driver directly first, then all you have to do is show the pass for the rest of your trip, and you can get on and off freely for the day. The total length of the Arakawa Line is 12.2 km; enjoy the tram ride. It is a good idea to sometimes get off the tram and walk along the streetcar rails, and I bet you can find something new in Tokyo.
Toei Transportation Information: http://www.kotsu.metro.tokyo.jp/