Tokyo's Traditional Areas (Shitamachi)
You may think of crowded streets and tall buildings when you hear the name "Tokyo". But besides all those high-tech areas, there are also many traditional areas in Tokyo. Shitamachi, which can be translated as "Downtown" refers to the traditional shopping, entertainment and residential districts of Tokyo. In these areas you'll find old Edo culture still alive in the capital city. Edogawa and Katsushika Wards are located along the Edogawa River, the Eastern most point of Tokyo which borders Chiba Prefecture. The best part about Shitamachi is that it's far away from tall buildings. In Shitamachi, you can understand the personalities of the people living there. So, take a look around and experience the old-fashioned Shitamachi life style.
Koiwa, the last station in Tokyo, heading east on the JR line, is not very popular among tourists. That is the main reason why this area is loved by Shitamachi enthusiasts. There are no famous tourist sights in the area, and the lifestyle is very slow, natural, and harmonizes perfectly with the colorful Shitamachi image. Even in the voices of grocery sellers, you can get a sense of old Japanese culture. Here, you can become a member of the Shitamachi family. As the name "Edogawa" tells us, the Edogawa river runs through Edogawa Ward. This river is the symbol of the residentes of Edogawa, and its banks were their childhood playground. On the riverbank, Koiwa has a marvelous "Iris (Shobu) Botanical Garden", which is one of the best gardens in Tokyo. There's an Iris Festival held every year in July which displays 60,000 irises. The festival lets you know that summer is on its way in Tokyo. If you go South, there's a temple called Seijuzan Zenyo. What makes this temple famous is the pine tree called Yogo no Matsu, "the Pine Tree of Yogo". What's so great about it? Well, it's "big". The actual height is only about 8 meters high. But the branches spread out as wide as 30 square meters. The branches make the tree the widest or second widest in Japan. The tree has been there for 600 years. If you are a Shitamachi enthusiast, you might want to go to Yuenland. You can't tell what it is by the name, but that's part of the allure of Shitamachi. "Yu" means hot water which might make you think of a shower or a bath tub. Yes. You're correct! There are various kinds of baths including a jet bath, vibra-bath, enzyme bath, and an old fashioned cypress (hinoki) bath. There is also a theater where they play traditional Japanese plays twice a day. Yuenland is only a one-minute walk from Koiwa station. Around Koiwa station, there are other interesting places like the Sound Museum （otonohakubutsukan）where the history of sounds is described. Also the unusual supermarket, Nakos, is only found in Edogawa. Next time you visit Tokyo, don't miss Koiwa.
Access to Koiwa:
JR Koiwa Station is about 40 minutes by the Sobu Line from JR Shinjuku Station.
Shibamata is the kind of area that you just have to go and see no matter how far away it is. As a matter of fact, you can't discuss Shitamachi without mentioning Shibamata. It might seem like getting off at Shibamata Station on the Kanamachi Line would be the best way to get there, but another way is to walk from Koiwa station of the Keisei Line. This way, you can enjoy looking at the old- fashioned landscape of Shitamachi. Shibamata is the location of the famous Japanese movie series "Otoko wa Tsuraiyo", which means "Being a man is not easy." Around the famous Taishakuten temple, there are many dango shops. Dango is a soft round rice cake stuffed with sweet bean jam(anko) . The dango shops are always crowded. Tora-san's (Tora-san is the main character from the movie Otoko wa tsuraiyo) shop. "Tora ya" is actually there, and there are some other famous dango shops such as Takagiya, and Kameya. However, the best dango shop is Yoshinoya which is just a few meters from Takagiya. The color of the dango at this shop shows the difference. Because it contains no food additives, the color of it is deep green and tastes absolutely wonderful. The old man working at this shop is a very nice person. When you are waiting in line to buy dango, someone might butt in, so you should be careful. If you want to try some eel (unagi), there's a place called Kawachiya right across from Kameya. You can actually see the chef cooking eel. However, the eel they serve there is not too great. What a real downtown enthusiast eats there is the Koikoku (Carp soup). Kawajin is another place where you can try a good Koikoku. There's a story that the famous Japanese novelist, Soseki Natsume, would often come to this restaurant. Next to Kawachiya is a souvenir shop. They sell a lot of monkey (saru) souvenirs. This is because monkeys have been believed to be gods of Taishakuten since long ago. After experiencing the old fashioned Shitamachi lifestyle, it's pleasant to relax on the boat ride called "Yagiri no Watashi" on the Edogawa river.
Access to Shibamata
Keisei Shibamata Station:
3 minutes on the Kanamachi Line from Keisei Takasago station.
2 minutes on the Hokuso Line from Keisei Takasago station.
All the places introduced here are within 5 to 10 minutes on foot.
I have introduced Shitamachi in Edogawa and Katsushika Wards. I hope you enjoyed reading about, and have an interest in Shitamachi. There are many other interesting things in Shitamachi, such as "Dagashiya"(old fashioned lolly shops), and lots of other things which I haven't mentioned. As you walk through Shitamachi, you'll be surprised by all the new discoveries you can make. So, I recommend that you visit this facinating area yourself and experience the traditional Japanese lifestyle.
a student of the English department of Kanda University of International Studies.
HAJ ISHIDA, INC.