Tokyo looks more magical at night. Walking across the Sumida River after seeing a sumo tournament, we admired the retro modern view of the bridges, elevated freeways, railway tracks, and inky black river. Even Sky Tree, the latest addition to this skyline, projects a futuristic image that is oddly familiar.
The green neon marks the Kanda river’s last bridge before joining the Sumida river. This river starts at Inokashira park in Kichijoji, west of where we live and winds for 26 kilometers before joining the Sumida and flowing into Tokyo Bay. A few years ago, I co-wrote an article about the Kanda river’s history and potential for new urbanism in Tokyo. You can download the 6 MB document in PDF form here.
At the bottom, you can see that there are still pleasure boats parked at the bottom of the Kanda for river dining and drinking. I’ve never been on these smaller boats.
With A Small Lab‘s Chris Berthelsen, I’ll be leading an afternoon tour tomorrow of Tokyo Bay and the Sumida river for Still City, an exciting workshop hosted at Shibaura House with international participants interested in urban design.
Anyone is free to join us tomorrow, or to use the itinerary on your own at any time. I like the layers of history visible when viewing Tokyo as a once great waterway, and the current reverberations of last century’s apocalyptic earthquakes, war bombing, surrender, and reinvention. The centuries old Japanese garden uses salt water from the bay for its ponds, there will be early fall folliage, and we will ride Himiko, the crazy boat in the photo above.
Still City is a Dutch-Japanese workshop looking at opportunities suggested by viewing Tokyo as emblematic of post-growth urban life. It’s supported by the Japan Foundation and the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with its local embassy.
Overview: We’ll visit a traditional Japanese garden near Shibaura House, recall Tokyo’s river heritage on a water bus up the Sumida River, and explore Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods. A frugal afternoon exploring a few still spaces in this churning megalopolis. Spontaneous picnicking, beers from final-generation liquor stores, and foraged city food are all possible.
1. Enjoy a traditional Japanese garden: Meet at Hamarikyu Garden at 1.00 pm (Nakanogomon Gate entrance)
Hamarikyu Garden is an Edo-style garden situated between the glass high-rises of Shiodome and Tokyo Bay. A traditional Japanese garden dating back hundreds of years, this spot by the bay played a critical role in the negotiations between US General McArthur and Emperor Hirohito in settling the war and the fate of the imperial family. Perhaps they partook in duck hunting together, a ruling class pastime marked with a religious shrine.
Where: Hamarikyu Garden is a short walk from Hamamatsuchou, Shimbashi, and Shiodome stations, about 2 km from Shibaura House. You can easily walk from Shibaura House, or take the Yamanote line or the Yurikamome monorail.
Cost: 300 yen admission
2. Boat up the Sumida River to Asakusa: Meet at Hinode Pier’s Waterbus Station at 2.45 pm
The water bus from Hinode Pier to Asakusa takes about 40 minutes. Going upstream on the wide Sumida River, you can experience Tokyo’s river heritage, and see a good part of eastern Tokyo, including the new Sky Tree. For those new to Tokyo and even for those who live here, viewing Tokyo by boat is a rare and fun event.
Where: Hinode Pier is half way between Hamarikyu Garden and Shibaura House. There’s also a Yurikamome monorail station there.
Cost: 720 yen. Boat leaves at 2.55 pm.
3. Explore old Tokyo at Asakusa: Arrive by water bus at 3.30 pm
Asakusa is one of Tokyo’s oldest neighborhoods. It has been less gentrified in the post-war years, and retains an old Tokyo feeling. We’ll check out a shrine, a market, and some back street gardening. Time permitting, we’ll stop at a neighborhood bathhouse to relax after the tour. Feel free to return at any time.
Return to Shibaura House: Take the Toei Subway Asakusa Line to Mita station, then walk. 18 min on express train, 210 yen.
This past weekend was the International Federation of Landscape Architects World Congress in Suzhou, China. My co-author Matthew Puntigam traveled there with professors and graduate students of the Tokyo University of Agriculture, and he presented our paper co-written with Professor Suzuki Makoto.
The Kanda River connects many residential, commercial, and downtown neighborhoods before emptying into the Sumida River. We looked at the past, present and possible future of what is the longest river that originates within Tokyo. The biodiversity potential is significant: in one small section of Tokyo’s Kanda river, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s 2001 survey documented 260 plant species, 42 riverbed species, 9 types of fish, 291 types of insects, 30 bird species, 2 reptiles species, and 3 mammal species.
You can download a PDF of our paper, Biodiversity and New Urbanism in Tokyo: The Role of the Kanda River (6 MB). Your comments and questions are most welcome.