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The Views Walking Tokyo from Shitamachi to the Sea

Ever interested in how Tokyo would be when you take a walk? It is true that we only commute by trains in Tokyo, thus preventing us from enjoying the beautiful landscape. What about taking a walk? Here our blogger will share the views Walking Tokyo from Shitamachi to the Sea. You might want to do the same after reading this blog!

Both Banks of the Sumida River in One View by Katsushika Hokusai (1803)
Both Banks of the Sumida River in One View by Katsushika Hokusai (1803)

The views walking Tokyo over its sightseeing circuits will give you a look at the archetypal Asian city, where traditional meets modern. The views of Edo (江戸, the former name of Tokyo) have been celebrated since the times when Hokusai’s sights of Fuji-san shifted spiritually through a backdrop of mists. 

Though the Tokyo foreground has changed from the days of yesteryear, the art and magic of the city haven’t. If you find the side streets, you’ll be spirited away to old places. Then, you can discover views as impressive as the ghostly negative space of a Hokusai print – the same as all those years ago.

THE VIEWS WALKING TOKYO OVER SHITAMACHI

Modernity in the midground and Mt. Fuji a distant god, a
walk through Tokyo shitamachi (下町, a low-lying part of the city containing shops and
factories) brings a sense of old Edo essence to bear on the bones. 

Living my days in the shitamachi Sumida ward, the Skytree lights my way home.  It situates me like Fuji-san once did for pilgrims and artists, peasants and aristocrats; a heavenly element between the common and uncommon.

Tokyo Skytree overlooks Azuma-doori and Sumida ward
Tokyo Skytree overlooks Azuma-doori and Sumida ward

While workers whittle away the hours in thousands of koujo (工所, a shop or factory) below its shadow, a walk away from the tower brings you something of an uncommon grain – the background negative space of a woodblock.  It’s a world floating in the imagination, like the sublime ukiyo-e (浮世絵, “floating world” Edo-period woodblock printing) of yesteryear.

TO TOKYO SKYTREE’S NORTH

Walking north over the bridges by Skytree’s Solamachi mall, the streets splinter.  The frame of Skytree’s columns and rows purl up the old Edo ground like a needle in the patchwork.  As if stretching the fabric of its surroundings, the streets become tighter as their angles become alternately tight or slack.

Walking and biking Tokyo's Yahiro side streets leads through angled alleys and past peculiar buildings
Walking and biking Tokyo’s Yahiro side streets leads through angled alleys and past peculiar buildings

Navigation becomes less intuitive. The Skytree is no longer a point along the x-y axis of southern Sumida, and the sun sits somewhere uncertain on the now rare east-west road. The views walking Tokyo along the roads of Yahiro and Tachibana bring constricting sidewalks and lower tree limbs.

Passing the rusty exterior of a metalworking shop, the air becomes a tincture of spark and iron.  Less assuming fabric shops seem slightly shuttered behind wooden slats, and exude earthier smells.

Open Sumida garages filled with metal and heaps of other things
Open Sumida garages filled with metal and heaps of other things

Whether hard metal or soft fabric, the doors to these shops are all just ajar.  Mingling smells and sights, you see the breathing legacy of family businesses. Whether artisanal handicraft from a stern brow or the merchant smile behind a courteous bow, you walk among shitamachi spirits.

These workshop koujo are often the same buildings as the owner’s residences, in the machiya (町家A tradesman’s house) tradition dating to the Edo period.  In Northern Sumida, they twinkle like bright dioramas stacked under back shelf boxes, a treasure both fresh and resident. 

The pulsing red lights over central Tokyo’s skyscrapers are gone – but as night dims, the sky glows with their ambient light.  In a heady mix of side street wandering, among smells of earth and artifice, a growing breeze falls close to Sumida’s northern boundary – the Arakawa river.

Arakawa Walk under the Bridge

Walking onto the Arakawa promenade, sumptuous greens stretch to the river (Tokyo highway C-2 is visible in the background)
Walking onto the Arakawa promenade, sumptuous greens stretch to the river (Tokyo highway C-2 is visible in the background)

A walk past Yahiro station, the wending ways push towards hilly outlets. Where the small roads make for the arterial on-ramps, little engines hum on hillsides.  The road margin is small, but across the tiny t-intersection is a wide embankment. It falls and rolls into the waves of the Arakawa river.

Walking the cusp of the hilly embankment, the path gives as gently as the sharp slope allows.  With the crowded houses of shitamachi behind, old Edo glides ghostly on the prevailing horizontal.  The path below is open enough for festival crowds, but on most nights scarcely a sound rises over the river hush.  A breeze holds the hair gently back behind the ears as if to whisper.

A swath of Sumida sunflowers at sundown
A swath of Sumida sunflowers at sundown

Flower gardens blossom with brighter colors, which collect
in a rustle and whisper along with the other plants.  Where flowers crawl, willows and countless
cattails sway in the breeze. The railways and smack of I-beams barely glare
through the windy whoosh.

The views walking Tokyo quiet along the river, and even within a couple of kilometers of Skytree, it feels like a world away. There’s something of the floating world remnant here on the Arakawa, a middle ground of openness.

Twilit Tokyo view from Hirai-Oobashi bridge
Twilit Tokyo view from Hirai-Oobashi bridge

Tokyo Highway C-2

Shoe soles wear thin after the distance between Skytree and
any spot along the Arakawa.  The spirits,
however, are carried by the swelling summer breeze and go up like boy’s day
kites.

Cutting slack, I once rested at the foot of the Arakawa embankment with some friends.  It was deep green in the night.  Higashi-Ojima station overlooked us, setting forth the constant light and occasional train.

After our walk and talk, we heard a couple of schoolgirls on
the embankment above.  They were giggling
and looking out over the wide river. 
Catching their light chat, I followed their dark silhouette’s bearing,
facing the opposite bank.

This touch on Tokyo was not like the prime digit of
Skytree.  Rather, it was a long glove
dressing the Arakawa river.  It fit the
Arakawa perfectly.  Above it ran a
highway, a dark line brushed the background of the Arakawa and the Sumida shitamachi before us.

It did not seem so impressive at first – but it encompassed everywhere
we had been walking. It was as lengthy as the legacies of shitamachi – stretching downstream to some unknown point.  Its form, a road out-the-water, morphed and
meshed with the Arakawa. It shaped the river the same as the Skytree seemed to
shift Sumida itself.

The Arakawa breeze whispered, and soon our walk brought us below Highway C-2.

Walking towards Tokyo highway C-2
Walking towards Tokyo highway C-2

Tokyo Sea Wall Walk

On that evening, our views walking Tokyo were framed fathomless where the highway C-2 met us overhead and our walkway dove downwards.  Out of the daylight, the highway above took shadow like the undercarriage of a titanic starship.

Orange light shone down from highway lights, away from the
cap of the columns pumped up like petrified pistons.  The columns dropped four or five stories below
the incline of our ingress.  We took care
as we reached the smooth concrete path, which was riveted over by the odd metal
bolt.

Light from the highway filters to the fore where C-2 supercedes the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line
Light from the highway filters to the fore where C-2 supersedes the Tokyo Metro Tozai Line

Walking, we found a rhythm in the repetition of columns and lights at an even pace.  The angle of our heads, awe agog and slack-jawed, kept our necks hinged on a hypotenuse.  Minutes moved slower or faster, or somehow both.

I was talking to my friend about pocket dimensions when we discovered the path under highway C-2. Like the shitamachi workers in their diorama-deep workshops, we now found ourselves out-of-time in a pocket dimension of pattern. Looking out at the Arakawa as it widened, a sea barge sat moored with a sleepy glint in its light.  The Skytree glowed blue in the distance over soporific shitamachi.  Looking up, there was the harsh white light of a passing train, then black.

Tokyo Highway C-2 shifts east over Tokyo Bay
Tokyo Highway C-2 shifts east over Tokyo Bay

After an hour, the jetty girth had ended abruptly.  The highway went out further above. Lights sparkled
left and right a kilometer out, along bridges going to the bejeweled fingertips
of Odaiba and Tokyo Disney Sea.

Looking down, my friend drew attention to a sign – “海から0 KM” (Zero kilometers from the sea). Here, furthest along this Tokyo walk, Tokyo Bay framed neo-Tokyo against the Skytree at it once had framed Old Edo against Mt. Fuji. And the immensity was all marked with a small milestone.

Where Tokyo meets the sea, Nakagawa and Arakawa meet at zero kilometers from the sea
Where Tokyo meets the sea, Nakagawa and Arakawa meet at zero kilometers from the sea

As New Views Unveils, The Old Spirit Prevails

Our walk ended between glimmering seasides.  Infinite in its absence of Tokyo densities, my
friend and I had found a massive backdrop of negative space. It was just the
same as the old Edo ukiyo-e that framed
the lives of generations of shitamachi
denizens.

Off the cuff of the koujo hand and carve of a woodblock print, we had found another unchanging color on Tokyo. Follow the whisper of Tokyo’s many rivers, and you might find your own views walking Tokyo.

Thank you for reading this week’s blog

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