Extending into almost every nook and cranny of the city and its immediate surrounds, Tokyo’s train system is borderline miraculous. Its almost 900 train stations serviced by over 120 lines makes for perfect sightseeing opportunities with visitors able to explore Tokyo along any one or more of these train lines. One such line is the Tobu Skytree Line. With 30 train stations extending from Tokyo’s famous downtown to the sprawling countryside of southern Saitama Prefecture, the 114km of the Tobu Skytree Line offers scores of places to visit. Here are some of the top sites to see.
Tokyo Skytree Station
Asakusa, the first station on the line needs no introduction with its world renowned Sensoji Temple and Nakamise shopping street. But up next is Tokyo Skytree Station, home to the line’s namesake the ultramodern Tokyo SkyTree Tower, as well as the ancient Ushijima Shrine. At a whopping 634 metres, this broadcasting tower is the tallest in the world and was completed in 2012. Its attached Tokyo Solamachi annex is divided into three ‘wards’ all filled with hundreds of shops, restaurants, cafes, museums, observation decks, planetariums and, yes, even an aquarium.
You could probably spend the whole day just exploring Skytree Tower but walk about 6 minutes towards Sumida River and you’ll come across Ushijima Shrine. Established in 860, legend has it that a bull demon visited and dropped a lock of its hair turning the shrine into a bastion for those seeking cures for their illnesses. Commemorated with many cattle statues, the shrine complex features several torii sacred gates. The most interesting gate is its rare three-arched miwa torii. A definite must-see at this quiet and local shrine.
Rare three-arched miwa torii gate to the shrine. Photo by KENPEI on Wikipedia
A few stations along is Higashi-Mukojima Station, home to the Tobu Museum of Transport & Culture and the century old Mukojima Hyakkaen. The museum is located underneath the station and is filled with train, bus, and cable car exhibits. The whistling steam train is a big hit with the children who not only take part in the many simulators available but also get to watch the trains above them whiz past from a viewing portal on the second floor.
Wooden carriage at the Tobu Museum in Higashi Mukojima. Photo by User:Yaguchi on Wikipedia
Mukojima Hyakkaen, about 8 minutes’ walk from the station, is a stunningly beautiful Japanese-styled strolling garden. The only garden in Tokyo surviving from the Edo period, it is superbly designed with ponds, flowers and trees, all giving it a charm belying its urban location. Hundreds of plants, poetically inscribed stone monuments, traditional Japanese structures and a 30m long bush clover tunnel only deepen the garden’s historical and native character.
Pond in Mukojima Hyakkaen Garden. Photo by Irina Gelbukh on Wikipedia.
Kita Senju Station
Serving 5 train lines, Kita Senju Station is one of Tokyo’s major train hubs. But step outside of the station and you will enter the classic Shitamachi downtown vibe of yesteryear. Full of narrow streets and shopping alleyways, Kita Senju comes alive during the evenings as people flock to its local diners, bars and restaurants.
Shopping and dining alleyway in Kita Senju getting ready for the evening rush. Photo by midorisyu on Flickr
Kita Senju still features remnants from its time as the starting point for the Edo period Nikko Kaido Highway taking travellers north. Head out the West Exit of the station and you’ll soon come across Shukuba Machi Dori, a popular shopping and dining alleyway leading to Yokoyama House, originally a store for traditional paper goods but now a private home. On the same street you’ll find Senju Ema Yoshida House, a 4th generation ema or wooden plaque and lantern crafts shop.
A little cheat here but Nishiarai’s big attraction is actually a stop away along the tiny unfinished Tobu Daishi Line. Right in front of the line’s only stop, Nishiarai Daishi Mae Station, is Nishiarai Daishi. Once known as Sojiji Temple, the temple and shrine complex is extremely popular during New Years. Here you’ll find temple gates, pagodas, halls for monks, a pond garden, a wisteria tree said to be over 700 years old and a Chinese peony garden with over 2,000 plants. But perhaps the site’s most curious draw is the shio jizo, a statue covered in salt – take a handful of salt from it and if your prayers are answered, return with twice as much as you took.
Main hall of Nishiarai Daishi. Photo by Tak1701d on Wikipedia.
Dokkyo Daigaku Mae Station
Further on lies Dokkyo Daigaku Mae Station, the stopping point for visiting the nationally recognized Soka Matsubara Promenade. A 5-minute walk from the East Exit, the 1.5km long promenade features 634 pine trees planted in the Edo period days of master haiku poet, Matsuo Basho. Basho began the journey north from the area that culminated in his classic work Oku no Hosomichi (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). If you visit in July, make sure you attend the Soka Matsubara Dream Festival in honour of the master poet.
View of Soka Matsubara Promenade. Photo by Kasadera on Flickr.
Kita Koshigaya Station
A few stations along is Kita Koshigaya Station, home to the incredibly detailed Osawa Katori Shrine. A few minutes from the East Exit, the shrine’s intricate woodwork dates back to the mid-19th century and comes to life, especially on its north face, with carved motifs detailing the legend of Shuten Doji, a mythical demon leader of ancient Japan who was defeated by Minamoto Raiko, a warrior of the 11th century and his retainers, the Four Heavenly Guardian Kings, the Shitenno.
Uchimaki Park near Kasukabe. Photo by sumomojam from Saitama, Japan.
Once a prosperous Edo period waystation on the old Nikko Kaido Highway, Kasukabe features the jaw dropping construction of the Metro Area Outer Underground Discharge Tunnel and the spacious Uchimaki Park. Both destinations require a bit of legwork to access but are well worth it. The discharge tunnel is a massive underground cathedral-like structure designed to drain away flood waters. It is the largest structure of its kind in the world and words simply cannot do it justice. As for Uchimaki Park, you’ll need to take the bus from the West Exit of the station to get there but with its open expanses the place will feel like a breath of fresh air after the hustle and bustle of Tokyo proper. Make sure you get there during the cherry blossom season.
The massive cathedral-like structure of the discharge tunnel in Kasukabe. Photo by Dddeco at ja.wikipedia on Wikipedia.
Tobu Dobutsu Koen Station
The famous white tiger of Tobu Zoo. Photo by Ocdp on Wikipedia.The final station on the Tobu Skytree Line is Tobu Dobutsu Koen Station. About a 10-minute walk from the station’s West Exit, you will find a sprawling hybrid park curiously named Tobu Hybrid Leisure Land. Featuring a zoo with over 1200 animals, an amusement park complete with proper rollercoasters and during summer, a huge waterworks park with a giant super pool, wave pools and tube slides, the entire park is most definitely a full day experience.
Convenient and easy to access, the Tobu Skytree Line has more than enough to entertain visitors. Take your time along the line and who knows what you will end up discovering here.