The Sumida River not only bisects the city of Tokyo, but it also creates a boundary between the city’s past and future. In days of old the river could only be crossed at one point by wooden ferry. Today 26 bridges of varying architectural designs famously cross this hallowed waterway.
This summer, the Sumida River Walk will open underneath one of those bridges – the Tobu Line train bridge – creating an easier connection between Tokyo’s historic Asakusa neighborhood and the modern Tokyo Skytree Town. This town, visitors will discover, is more than just the location of the tallest telecommunications tower in the world.
Two Sides of the Sumida River
The popular tourist destination of Asakusa, once a bustling district considered Tokyo’s downtown, is on the west bank of the Sumida River. Here you are greeted by the friendly rickshaw drivers in period dress and see groups of young women dressed in pink and light-blue kimono gathered in front of the great torii gate of Senso-ji, the oldest temple in Tokyo.
A short walk brings you to the river, where you catch your first glance of the Skytree and Asahi Building’s iconic Olympic Flame sculpture. You will also find the entrance to the Tobu Skytree Line. Within short order you are aboard the train, and one stop later departing at Tokyo Skytree Station.
Exploring Tokyo Skytree Town
The first stop is Tokyo Skytree Town and the shopping and entertainment center called Tokyo Solamachi, which takes up the second and third floors at the base of the Skytree. With more than 300 shops and restaurants, there is a lot to take in at Solamachi. Find the perfect souvenir at the official Tokyo Skytree Shops or a range of stores offering Japanese goods. Find favorite characters at the Ghibli shop Donguri Kyowakoku or the Pokemon Center.
Disembarking from the third-floor escalator you are greeted by the aromatic smells of cinnamon, chocolate and fresh bread at the French pastry shop Vie de France. The third floor is home to the Solamachi food court, as well as a good blend of shops. An excursion down one hallway takes you past Tokyo earth music&ecology, Uniqlo and the Disney store, which has a giant sign announcing that it’s a “Japan tax-free shop.” (Several participating stores at Solamachi allow international visitors to receive a tax refund on purchased goods.)
The View from the Skytree
At the fourth floor you will find the ticket counter for the main attraction – the Skytree itself. When we arrived at 10:30am on a Monday morning, the sign at the entrance to the ticket counter said the wait to purchase tickets was 0 to 5 minutes. Before we knew it we were overseeing all of Tokyo from 350 meters above ground at the Tembo Deck.
As we learned in the Skytree Gallery back on the first floor, the reason the Tokyo Skytree was opened in 2012 was to transmit radio waves for television and radio broadcasting. A structure taller than 600 meters was required to minimize the interference of the skyscrapers in downtown Tokyo.
For visitors, Tokyo Skytree offers much more than great radio transmission. The 360-degree sights allow for a clear view of Tokyo and the surrounding Kanto Plain, including cool views of Mount Fuji.
Before making your way down to ground level, enjoy Tokyo cuisine for lunch or dinner at Sky Restaurant 634 where you can dine on the freshest ingredients while taking in breathtaking views from 345 meters.
Discovering the Sumida Neighborhood
While most everyone with a Tokyo guidebook in hand knows about Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree, little is known about the space in between, and there are plenty of other reasons to hang out in the Sumida area.
Before venturing outside, explore space with the assistance of the finest acoustic experience provided by the 3D Sound Dome system at Konica Minolta Planetarium Tenku, or watch the Magellanic penquins and South American fur seals frolic in one of Japan’s largest indoor pool-type tanks at the Sumida Aquarium in Tokyo Skytree Town.
Once outdoors, take a stroll through the historic area, once beloved by Japan’s famous artist Hokusai. Heading west back towards the Sumida River, you might stop by and watch massive wrestlers practice at the Naruto Beya sumo stable (be sure to make reservations in advance). The new stable was opened by former sumo champion and Bulgaria native Kotooshu, Japan’s first European-born stablemaster.
Tokyo Mizumachi: The New Face of the Sumida
When you reach the river, from summer 2020 you will find a nice surprise. Tokyo Mizumachi is a new complex complete with lifestyle shops and cafés, some of which will be the first of their kind in Japan, that will integrate the past and present with the riverside scenery.
The new Sumida River Walk footbridge will run under the elevated Tobu Skytree Line between Asakusa Station and Tokyo Skytree Station, allowing visitors to enjoy all this historic district has to offer.
Crossing the footbridge brings you to Sumida Park. With around 500 cherry trees and ranking among Japan’s top 100 cherry blossom spots, this is an ideal place to enjoy a picnic during cherry blossom season or take a ride on the Tokyo Cruise water bus and admire the spring scenery from the river.
The project completes the waterfront renovations, connecting Asakusa and Tokyo Skytree, two areas that attract more than 30 million visitors annually, and builds a local community that will last for ages.