David Chart's Japan Diary

February 20th 2009

Two updates in quick succession. This may well become a consistent pattern, as writing this diary, while not an immediate priority, is something that I want to keep doing. So, what seems to be happening is that things build up until I feel that I really have to write them, and then I move other things out of the way and get this caught up all at once. So, without more ado, onto the up-catching.


We went to Fukagawa on January 12th. As I mentioned on my blog at the time, this is one of the old working-class areas of Tokyo, and still retains quite a bit of colour. It is, however, a very urban part of Tokyo. For a walk in January, this is a good thing. First, you have the urban heat island effect, so it's not so cold. Second, there are places to pop into if things get too cold or the weather turns bad. Fortunately, the weather was kind to us; it did rain quite hard, but only while we were in a museum.

We followed a walking tour in one of my Japanese guidebooks, which took us to quite a few interesting places. The first was a shrine, which is one of the Fukagawa Seven Gods of Good Fortune (or Shichifukujin). This is a group of seven shrines and temples, one connected with each of the gods. It is somewhat traditional to go round all seven early in the New Year (before January 15th, I believe), and you could collect ink stamps from each place as you visited. There were quite a few people doing the walk, and our route was quite close to it, but not exactly the same. However, there were orange flags all along the route, so that you wouldn't get lost going from one shrine or temple to another, so it might be a fun thing to do in the future.

Very near the shrine was a museum dedicated to Matsuo Basho. Basho is the most famous haiku poet in Japanese history, and lived in the seventeenth century. He spent a significant portion of his life in Tokyo, near the location of the museum, teaching poets and writing poems. The museum included poems written out in Basho's lifetime, as well as reconstructions of items connected with him. Mayuki was more interested in running around the gallery and climbing up and down the stairs, so I didn't have much chance to look at the exhibits. However, there was a very nice, although very small, garden attached to the musuem, which we walked round afterwards.

Mayuki and the River At the Sumida River

The route next took us to the Sumida river, and a locally-famous viewpoint. The blue bridge in the background is the key point, but it is generally a good Tokyo city scape. It also reminded me of my very first days in Japan; I took the boat up the Sumida river, and I remember going past the large, rectangular building beyond the bridge. The dark square at the bottom is an opening, and as I recall we were told that this was insisted on by Feng Shui practitioners, to ensure that the dragons could get down to the water.

Our next stop was lunch, for which we had Fukagawa Rice, which is rice with clams. The place where we ate is small, and well-known; we had to wait for some time before we could go in, and Mayuki decided to explore the area, Yuriko in tow, while I kept our place in the queue. The food was good, and Mayuki charmed the group sitting next to us by doing "itadakimasu" before eating and "gochisosama" afterwards. She also played peekaboo through the window with people who were waiting for their turn.

Mayuki in Edo Mayuki gets to grips with Edo period rice shopping

The restaurant was just across the road from the Fukagawa Edo museum, so that was our obvious next stop. This museum has a small "conventional" exhibition area, but the main feature is a reconstruction of a small piece of Fukagawa back when it was part of Edo, in the mid-nineteenth century. The reconstruction covers buildings, some of which are just facades, others of which have full interiors, with furniture, and even fake food on the tables. You can go into the houses and sit on the floor, seeing things from the family's point of view. The interiors of the houses are changed to match the current season, so there were New Year decorations up while we were there, and I believe that the vegetables on sale are also changed to match the season. The rice that Mayuki found so interesting is a permanent feature, I think.

There are no models of people, but every house has a defined family, with jobs and interests, which determines the sort of things there are in their house. All in all, it makes for a very interesting small museum; it only took us a little over an hour to see all of it. Unfortunately, it's closing for refurbishment later this year, and won't reopen for some time, so we got in just in time. It might be nice to go back and see it after it reopens, to see what changes. Maybe we could do it while walking the Seven Gods of Good Fortune route.

Pine and Lake Pine over water

As I mentioned at the beginning, it rained while we were in the museum, but it was dry again when we came out, so next we went to a garden, the Kiyosumi garden. This garden is dominated by a very large lake, and notable for having a large collection of rocks from all over Japan. These are, of course, interesting rocks; green with white veins, for example. The walk around the lake was very pleasant, although Mayuki decided to sleep right through it.

The final bit of the route took us to a temple and a shrine. I'd been to the shrine before: Tomioka Hachimangu. It was the first time to go to the temple, and they had an enormous board announcing their new building project. It's a very, very modern looking building; it will be interesting to see it when it's finished. As far as I recall, they had already raised the money for the first stage, and are going to be starting building this year, if they haven't already.

By this time, I was getting quite tired, having been carrying Mayuki for most of the day, so we decided to head back home. Fukagawa is in eastern Tokyo, right over the other side, so the train journey is fairly long. That also means that it isn't a part of Tokyo that we normally see, so it was a good chance to broaden our appreciation of the city. Tokyo really does change a lot from one area to another, and it's definitely worth seeing more of it. No doubt we will go to other bits in the future.