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The Rainbow Bridge

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Spanning Tokyo Bay to connect Odaiba Island with the mainland, the Rainbow Bridge serves trains, cars and pedestrians along its 800-meter length. We crossed the bridge frequently with the Yurikamome Monorail, but decided to walk across on one our final days in Tokyo.

Rainbow Bridge Tokyo

“A Stroll Across the Rainbow Bridge” sounds delightful, but the reality isn’t terribly charming. There’s a broad pedestrian walkway, but you’re never far away from the roaring traffic, consisting mostly of semi-trucks that shake the entire structure as they rumble past. The smell of exhaust is nauseating and the noise is nearly unbearable. But the view of the Tokyo skyline, visible if you walk along the northern side of the bridge, almost makes up for it.

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Location on our Map

Rainbow Bridge Tokyo
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July 7, 2014 at 3:16 pm Comments (2)

The Historic Neighborhood of Fukagawa

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Across the Sumida River from Nihonbashi, Fukagawa is one of Tokyo’s original fifteen wards. We spent a day wandering around its uncrowded streets, allowing the district to surprise us with an excellent museum, a tranquil garden and, for lunch, a delicious bowl of the neighborhood specialty, Fukugawa Meshi.

Kiyosumi

Fukugawa is home to a few of Tokyo’s most acclaimed sumo stables. In fact, after emerging from the metro, the very first person we saw was a sumo wrestler, clad in a robe and large enough to blot out the sun. Like starstruck schoolgirls, we followed him at a discrete distance, watching as he went into a 7-11 to flip through comics. It’s not that I expect sumo wrestlers to constantly be eating or practicing, but it was somehow amusing to see this massive guy being so normal, just going about his day.

Kiyosumi

Next, we paid a small fee to enter the Kiyosumi Gardens, a 20-acre park with a circular path that leads along a pond, past a tea house, and through thousands of trees. The garden was created in the eighteenth century, and purchased in 1878 by Iwasaki Yataro, founder of the Mitsubishi Corporation, who intended to use it as a place of rest for his employees. Opened to the public in 1932, Kiyosumi is one of the more beautiful gardens we visited in Tokyo, thanks largely to an almost total lack of other tourists.

Kiyosumi

After leaving the garden, we walked a few blocks to the west and came upon the Fukagawa Edo Folk Museum. We weren’t sure what to expect here, but certainly not what we found: a full-scale reconstruction of Edo-era Fukagawa. This museum was a real surprise. Around eight houses have been built, some in cut-away to better show off the interiors, and others in their entirety. You’re allowed to remove your shoes and enter all of the buildings, both the residences and the stores. You can walk down by the canal (Fukagawa was an important port of Edo), look up at the fire tower, peer into the outdoor toilet shared by the entire neighborhood and see the roving soba vendor.

The museum is very permissive, allowing and even encouraging photographs, and visitors are free to handle any of the artifacts which are laying around. But the best part might be the dedicated volunteer staff, many of whom speak English, and all of whom are eager to answer questions you might have. The woman following us around was even answering questions we didn’t have.

By the time we finished in the museum, we were famished and set out to find lunch. While puzzling over the Japanese-only menu of a nearby restaurant, a group of older men clad in hiking gear stormed past us and into the door. The last one in line looked back and rubbed his belly as if to say, “yummy yummy”… and that’s as good a recommendation as you’re likely to get. We went up to the third floor, removed our shoes, sat down and dug into the neighborhood specialty: Fukagawa Meshi, a rice dish topped with a rich miso-based broth of clams and green onions.

Fukagawa doesn’t see a lot of foreign tourism, perhaps because it’s on the wrong side of the Sumida River. But this historic neighborhood is still quite central, easy to reach, and worth at least half a day. Probably more.

Locations on our Map: Kiyosumi Gardens | Edo Folk Museum | Meshi Restaurant

Our Apartment In Tokyo Was Very Close To This Neighborhood

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June 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm Comments (2)

The Sumida Aquarium

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The rain was showing no sign of stopping. We stared sullenly at the clouds from our habitual perch in the SkyTree’s sixth-floor Starbucks and tried to figure out what to do with the day. Suddenly, an inspiration: the Sumida Aquarium. A brilliant idea! So brilliant, in fact, it was shared by approximately 74% of Tokyo.

Sumida Aquarium Tokyo

Before describing the aquarium, allow me to address my designation of Starbucks as our “habitual perch.” Jürgen and I are in no way Starbucks people, but for foreigners in Tokyo, it is by far the best option for reliable, free internet. Other cafes might have wifi, but you have to be a Japanese citizen to log on. Or you have to pay a truckload. Or you have to reconnect every fifteen minutes. But after registering with Starbucks, you can log on at any branch in the city. And they’re found on nearly every block. We spent weeks searching for alternatives, but came up empty. Starbucks it is.

Back to the Sumida Aquarium, which had a crowd bordering on the ridiculous and wasn’t at all a bargain, with tickets priced at ¥2000 ($20) per person. But this is Tokyo. If we balked at everything which was crowded or expensive, we wouldn’t be able to do much. So we forked over the yen and went inside.

Right away, we forgot about the money. Sumida’s isn’t the largest aquarium we’ve ever visited, but it’s perhaps the most modern, and is the kind of place in which you could easily spend hours. The tanks are beautiful, with crystal clear glass and excellent lighting, and most of the information is translated into English.

After entering, we were immediately drawn to the massive jellyfish wall, and from there moved to individual tanks filled with smaller species like seahorse, clownfish, crabs and blowfish. Eventually, we arrived at the largest tank in the aquarium, in which hundreds of fish, including tiger shark and manta rays, were swimming. There was even a scuba diver inside, cleaning the tanks and feeding the animals. We finished our tour by grabbing coffee and sitting at an open-air tank, where a squad of hyperactive penguins and honking sea lions provided entertainment.

The Sumida Aquarium is neither cheap nor relaxing, but is so nicely done that it’s well worth checking out. We can now add “aquariums” to our growing list of things which Japan does perfectly… I suppose I’m not surprised.

Location on our Map

Cheap Flights To Tokyo

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May 1, 2014 at 10:45 am Comments (0)
The Rainbow Bridge Spanning Tokyo Bay to connect Odaiba Island with the mainland, the Rainbow Bridge serves trains, cars and pedestrians along its 800-meter length. We crossed the bridge frequently with the Yurikamome Monorail, but decided to walk across on one our final days in Tokyo.
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