Exploring Eastern Tokyo – Culture & Fun in the Sumida Ward
If you’re looking for some weekend fun east of the big centers of Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ikebukuro, why not explore Sumida-ku? Now known primarily among visitors as the home of Tokyo Sky Tree, Sumida ward can easily provide a long weekend's worth of tasty food, Japanese history and culture, shopping, and entertainment. This article introduces five stops worth venturing eastward for.
1. Tokyo Sky Tree
Unsurprisingly, measuring at 634 meters, the world’s tallest tower has spectacular panoramic views of the world's most populous metropolis. For visitors peering out from one of the two observation decks who might not yet be able to recognize the Tokyo landmarks that lay beneath, a smartphone app is available which explains what you are seeing from where you are standing. In the tower itself, Instagramable photo opportunities abound and you can even get a guided tour of the Skytree Terrace. Nighttime offers unique opportunities from above and below; gaze upon the city aglow in the darkness from the observation floors, or marvel at the tower’s colorful illumination from the ground.
2. Tokyo Sky Tree Town/Solamachi
Solamachi, a complex containing several floors of shopping, including two extensive souvenir areas, an aquarium, a massive children's area equipped with ball pits, and over a hundred dining options, can easily consume all of your weekend. The outside decks also have something to offer everyone; children have a chance to run around, the illuminated greenery at night provides plenty of magical photo-ops, and everyone can crane their necks upward to see Tokyo Sky Tree pierce the clouds above. Visitors with kids planning for a lunch or dinner outing should check out the special Sky Tree themed food on the restaurant floors, such as the tonkatsu chain restaurant Saboten’s Sky Tree plate. For delicious and well-priced pizza, try Rigoletto Rotisserie and Wine at lunch, if you don’t mind waiting in line a little bit!
3. Edo-Tokyo Museum
For a day of history and culture, I also recommend the area around Ryogoku JR station. Ryogoku is known as the home of sumo culture, as is obvious from the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium where matches are held three times a year, and the tributes to past and present champions on display in the station. Other than being a significant site for Japan's national sport, Ryugoku also has some great museums, starting with the Edo-Tokyo Museum, where visitors can learn about the long history of the world's largest city. This museum, with its detailed dioramas, recreation of the famous Nihonbashi Bridge, and extensive permanent collection, offers an accessible and interactive presentation of Tokyo's history. Walk through and see, hear, and touch the transformations of the urban center over the course of several hundred years. For parents of young children, the square in the center of the museum houses a kid-friendly area with stationary replicas of old bicycles and carriages to ride, historical toys to play with, and a small house to venture inside to play pretend.
4. Sumida Hokusai Museum
A five minute walk from the Toei Oedo line Ryogoku station, and a nine minute walk from JR Ryogoku, the Hokusai Museum showcases the art and life of its namesake, the man who painted the world renown Great Wave Off Kanagawa, Hokusai Katsushika. A newer establishment compared to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, this museum offers excellent digital experiences of Hokusai’s art with projections and computers abounding to deepen your knowledge and be exposed to more work by the master himself. Since Hokusai was born and spent most of his 90 years in the Sumida ward, be prepared to rediscover the surrounding landscapes through his prints.
5. Edo NOREN
Edo NOREN is a building next to Ryugoku station (west exit) whose architecture and interior capture the area's historical significance with restaurants, cafes, and souvenirs; it’s built to look like a street in the Edo period constructed around a sumo ring! In between museums, why not grab a delicious parfait and green tea at Ryogoku Bashi Sabou? If you’re craving a larger meal and perhaps even a "sumo size", check out Tempura Hisago for all types of tempura or Chanko Kirishima for chanko nabe, a favorite of sumo wrestlers and a staple of the Ryogoku area.