Walking along the Sumida River

by Stefan Chiarantano, Oct 14, 2006 | Destinations: Japan

I threw caution to the wind and decided to walk along the Sumida River. I'm staying at a hotel near the river and having already done the Sumida River boat cruise I thought I would retrace the route on foot. I'm glad I did because it was an adventure. It was a lovely sunny day and there was a cool breeze in the air. I started from Asakusa and hoped to reach Hinobe by late afternoon. I thought anyway.

If you didn't know, the concrete paths along the Sumida River are home to hundreds of homeless people, and to some, their pets too. My walk afforded me a close up of their housing. Some were living in camping tents but most were constructed from planks of wood, heavy cardboard, sheets of blue plastic canvas, cord, and bits and pieces of this and that. They were neat and orderly and spaced from one another. Many owned carts and dollies which were either tucked underneath their housing or placed to the side. I thought they are perhaps used for scavaging and recycling purposes. On second thought, perhaps, in case of forced eviction, they'd come in handy to move their belongings. Some of the residents were lounging on deck chairs, some sitting in chairs reading, and a few were lying down or asleep in their homes. One could get a glimpse inside as the flap to their entrance was lifted to let in the cool breeze.

A few greeted me with a friendly smile and a hello but most were oblvious to the passersby.

I was surprised to find artwork mounted on the walls and to see an occasional piece of sculpture. Even the wrought iron fencing running along the edge had motifs of seagulls, sumo wrestlers, and kanji characters worked into them.

At the bridge after Asakusa, I spotted a pair of cormorans perched on poles in the river near the bridge.

I soon discovered that the path doesn't run continuously but breaks now and again. So, I found myself doing a side tour. I'd climb up to street level, cross to the other side, and make my way down again. My legs got a good workout.

The vistas of Tokyo from the Sumida River were spectacular. I'd stopped now and then to take them in. Along the way, I chatted with a young Japanese man practicing the Australian aboriginal instrument the did... whatcamacalit under one of the dozens of cabanas dotting the paths. There was activity along the path. There were joggers, cyclists, and office workers sitting on the benches enjoying their o-bento (boxed lunch). There were even men working to repair a section of the edge of the pavement and some putting up wrought fencing against a section of the wall under a bridge. Now, I wondered what would happen to the homeless person its housing was enclosing, and to the housing on either side of it.

It was incredibly quiet and the silence was broken by the engine of the occasional river cruise boat going up or down the river. You could faintly hear the din of traffic. On one of the side tours when I had to come up to get to the other side, I came across a flock of chickens in a tiny lot of land adjacent to the bridge. There was about a dozen of them clicking away scratching the ground with their feathered feet looking for grub. It was surreal. Could this really be? It was so. I stopped for a moment to check them out. They were attractive birds - multi-coloured with feathers on their feet. They didn't seem afraid of people and some even ventured to have a peak at the stranger glancing at them. There was a protective mesh attached to one side of the railing with an opening to let them in and out. It afforded them some protection and wondered who could be their predators in this concrete jungle. Inside the makeshift coop, were feed boxes and straw. So, they belonged to someone and I wondered who.

When I got to Tsukiji Fish Market, I decided to have a peak at the world's largest fish market. I wondered the grounds which you are allowed to do as long as you don't get in the way of the trucks and interefere with the operations. It's a a massive complex of buildings and the air was permeated with the smell of fish. The pavement and roads were wet. It was 3 pm by the time I reached the market and hungry. I could see Hinobe in the distance. I checked out a few of the sushi restaurants but they were closing so I decided to look for a place to eat just outside the market and found a Japanese Cuban restaurant of all things. I ordered the tomato curry and wondered whether the Cubans really ate such a thing. Anyway, it was delicious and came with a side salad and a dish of pickles. After enjoying some lunch, I got my second wind and continued the journey.

Along the way, I came across the Hama-rikyu Gardens. This beautiful oasis on the river's edge was once the private domain of the Tokugawa shoguns. It was just getting dusk when I arrived and the guards began to cordon off sections of the park. Nevertheless there was still a lot to see and made my way through the Duck hunting sites in the garden, the Duck grove mound, the 300-year-old Pine tree, the Peony garden, and the Shogun's tea room. I took tea in the Nakajima-no-ochaya. It affords a relaxing view of the landscaped park, ponds, and bridges. It was beautiful and I promised to visit again but a little earlier this time. The water for the ponds are drawn from Tokyo Bay and are filled with a variety of sea fish such as sea bass which by the way were jumping out of the water. It was a delight to watch then. Leaving the park, I saw a few homeless men asleep outside the gate entrance. Would they be allowed to enter if they paid the 300 Yen admission fee?

So, I continued my journey to Hinobe. The path from the park to Hinobe is lined with luxury hotels and beautiful terraces. You can get a glimpse as to how the other half live. By this time, my feet were aching just a little but Hinobe was in view. I made my way inside the terminal and found the lights turned off. Was it closed? I searched for an attendant who told me that the last boat to Asakusa left at 5:50 pm. Shucks! I didn't mind as there was a JR station nearby which would take me to Ueno and from there I could walk back to the hotel.

I'm glad I walked along the Sumida River. It was worth my aching feet!

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