Located in the heart of East Tokyo, the Sumida River leads to Tokyo Bay, flowing through several of the metropolis’ iconic spots including Asakusa, Ryogoku and Tsukiji.
The river was once the most important trans-shipment centre of goods during the Edo period (1603 – 1867). During this time, Ieyasu Tokugawa, the leader of the first shogunate, moved the nation’s capital to present day Tokyo and established a system of waterways.
The river also played a significant role in the lives of Edo residents. Besides boating, which was a popular activity then, the people would specially gather at the river banks to enjoy the cool evening breeze and escape the heat during summer.
To commemorate the victims of a severe famine in 1733, it also became the main backdrop for the biggest and most notable fireworks display in Japan.
The locals found every way to celebrate the river, whether it was enjoying the cherry blossoms in spring, witnessing spectacular fireworks during summer, or admiring the moon in autumn.
In fact, numerous well-loved folktales and ukiyo-e (浮世絵, woodblock prints that depicted everyday life in Edo) paintings, as well as kabuki (歌舞伎, Japanese classical theater) and traditional dances were inspired by this very river.
Thanks to constant upgrading and renewal efforts, Sumida River’s waterside provides you with some of the most unforgettable experiences, many of which cannot be found anywhere else in Tokyo.
Get on board and follow us from Asakusa to Odaiba as we sail along the Sumida River exploring its rich history and the many locations that have prospered from it!
Tokyo Waterworks Historical Museum: It all begins here
Go back in time and trace how the city first developed its water paths! The museum introduces the long history of Tokyo’s waterworks which stretches over 400 years, starting with the early construction of wooden water pipes to its use and development over time until today.
You will discover how important the Edo period was in the development of Tokyo’s first potable water supply. Thanks to multilingual audio guides, the visit will be both educational and enjoyable for all ages.
Address: 2-7-1 Hongo, Bunkyo-ku
Opening hours: Daily 9.30am – 5pm (Last admission at 4.30pm)
Closed on the 4th Mon of every month
Access: 8-minute walk from Ochanomizu or Suidobashi Station (JR Chuo-Sobu Line)
Tokyo Great Kayaking Tour: Paddling through Tokyo’s Waterways
For those looking for an adventure over the weekend, make a reservation online with this reputable agency and go on a kayak excursion that takes you through Tokyo’s canals. There are several options depending on the season, but we recommend the East Tokyo Canal Tour (12 kilometres) that brings you through spots mentioned in this feature. Get ready to paddle!
Address: 1-3-2 Shinkawa, Chuo-ku
Opening Hours: Differs depending on the tidal level
Access: 2-minute walk from Kayabacho Station Exit 3 (Tokyo Metro Tozai Line, Hibiya Line)
Fee: Prices vary depending on the course
Fukugawa Edo Museum: Travel back in time to the Edo Period
With its interior built to replicate the streets of olden days Japan, Fukugawa Edo Museum beautifully captures the atmosphere of Fukugawa Saga Town during the Tempo Period (1830-1844). Visitors can even walk into the “homes” of occupants and hear their stories, making it an interactive experience for the whole family. Feel free to approach their friendly English-speaking volunteers if you want to find out more.
Address: 1-3-28 Shirakawa, Koto-ku
Opening Hours: 9.30am – 5pm (last admission at 4.30pm)
Closed on the 2nd and 4th Mon of every month
Admission: ¥400 (adults), ¥50 (elementary & junior high school students)
Access: 3-minute walk from Kiyosumi-shirakawa Station Exit A3 (Toei Oedo Line, Tokyo Metro Hanzomon Line)
Yanagibashi Komatsuya: The treasured cuisine of the locals
Located along Kanda River, Yanagibashi Komatsuya is a quaint, traditional store that sells a local favourite: tsukudani (佃煮, seafood and seaweed that is simmered in soy sauce and mirin).
Originally from the pleasure boat trade, this family business maintains close ties with Tokyo’s waterways since 1881.
After its relocation in 1927, the store became known for its seasonal savoury delights which go exceptionally well with rice and sake. Having been passed down for generations, the tsukudani have a shelf life of one month and make the perfect gift!
Address: 1-2-1 Yanagibashi, Taito-ku
Opening Hours: Mon-Fri: 9.30am – 6pm, Sat: 9.30am – 5pm
Closed on Sunday and Public Holidays
Access: 5-minute walk from Asakusa Station Exit A1 (Toei Asakusa Line)
(This feature first appeared on WAttention Singapore magazine, Jul/Aug 2018 Vol. 45)