Places to Visit in Tokyo: East Side – Japan Family Travel

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There are many interesting places to visit in Tokyo, and some of them are east side of the Imperial Palace. For over half of my 13 years in Japan, the east side of Tokyo was home. I’ll share some of my favorite places with you below.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel tomioka-hachimangu-antuque-market

Places to Visit in Tokyo – East Side

We moved to Koto-ku Tokyo, just before my daughter was born. This area of the metropolis doesn’t have the flashiest or most cosmopolitan places to visit in Tokyo. For that, go to Roppongi, Omotesando or Ginza.

The area is changing quickly, however. Artists, coffee shops and other elements of hipster gentrification are encroaching on areas of shitamachi (the old “downtown”). The result is a great mix of cool and old-school places to visit in Tokyo’s working class neighborhoods.

**Looking for our MEGA-post on Tokyo for kids? **

Let me give you a tour of my old neighborhood: Monzen Nakacho, Kiyosumi Shirakawa and Kiba. Odaiba is nearby. So is Ryogoku, where the sumo tournaments happen (we’ll get to that in an upcoming post).

This area doesn’t have to be your top-priority if you’re in town for just a few days. However, if you visit Tokyo with kids and want to see how most of the city lives, this might be the place. The area and the surrounding neighborhoods have many places to play and explore with kids, and you could spend half a day or even several days in the area. If you’re going out to Tokyo Disneyland,  you’re likely to pass right by it.

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MONZEN NAKACHO: PLACES TO VISIT IN TOKYO

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel monzen-nakacho-canal-oedo-hanami-sakura

The Monzen Nakacho station was my hub from 2006-2013. It gives you access to the Tozai line, the city’s main east/west train, and the Oedo line, which runs a loop through the metropolitan area. The Oedo line is also handy in that it has elevators and escalators at every station.

The Monzen Nakacho subway station is underneath Eitai Dori. This street runs straight to the Imperial Palace to the west and Tokyo Disneyland and the surrounding suburbs to the east.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel sakura sumida

The Sumida River: Places to Visit in Tokyo

Walk five minutes south of Monzen Nakacho station and you’ll arrive at the Sumida River, where the city of Tokyo (then called Edo) began. The riverbanks here are lined with sakura (cherry blossom) trees and small parks. This makes it a beautiful place during hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season, as the banks of the river are a spectacular explosion of pink and white.

The entire area is full of canals — it’s been called the “Venice of Tokyo,” but don’t think something that grand. However, most of these canals are tree-lined and have guardrails and small parks. If you’re looking for some open space without having to go to the countryside, or if you want to see the authentic pace of life, this is one the best places to visit in Tokyo.

There is also a water bus station right near the bridge. From here, you can catch a boat north to Asakusa or south to Odaiba.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel fukagawa fudosan

Fukagawa Fudoson Temple: Places to Visit in Tokyo

From Monzen Nakacho station, walk east on Eitaidori on the left side of the street. After a few minutes, you’ll arrive at a small lane that leads to the entrance to Fukagawa Fudoson Temple (Admission: Free). You’ll recognize this Buddhist temple by the raised highway behind it. The stone path to the temple has many great traditional shops and restaurants.

This temple is interesting for a number of reasons. For one, it has some of the oldest and newest structures in one place. Some of the construction dates back to the 1800’s, while the most recent additions are shockingly modern. It’s also intriguing in that this is where many Japanese come to pray for road safety. People pay to have their car blessed here!

This makes the highway bridge behind the temple an appropriate backdrop. There are frequent purification rituals at the temple, and the drumming can be heard clearly from the street several hundred meters away.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel tomioka hachimangu

Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine: Places to Visit in Tokyo

A few blocks further east on Eitai Dori is the Tomioka Hachimangu Shrine (Admission: Free), which is the ancestral home of sumo.

If you’re walking in from the front entrance, you’ll see a statue of a man on the left as you walk in. That’s Ino Tadataka (aka. Ino Chukei), known as Japan’s first surveyor and the first man to make a complete map of Japan. He set out in his late 50’s to walk the expanse of the archipelago. Seventeen years of walking went into his map, and soon after his death in 1818, it was completed.

A few paces further on the left you’ll see a free standing structure about two stories high. I hope it’s open when you visit because inside is one of the largest and most elaborate mikoshi (portable Shinto shrine) in Japan.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel tomioka hachimangu Mikoshi

Each weighs almost five tons and is covered in gold and precious gems. Note the gold phoenix on top and the diamond-eyed dogs on the corners. There are two mikoshi in this enclosure, and they are usually on display weekdays until around 4pm.

If you happen to be in Tokyo in mid-August, first let me say I’m sorry. The city is miserably hot and humid that time of year. The best way to cool down is to go to the Fukagawa Hachiman Festival, which centers around this shrine and involves thousands of gallons of cold water being dumped on those who attend.

The massive mikoshi I mentioned earlier are too heavy to participate, but dozens of others roam the streets, with hundreds of people carrying them. This is one of Tokyo’s biggest festivals — over half a million people visit — but it happens only every three years. The next one is in August of 2017.

The Origins of Sumo

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel tomioka hachimangu shrine sumo
Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel tomioka hachimangu shrine sumo

If you like sumo wrestling, then this may be one of the more interesting places to visit in Tokyo. This temple is usually regarded as where modern sumo originated. Once you’ve seen the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine’s interior, follow the path around to the side of the building.

Here you’ll find a monument comprised of granite monoliths where each new yokozuna (sumo grand champion) has his name carved into the stone. Notice the blank spaces reserved for future champions.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel Monzen Nakacho tomioka hachimangu antique market

The shrine also has a pretty good antique market, which opens every first, second and third Sunday of every month. Plenty of ceramics and textiles are available as well, and I’ve bought more than a few Christmas gifts here. Family favorites are tea cups and old movie posters.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel enma do

Fukagawa Enma-do: Places to Visit in Tokyo

If you go back to the main intersection of Eitai Dori and Kiyosumi Dori, walk north on Kiyosumi dori. Follow the sidewalk under a raised highway on the right side of the road. In approximately one block, at the corner of Kiyosumi dori and Kasaibashi dori, you’ll see a fairly inconspicuous temple roof.

Welcome to hell.

This is the Fukagawa Enma-do (Admission: Free), a temple for the god of the dead, and it’s a surreal place indeed. One room is all mirrors and shiny surfaces, while the adjoining room has large reprints of painted scrolls showing the torturous things that happen to bad boys and girls. Not for little kids, perhaps, but teens may find it splatter-tastic.

These are graphic but comically spectacular images — I once described the painter as “the Hieronymus Bosch of the Far East.” People are flayed, pulled apart, eaten by dragons and cooked into soup. It’s bloody but kinda goofy. Judge for yourself if your kids should see this. You’ve been warned: tweens and teens might get a kick out of it. Younger kids probably won’t.

KIYOSUMI SHIRAKAWA

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel kiyosumi Teien

One station north of Monzen Nakacho is Kiyosumi Shirakawa (you can walk between them within 20 minutes). On the west side of the street is Kiyosumi Teien. This traditional Japanese garden is located just a few minutes walk from the Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station (Oedo and Hanzomon subway lines).

Out of all the places to visit in Tokyo (east side, that is), Kiyosumi Shirakawa might be the most peaceful. When we first started looking into moving to the area, this is where I wanted to live.

Kiyosumi Shirakawa had a park, a manicured garden, and an established art scene. This was 2005. The epicenter of Japanese contemporary art has now shifted a little. The area, however, is getting hipper than it’s ever been, with trendy coffee shops like Blue Bottle, Arise, and AllPress moving into the neighborhood, as well as galleries and other trendy shops.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel kiyosumi teien fish

Kiyosumi Teien (Garden)

I spent a lot of time in this little manicured Japanese garden with my brood. There is plenty of space to run and play, and the huge koi fish in the pond here are so tame you can basically pet them. Buy a pack of bread from the snack stand (or bring your own) and these fish will quite literally eat out of your hands.

While much smaller than Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo’s largest and most exquisite Japanese garden, Kiyosumi Teien is a more manageable size, with lots of the same scenery you might expect.

  • Entrance costs JPY ¥150
  • Primary school children or younger are free

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel fukagawa edo museum room

The Fukagawa Edo Museum

About two blocks to the east of the gardens is the Fukagawa Edo Museum, which essentially re-creates what a neighborhood looked like on this spot during the Edo period (circa 1603-1868). Out of all the educational places to visit in Tokyo (east side), this is the one the kids will enjoy most.

You can walk into the reconstructed houses and touch much of what you see (most off-limits items are labeled as such). You’ll hear roosters crowing and cats meowing, and if you ask at the front desk, you might be able to secure an English-speaking guide.

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel fukagawa edo museum room rice cooker

The road that the Fukagawa Edo Museum sits on is also home to several beautiful temples. They are also worth walking in or strolling past.

In a nondescript building close to the Fukagawa Edo Museum is the Mujinto (No Man’s Land) Gallery space. Mujinto is a collective of young and often controversial contemporary artists including Lyota Yagi and pranksters like Chim Pom. People love them or hate them (I kinda love them).

I can’t guarantee that there will be an exhibition when you wander by. If there is, I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it — or that it will be kid-friendly. But I just have to mention them. There are some really clever young artists in their stable.

  • Admission for Fukagawa Edo Museum is ¥400 for adults, ¥50 for kids

**Looking for our MEGA-post on Tokyo for kids? **

KIBA: MASSIVE PUBLIC PARK & MUSEUM

Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo

Walk another ten minutes further east and you’ll be at the north end of the massive Kiba Park. Here you’ll find Tokyo’s Museum of Contemporary Art (aka the MOT). This is a great museum with frequent kid-friendly exhibits you can enjoy with kids. Highly recommended.

Kiba Park

Most of Kiba park is quite flat, and the MOT is on the far northern end of it. It’s a nice park, where you’ll see locals jogging and school groups playing, and there are several big playgrounds. That said, you should know that the nearest station is about 15-20 minutes south. There you’ll find Kiba station. The Tozai line here goes straight back to the center of town.

Across the street from the park is an Ito Yokado shopping center. Here you’ll find a shopping mall, a reasonably-priced movie theater, a massive supermarket and heaps of restaurant options in every price range.

  • Admission to exhibits range in price

Things to Do in East Tokyo: Japan Family Travel kiba park

 KNOW OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN TOKYO?

Where have you been in Tokyo’s east side? Where would you recommend? Tokyo changes by the day, so I’d love to keep this post up to date. Tell us about it in the comments, or contact me directly!

Image credit: #3, #5, #6, #7, #16, #17

Comments

  1. >Fukagawa Hachiman Festival

    I was a member of this festival for years:
    https://tokyo5.wordpress.com/2014/08/18/water-throwing-festival-2014/

  2. Love that design (at the MOT?). Really different and very clever. Gives people a bit of privacy in a public place.

    I like the “east side” of Tokyo. I lived in Chiba and went through occasionally. Also, I believe the drama, “Long Vacation” was filmed in this area, although the building that was supposed to be Sena’s mansion was an older building and is no longer there. Actually, another kimutaku drama, called “Beautiful Life,” I believe was set in shin koiwa.

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