Old City - Edo
In the Edo era (1603 - 1868), Edo Castle dominated a high point of the city. As the city grew, villages on the other side of the Sumida River were populated with common people. Over the centuries, many old Edo buildings have been destroyed by fire, earthquakes, and World War II bombing. In the Fukagawa and Ryogoku neighborhoods, kids can get a sense of life in Edo, the old city.
Fukagawa Fudo-do Temple - The temple complex includes a Buddhist temple and Shinto shrines, over 300 years old.
After you walk through the torii gate, on the left is a stone fountain with three bronze dragons. Here's where you can offer your prayers or wishes and sound the gong to summon the deity. At the table with rice paper and pens, kids can write their wish (feel free to wish for success with soccer or exams), and please put yen in the offering box. Drop the rice paper into the water (it will dissolve), and pull on the red tasseled rope to sound the gong and call the deity (who hopefully will listen to any wishes).
On the right side of the courtyard is an Inari shrine, with stone foxes guarding the shrine (red bibs are symbol of good luck).
Go into the main hall of the temple ( take off your shoes, and put them in the plastic bags available). If you like, toss some yen in the offering box. The large altar image is the Buddhist guardian deity Fudo, holding a large sword and rope, surrounded by a fiery halo. Fudo is a god of justice, using the rope and sword to defeat evil in the world.
Fukagawa Edo Museum -
One of our favorite museums in Tokyo, kids can step into daily life of 1840's Edo. Go into life-size rice and vegetable stores, homes of a merchant, peddler, music teacher and craftsman, and boathouse tavern next to boats on the canal and fire watchtower. Completely hands-on, kids can use brooms to sweep, try wooden cooking utensils, pretend to pour tea from metal teapots, and don't forget to take off your shoes when you go into the houses and shops. To really make things come alive, sounds change from to night, the rooster crowing in the morning, cat meowing on the roof, waves lapping at the river, calls of the boatman, to the temple bell at dusk and sounds of crickets at night.
Don't miss the table of puzzles of famous woodcut paintings, depicting life in Edo - fun for kids to put together.
The museum is open daily, and as the museum is completely indoors, it's an excellent rainy day activity.
Jizo Bosatsu statue, Reigan-ji Temple
- On the same side of the street, just before the museum, is a small temple. Inside the courtyard, on the left, is a 9 ft high Buddhist Jizo Bosatsu statute, one of five statues that marked the roads into Edo. Jizo Bosatsu holds a wish-granting jewel in his left hand, and is a guardian of travelers (as well as children).
Kiyosumi Gardens -
Kiyosumi Gardens is a lovely example of Japanese gardens, a miniature landscape with large pond, islands, stone lanterns, bridges, rocks, trees and flowers. Words from the poet Basho are inscribed (in Japanese) on a large rock - "An old pond, a frog jumps in, the sound of water."
Join Japanese families with kids, hopping over stepping stones or feeding the large carp and ducks in the water. There are shaded picnic tables, this is a delightful spot for a picnic lunch. The gardens are open daily, except year-end holidays.
- Next door to the gardens is a park, with grass to run around, and a small playground with bright yellow jungle gym.
Basho Memorial Park -
The Fukagawa neighborhood has changed considerably since the great haiku poet Matsuo Basho lived here in the 17th century. He had a small house along the Sumida River, and a banana tree (basho) in his yard. He liked the banana tree so much, "I sit underneath it, and enjoy wind and rain that blow against it," he named his house, and published his poems under the name Basho.
Basho's house is long gone, but there's a delightful Basho memorial park on the Sumida River, with a bronze statue of the poet and the perfect picnic destination.
To get to the Basho statue, from the northwest corner of Kiyosumi Park, walk on the big street north 5 blocks, until you get the Onagigawa Canal. Go over the Mannenbashi Bridge, turn left at the first street.
On the right side of the street is a Inari shrine in Basho's honor, with red and white banners and fox statues. Walk down the street to the end, turn left at the steps, and climb up to the small park overlooking the Sumida River. Along with the statue of Basho are bamboo and banana tree plants, and little benches (we saw a Japanese family eating their lunch here).
From here, a long promenade extends along the Sumida River. Walk along the river to the next big bridge, Shin-ohashi, then turn right on the main street, Shin-ohashi-dori, to the Moritshita subway station. (This is also an alternative way to get to the Basho statue, just reverse the directions.)
Edo-Tokyo Museum -
The museum galleries bring to life history and culture of the capital, from the founding of Edo by Tokugawa Ieyasu, to the 19th century, when the city was renamed Tokyo, through the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and World War II. Kids can walk across the Nihonbashi Bridge, climb inside a palanquin and imagine traveling the Tokaido Road to Edo in one of these (it's cramped), or hop into a 19th century rickshaw.
What we like best in the museum are all the dioramas and scale models, such as 17th century streets in Edo, a daimyo's estate, Edo Castle rooms, boats on the Sumida River, kabuki actors on a stage, ukiyo-e (woodblock prints) shop, Mitsukoshi Dry Goods store, festivals and parades, twelve story Ryounkaku tower in Asakusa, 20th century Japanese home. Kids will also enjoy examples of samurai armor, masks and swords, World War II memorabilia, and exquisite costumes, kimono and hairstyles of the ladies of Edo.
The museum is closed on Monday. On the basement level is the museum shop and a cafe. To get there, take the Oedo line, Ryogoku subway stop.
Tip: If you're visiting the Edo-Tokyo Museum, it just a few blocks to the Site of Lord Kira's Residence, famous in the story of the 47 ronin (Chushingura).