While most tourists stick to Tokyo‘s central and west areas, the eastern side of the city also has much to offer in terms of sightseeing for those who are interested in neighborhoods with a more ‘local’ feel to it. Monzennakacho is the perfect example of such an area. With its history steeped in shitamachi life, you can still sense Tokyo’s past in this famous temple district.
The word ‘shitamachi’ literally means lower town or downtown, and it is used to describe the areas in a Japanese city that used to be for the working-class people as opposed to the nobility. Shitamachi’s features are narrow streets, sometimes haphazardly built older houses and many traditional little shops. These areas have usually retained more of their historical atmosphere than the modern downtown areas with their skyscrapers and neon lights. If you are looking for traditional Japanese products like dolls, chopsticks, senbei crackers, kimono and sake, this is the area where you can find many small shops specialized in one product that has been perfected over many generations.
Monzennakacho is a good example of a shitamachi area with a bustling daytime business district and also a lively dinner scene. In the day it is a great area to go shopping for some (edible) souvenirs and take pictures of daily life in Tokyo. In the night time, the little backstreets are filled with office workers looking to blow off steam after a hard day’s work. There are many small izakaya (Japanese style pubs), sushi bars, bars, and even hostess clubs and girl bars.
If you are looking for a nice stroll along the riverside, Monzennakacho also has exactly what you are looking for. There are many canals in the area, and many of them are lined with cherry trees that beautifully blossom in the spring. Come cherry blossom season, many people flock to the area to enjoy the blossoms either from the canals’ sides or from a boat.
Famous Temple and Shrine
If you are in the area around 11 am, 1 pm, 3 pm or 5 pm you might hear loud taiko drumming coming from the Fukagawa Fudodo temple. This is from a fire ritual that they carry out multiple times per day to help the people’s wishes come true. You are welcome to watch this interesting ceremony as long as you stick to the rules of no photography, taking off your shoes, observing silence, and no obvious showing tattoos. There is more to see in this temple for those who like Buddhist sculptures and art, and there is a dark long hallway with small crystal images of the Fudo on the side of the temple that is worth seeing.
Right next to the Fukagawa Fudodo temple is the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine, which is where the founder of sumo wrestling is enshrined. It is said that this is the spot where the very first sumo wrestling match was held, and you can find a monument containing all the names of the Yokozuna (highest rank in sumo) wrestlers that have ever existed. There are also two beautiful, large mikoshi that are kept on the grounds that you can see from behind a window.
If you like antique and flea markets you should visit on the first or second Sunday of the month, or on the 15th or 28th of any month. This is when those markets are hosted on the grounds of the Tokioka Hachimangu.