January 25, 2024

Arakawa River Now and Then

Arakawa River is a 173 km long river that originates in Okuchichibu and flows into Tokyo Bay.
The river was named after "Raging River”, because it repeated flooding.

Change of Flow in 17th Century

At the end of the 16th century, Arakawa River joined Tone River and frown into Tokyo Bay, repeatedly overflowing and creating a huge wet land in the eastern part of Tokyo.

Fig. 1 Tone River before and after Shift to the East

Reference: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation
(Proper nouns are overwritten in English by author.)

As a flood control project, Tokugawa Ieyasu planned to divide Tone River and Arakawa River at Sekiyado Locks, which still exists in Chiba Prefecture, and over a period of 60 years, Tone River came to flow into the Pacific Ocean at Choshi.

As a result, new rice fields were created and boat shipping routes ware developed to transport lumber to Edo.
These led to Edo's great growth into one million population city.

Change of Flow in Early 20th Century

Arakawa River originally joined current Sumida River and flown into Tokyo Bay near the center of Tokyo City.
After a great flood that hit eastern Tokyo in 1910, a flood control gate at Iwabuchi and diversion of the Arakawa and Sumida Rivers were planned by constructing 500 m wide and 22 km long diversion channel.


Fig. 2 Construction of Iwabuchi Flood Control Gate and 22km long Arakawa Diversion Channel

Reference: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation
(Proper nouns are overwritten in English by author.)

The construction of the channel took 20 years and was completed in 1930, protecting the basin's population of 5 million people from floodings.

Fig. 3 Iwabuchi Flood Gate

Reference: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transportation
(Proper nouns are overwritten in English by author.)

Mr. Akira Aoyama, a leading Japanese civil engineer involved in the construction of Panama Canal, was in charge of design and construction of the flood control gate at present Arakawa River.

Arakawa Amusement

Several paved roads are developed along the river as inspection routes, and is filled with people who enjoy running and cycling every day. You can enjoy the roads without traffic lights as long as 40km from the river mouth.

There are also many baseball and soccer fields, which attract many elementary school students on weekends.


Pic. 1 Baseball and Soccer Fields

Many cherry trees are planted along the embankment, and cherry blossom viewing spots are scattered throughout the river.
At Akabane Sakura Bank, 1km upstream of Iwabuchi Flood Gate, cherry blossoms of Someiyoshino and Shiba-Zakura(mossy grass cherry blossoms) are in magnificent competition.

The place is within a walking distance from Akabane-Iwabuchi station on Namboku subway line. Visitors shall definitely enjoy the view.


Pic. 2 Akabane Sakura Tsutumi(Dike) in early April

By Yoshihiro Morichika

October 12, 2023

My town Saga-cho, Now and Then

Do you know Fukagawa Edo Museum?

This museum reproduces the old town of the late Edo period around 200 years ago.  The name of that town is Saga-cho.
They say the name Saga-cho came from the similar shape of Saga Minato port in Hizen-Han as the former feudal domain in Kyushu area.

Saga-cho was located near Nihombashi as the biggest downtown in Edo city.
Besides, there were three canals below connected to Sumida-gawa River, such as Sendai-bori, Nakano-hori and Abura-bori.
Therefor Saga-cho was good place for water transportation.
Rice, lumber, fertilizer, foods, water, fuel were carried through the canals, and people as well.
They used small boats to transport them.
Kinds of boat were Choki-bune (See Figure 1-1.), Oshokuri-bune and the like.
And many warehouses were built here in Saga-cho for the sake of storage the goods.

One more, About Hoshikaba.
Hoshikaba was the market for hoshika and shimekasu, two types of fertilizer.
Hoshika are dried sardines.
Shimekasu are boiled sardines after pressing out the fish oil.
They were brought by sea, mostly from the Boso area in Chiba prefecture, and were distributed nationwide as fertilizer for cotton flax, indigo, tea, tobacco, rice and more.
There was a hoshikaba named “Motoba” here in Saga-cho before.

   (--Many years have passed--) 

Today, Choki-bune and Oshokuri-bune on the canals were gone.
A lot of cars run instead.
Hoshikaba does not exist anymore here.
Warehouses changed to apartment houses (or flats) one after another.

Now, I just live in Saga-cho actually.
Why don’t you come to real Saga-cho after visiting old Saga-cho in the museum?

Figure 1-1. Shape of Choki-bune

Maps of canals in Saga-cho in the 19th Century

Figure 2-1. Canals (19th Century)

Pictures of canals in Saga-cho in the 21st Century

Figure 3-1. Sendai-bori canal (Remained)

Figure 3-2. Nakano-hori canal (Partial Remained)

Figure 3-3. Abura-bori canal (Full Reclaimed)

September 27, 2023

Public Bathhouse, or “Sento”, one of the best options for relaxation

 Have you ever been to Japanese style public bathhouse, or “Sento” in Japanese word?  If not, I do recommend you going there.

Sento, especially in Tokyo, was developed in Edo era, more than a couple of centuries ago, providing bathing facilities to local resident as there were no in-house bath at that time.

Image courtesy of the University of Tokyo General Library - “Kengu Irigomi Sento Shinwa”, showing Sento in Edo era (*)

Probably because of its long history thereafter, Sento is not just only bathing facilities but also the place for relaxing such as wall painting (featuring Mt. Fuji or other mountain view, seaside view, etc.), very wide space with often high roof, small Japanese garden, rest space and so on, also functions as communication station for local resident; family, kids, young and old generation.

Having such historical background, Sento remains for public up to now and basic Sento fare is very reasonable (JPY520/psn in Tokyo as of September 2023) as it is determined by each local government in return for various governmental financial support to Sento owners in accordance with the relevant regulations.

For me, visiting Sento almost every weekend is an essential part of my life for more than two decades to have a relax time and refresh myself.

I have some first choice favorite Sentos such as the one having free flowing real hot spring, the one having sauna and water pool, the one having artificial carbonated spring & jet water stream massage bath, and so forth. All of them are in Koto Ward or neighboring Ward, within my daily living area.

If I have something to do outside my living area, I often check a Sento map to search for a Sento nearby. As there are about 440 Sentos in Tokyo, I can find some on the way or around that area, enjoying Sento cruise. Sometimes, my crise is extended out of Tokyo as there are Sentos in the other major cities too.

If you do not know which Sento to go or if you want to know more about Sento, please visit Sento Association’s website below:

Tokyo Sento Association (English, Chinese and Korean pages available)

Koto Ward Sento Map as of 2023 (Japanese version only, total 19 sentos)

At last, I would like to inform you the basic rules and manners in Sento as follows:

- In addition to basic fare (@JPY520 in Tokyo), optional fare may be required such as sauna, depending on each Sento & your needs, and
- Male and female are separated, and,
- No swimming suits are allowed to wear, and,
- Need to wash your body before entering into bathtub, and,
- No swimming is allowed, and,
- No towel is allowed to soak into the bathtub, and,
- No washing clothes nor coloring hair is allowed in the bathroom, and,
- Drying your body by towel before going out of bathroom.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy Sento and hopefully find out your own favorite during your stay!

By Ken Onu (September 2023)

August 14, 2023

The lumberyard history in Koto-City

 I will write a story of the lumberyard history in Koto-City.

In Edo period, Edo-city was filled with houses made of wood, so fire was a regular occurrence. It was important where the lumberyard should be located because the lumberyard itself fanned a fire.

Back to the early 17th century, beginning of the Edo period, a lumberyard was in center of Edo-city, near Edo castle (current Imperial Palace). Triggered by a big fire in 1641, the Tokugawa shogunate, government decided to move the lumberyard to Fukagawa where is a big open space and easy to transport lumbers on the water.

The new lumberyard was called Moto-Kiba, which means original lumberyard on east side of Sumida-River.

Followed by 1641, the biggest fire ever happened in 1657, which burned out almost two third of the Edo-city (see 'The biggest fire in 1657'). That made the government decide to develop a plan to expand the Edo-city into eastside of Sumida-River.

Fukagawa, near Nihonbashi across the Sumida-River where retail business gathered, was required to supply goods as wholesaler. Because of warehouse supremacy, 60 years later after Moto-Kiba started, it was forced to move again.

Fig. Fukagawa Lumberyards, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo

(Source: National Diet Library Digital Collections

The lumberyard moved to Kiba-Area east of Moto-Kiba in 1701 after temporary stay in Sarue-Area. Kiba lumberyard was prepared by the Lumber-Corp members at their cost, which size was 75 acres. The preparation included water channels, bridges on the channels and bank surrounding the area (see 'Kiba in winter'). Between 1701 and 1974, Kiba-Area flourished for 270 years thanks to not only the lumberyard business, but a culture respects. During the period, diverse people such as owner of lumberyard, wood sewer, carpenter, Kawanami acted in the lumberyard (see 'Wood sewer in Kiba'). Most of lumbers used for house building in Edo-city were produced within Kiba-Area. Edo-city was biggest city in the world with more than one million population those days. Among people in the lumber business, the most famous merchant, an owner of lumberyard was Bunzaemon Kinokuriya, who made a big money supplying lumber.

He also undertook major projects including Ueno-Kaneiji temple construction with the government’s tremendous help.

The lumber merchants lifted teahouse or Chaya business to entertain merchant’s guest. They enjoyed drinking and conversation with geishas (see 'Chaya'). This culture raised a sense of ‘Iki’, an aesthetic sense that values being sophisticated, stylish, casual, smart, and considerate.

Lumbers were cut and carried off mountains all over Japan. They were transported to Edo-city by Kawanami. Kawanami was assigned all responsibilities by a merchant.

He selects woods in the forest, transports them making a raft in the water (see 'Kawanami and a raft').

He negotiated the sales price with suppliers of houses and temples. Kawanami created the cultures such as Kiyari, labor song and Kakunori, a play to rotate a squared lumber using both legs.

Kiba-Area became inland for Tokyo-Bay being reclaimed and had problems of land subsidence, water pollution and others. The lumberyard was forced to move again to the southern direction of Kiba-Area, Shin-Kiba. It started as huge industrial park with 600 companies in 1974 (see 'Shin-Kiba lumberyard at early time'). Glory of Shin-Kiba, however could not last long because the way of the lumber business changed from pulpwood to processed wood.

The lumberyard is not necessary anymore. In addition, the rate of wooden house declined. There is Wood Museum to exhibit wood industry (see 'Lumber Museum').

On the site of Kiba-Area, Kiba-Park was developed and opened to the public in 1992 (see 'Kiba-Park'). The park was developed based on disaster prevention plan by Tokyo Metropolitan Government. Its size is 60 acres. It works as a relaxing place like New York Central Park.

There is Museum Of contemporary art Tokyo in the park (see 'Museum of contemporary art').

You will have a fun looking around the park. If lucky, you can see Kakunori play someday in October (see 'Kakunori play').


August 7, 2023

Manga and Anime are another part of Japanese culture!

In the Ariake and Aomi areas of Koto-ku, you can see Manga and Anime characters. Are these characters known in your country?

(1) Ceramic Relief of Tezuka Manga Characters

Photo 1: Ceramic relief “Tezuka Osamu, Characters on Parade” (Concourse of Kokusai-Tenjijo Station)

Tezuka Osamu (1928-1989) is the father of Manga. Reliefs of 36 characters from his works are displayed in the concourse of Kokusai-Tenjijyo Station on the Rinkai Line (see Photo1). They include “Jungle Emperor,” “Astro Boy,” and the genius surgeon “Black Jack". The relief, extracted from a 1976 poster by Tezuka Osamu, is approximately 2.6 meters long and 8.8 meters wide, and was installed here in 2019.

(2) Popular photo location for cosplayers

Photo 2: Yumeno Ohashi Bridge

On weekends during the pleasant season, young people often dress up in costumes of Manga and Anime characters and take photos on the Yumeno Ohashi Bridge (see Photo 2).
The bridge is 360 meters long and up to 60 meters wide. It has no power lines and is closed to cars, making it a popular place to take cosplay photos. This bridge was built in 1990. 

(3) Doraemon Time Square

Photo 3: Doraemon Time Square (in front of the first-floor entrance of Diver City Tokyo Plaza Building)

“Doraemon” is a Japanese Manga series that began in 1969 and has been adapted into an animated TV series and a movie series. Doraemon, a cat-shaped robot from the 22nd century, helps Nobita, an elementary school boy who is not good at studying or exercising, by using futuristic goods such as s flying propeller and a transportation door. Doraemon Time Square (see Photo 3) is opened in 2019. The clock is approximately 3.8 meters high and 4 meters wide. Every 0 minutes from 10:00 am to 11:00 pm, the red curtain is opened and the dolls inside play music. The music has a daytime version and a nighttime version.

(4) Gundum

Photo 4: Unicorn Gundum (Festival square, in front of the 2nd floor entrance of Diver City Tokyo Plaza Building)

“Mobile Suite Gundum” is an Anime TV series that began in 1979. Gundum is a robot piloted by a boy. The cockpit is located behind the Gundam’s face. At the festival square, you can see a life-sized unicorn Gundam, 19.7 meters tall and weight 49 tons (see Photo 4). The Gundam transforms from Unicorn Mode to Destroy Mode at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm, 3:00 pm, and 5:00 pm. Before the transformation times, the area is crowded with tourists. There is also a night show. This Gundam was installed here in 2017, as the third generation. The performance schedule and access are showed below.


May 29, 2023

Travel back in time to 19th century Tokyo!

A small museum in the city where you can travel back in time to a town in Edo (former Tokyo). The Fukagawa Edo Museum is now regaining the bustle it had before the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the exhibition room that reproduces Fukagawa-Sagacho (a town in Edo) around 1840, there are life-size reproductions of shops and houses lined up. The selling point of this museum was that you could enter any building and directly touch any of the exhibits. You could feel the life of people in those days.

The museum was crowded with many foreign visitors before the COVID-19 pandemic, but due to the spread of COVID-19, it was forced to be temporarily closed on February 29, 2020. After being closed for 3 months (the closed period was extended once), the exhibition was reopened on June 1st. You could no longer touch anything. It felt like looking at old things through a showcase, and that overwhelming presence was lost.

I am an English volunteer guide in the museum. I sometimes guided during this period, but there were no visitors from overseas. Even if I occasionally saw non-Japanese visitors, they were the people living in Japan who had lost the opportunity to return to their homeland. They came to the museum to find something to enjoy in their daily life in a difficult situation. However, I felt it a pity that they could not enjoy the museum full of presence in the past.

From April 25 to May 31, 2021, the museum was forced to temporarily close again due to the re-expansion of COVID-19. On June 1, the exhibition room was reopened for viewing, but it was closed again due to renovation work on facilities (unrelated to COVID-19). The closure lasted nine months and the exhibition has resumed since August 1, 2022.

As for the exhibits, restrictions are gradually being eased as the COVID-19 pandemic has calmed down considerably. It is now possible to enter some buildings, as well as to touch basically all the exhibits. Where there is a notice saying "Please take off your shoes.", you can enter the room after taking off your shoes.

If there is a notice saying "Please do not step in the house.", it is still prohibited to enter.

Though some restrictions still remain, the old feeling of "hands-on with Edo life" has returned. Visitors from overseas have been returning too! In addition to European countries, the United States, and Southeast Asian countries, of which a lot of people visited us in the past, we also have visitors from a variety of countries, such as a group of visitors from Israel I guided the other day. I am so happy as an English volunteer guide.

On the KEV website, we offer several model courses. The Fukagawa Edo Museum is included in Course B. Courses can be combined. Please contact us from the KEV website. We look forward to guiding you.

(Text and photos by Naoki)

April 24, 2023

The closest golf course from the center of mega city in the world?

Do you know that there is a full-fledged golf course in Koto -ku in Tokyo?  

Yes, there is. It’s called Wakasu Golf Links.

I think it’s one of the closest golf courses from the center of mega city in the world.
It’s only about 10kms from the center of Tokyo. It only takes about 20 minutes from the famous Ginza by the subway and the golf club’s bus.

Where is the golf course located?  It’s located in Tokyo Bay Area. It’s faced Tokyo Bay.
Why is the course located there? I’ll explain the history.

This area was reclaimed land that had been filled with household garbage and other waste over a period of 10 years from 1965 to 1974. Surplus soil from the construction of the Shinjuku New Metropolitan Government Building is also being used.

Golf club’s bus at the nearest subway Station Shin-Kiba

View of the golf course from the yacht harbor

It was opened in Dec. 1990 as Tokyo metropolitan public golf course.
The name is based on the name of a golf course in Scotland, the birthplace of golf.

Wakasu Golf Links is one of Tokyo's best full-fledged golf courses, with a total length of 6,970 yards and 18 par 72 holes in a beautiful location surrounded by the sea on three sides.

Starting place of the front nine

Starting place of the back nine

Although the course is generally flat, the fairways of each hole have large and small undulations, and there are mounds on the fairway sides, making the course highly strategic.
As it is a seaside course, it will be more difficult when the strong wind blows.
Advanced golfers can feel the tension of not allowing mistakes, and women and beginners can enjoy the fun of golf. 
Golfers can also enjoy the wonderful view of Tokyo Disneyland or Tokyo Bay while playing.

Pictures of the course

You might be surprised that many Japanese golf courses have their gorgeous clubhouse, but this course has only the casual clubhouse because it's a public course.

The view of the club house

The playing fee with a caddie is about 15,000 yen on weekdays and about 24,000 yen on weekends. What do you think of this fee, expensive or reasonable?

How do we book this course?  Reservations are accepted by phone or online from 12:00 on the day one month before playing golf. But. it’s really hard to book the course.  

Even if you make a phone call, it is busy and you could hardly connect. It's the same online.
Wakasu Golf Links is said to be the most difficult golf course to book in Japan.
Recently, it was announced on the website that all reservations will be shifted from first-come-first-served basis to lottery.

I wish we could play golf there with our guests from overseas in the future.

 Official website of Wakasu Golf Links : 若洲ゴルフリンクス公式サイト (golftk.com) 
 (No English version)

By Isao