Fukagawa (深川), an area on the east side of the Sumida River (隅田川) in Tokyo (東京) was home to merchants and the working class during the Edo period. Geographically located on low ground level (reclaimed marshland) and populated by the lower class, it was aptly known as “Low Town.” Today, no parts of Tokyo is untouched by modern development but Kiyosumi-Shirakawa (清澄白河) in Fukagawa. It strongly retains its old and shabby charms, providing a refuge from the hustle and bustle in the west side of the metropolis. Here are our top 9 picks on how to spend a fun yet “shizuka (peaceful)” day in the area!
To touch base, a bit of history won’t hurt. Hence, head to none other than the Fukagawa Edo Museum (深川江戸資料館)! We love the lower level exhibit where streets of Fukagawa in the Edo period are reconstructed. You’ll get to walk along (and inside) traditional houses, a tower outpost, a noodle cart, and a communal toilet! Perk up your ears for the cat meowing from the roof – some said that it has been there since the museum opened in 1961! English-speaking guides are available so inquire at the information desk before you venture in.
Kiyosumi Teien (清澄庭園), or Kiyosumi Garden, is a classic Meiji era landscape rock garden – a beautiful and subtle beauty that just takes your breath away. It is a habitat for various bird species and is one of those places that transports you away from Tokyo, even the noisy traffic just outside its walls is hardly audible! The garden is very popular among newlyweds for photo shoots. You might catch them in their traditional garbs as we did!
Fukagawa was where the haiku master, Matsuo Basho (松尾芭蕉), lived and wrote his famous “frog” haiku. The Basho Inari Shrine (芭蕉稲荷神社) is interesting and the Basho Memorial Park (芭蕉記念館 史跡展望庭園) is the perfect spot to enjoy a riverside sunset view. While the Basho Museum is only best enjoyed by hardcore fans, the little-forested garden at the side of the building is still worth checking out. We love the huge rock engraved with the famous poem!
This Shinto shrine is well known for its golden mikoshi (palanquin). During the lively summer festival (matsuri), the mikoshi is paraded and spectators would spray it with water. Imagine the festivity! Apart from that, stone monuments dedicated to past yokozuna (highest rank in sumo wrestling) are erected in its ground. Go check out the stones for your favorite champion!
At this Buddhist temple, priests in full religious regalia perform road safety rituals and bless cars for safety! While you might not be lucky to catch the ritual, we recommend visiting the shrine on the 1st, 5th, and 28th of every month when a flea market is held. You can sample street food for a pittance and might come across interesting local products on sale!
If shopping is not your forte, strolling from one stall to another is still a fun thing to do! You’ll get to see for yourself what the locals eat, wear, and buy. Or you could strike up conversations with the vendors – they would love to satiate your curiosity.
Fukagawa-meshi (rice), the area’s signature dish, is basically rice immersed in a rich broth of miso, sliced leeks, and Asari (Japanese short-neck clams). Originally, it was coined for fishermen as clams are native to the area and boiling them was the quickest way to feed these hungry, hardworking men during the Edo period.
Try Fukagawa-don for a richer taste in which a raw egg is added to the broth just prior to being served. Either way, we can guarantee you’ll find more clams than rice in your bowl! Muslim travelers are advised to inquire if mirin (sweet rice wine) and other alcoholic seasonings are used to make the broth.
Kiyosumi-Shirakawa is Tokyo’s “Coffee Town” so we highly recommend lining up at Blue Bottle Coffee just for the experience. Their coffee is not very impressive, but this American coffee shop did popularize the area as one of Tokyo’s most caffeinated.
For a more authentic Japanese third wave coffee sensory experience, you should head to ARiSE COFFEE ROASTERS which is just around the corner from Blue Bottle. If you prefer an espresso-based drink, then the New Zealand coffee shop, Allpress Espresso, is also nearby.
It’s not all about old stuff on the east side. Since opening its doors in 1995, the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo has been gaining attention for its collections as well as its architecture (think high ceilings, glass walls, and bare steel structure). Check out the periodical exhibitions or chill on one of the many plush seats inside the building. It’s definitely a great place to relax and soak up a little bit of culture at the same time!
We find Japanese sweets (wagashi) interesting. Imagine this: most of them are made of mochi (pounded rice paste) and sweetened bean paste, but there are so many different types to sample! Buy some to eat during your stroll or even as omiyage (souvenirs) for those loved (left) ones at home!
It might be underrated and under the visitors’ radar (for now), but Kiyosumi-Shirakawa is never lacking interesting and one-of-a-kind things for you to do! So why not head to the east side and discover this charming area on your own? Have fun!