Did you know Edo (now Tokyo) was one of the largest cities in the world during the 18th century? Edo grew rapidly from a small fishing town into a cultural hotpot of Kabuki and courtesans, sumo and ukiyo-e art; images of the floating world which we’re still enthralled with today. The Edo period (1603-1868) was a time of peace, and massive cultural and technological change. The East and West influenced each other in countless ways.
We spent a day exploring Ryogoku in east Tokyo to find you some of the best spots to visit.
Edo Tokyo Museum
Want to get your head around Tokyo’s vast history but don’t know where to start? The Edo Tokyo Museum has you covered! You’ll be captivated by the countless exhibits on display. Our favourites are the typical family homes and shops where you can get an insight into the fascinating lives of Edo citizens. We also enjoyed learning about the courageous firemen of Edo Tokyo. They were the first to respond to the many hazardous fires that ravaged the city. Each group had their own insignia emblazoned onto their uniforms and rival groups battled for respect and the people’s admiration.
You’ll be welcomed into the exhibition space by an impressive replica of the famed Nihonbashi Bridge. Start by learning about life in the early Edo Period, then follow its story of transformation into Tokyo as a modern metropolis. There are plenty of hands-on exhibits too, so you can try balancing heavy wooden buckets like a try Edo citizen, or watch a cute display of clockwork figures. The gift store is a must-see too – posters, books and plenty of snacks to keep you going as you explore more of Ryoguku.
Kokugikan Sumo Hall
It’s not uncommon to see rikishi (professional sumo wrestlers) walking the streets of Ryōgoku, but how would it feel to see them in action? Tournaments take place three times a year, so you’ll need to book tickets in advance if you want to partake in this exhilarating event unique only to Japan.
During the Edo Period, the Sumida river was a bustling hub of both commerce and pleasure. Nightly cruises on lantern-lit boats were the perfect viewing spots for various festivals including the famous Sumidagawa Fireworks – which you can still enjoy on the last Saturday of July every year.
During the Edo period, the Sumidagawa river was a lively hub for locals and an essential means of transportation. Nowadays, tourists from abroad and all over Japan use the river to sightsee and enjoy the historical and cultural vibe created between Ryōgoku and Asakusa. Conveniently located near Ryōgoku station and the Sumo hall, you can easily hop on the next waterbus and enjoy the views of old-town for yourself.
Go for the architecture – stay for the art history. No doubt you’ve marveled at the amazing works of Japan’s most famous artist, Katsushika Hokusai. His Kanagawa Wave print has been reproduced countless times. At this new boutique museum you’ll discover many more of Hokusai’s revolutionary woodblock prints and learn about his life as an influential artist during his turbulent life. Don’t forget to browse the Hokusai merch at the shop – we picked up some beautiful washi tape and postcard prints.
To get to Ryogoku, take the JR Chuo Sobu Line and get off at Ryogoku Station, or take the metro Oedo Line and get off at the metro Ryogoku Station, down the road from the JR Station.
Ryogoku and the surrounding areas are quite small so you can walk around easily.