The Sumida River is one of the major rivers in Tokyo. There are three famous rivers, the Kanda, Sumida, and Edogawa. There are others that are equally as famous, but in terms of rivers that everyone knows and can easily point out on a map, these are the three. The Sumida River is one of the rivers that I know very well. I live very close to it and cross it daily as I head into Tokyo to get to work. I run up and down the river and know almost every inch of the river from Asakusa in the north to Tsukiji in the south. The entire river front area is a unique area in Tokyo and something that most tourists miss, along with most locals. If you have a few hours of down time, between running to Asakusa and shopping in Shinjuku, I’d recommend a quick visit to any section of this river and you won’t be disappointed.
Starting in the north, for most people Asakusa is the best starting point. North of Asakusa, the Sumida River is a very peaceful location. Along the western bank, there are various parks and schools making this a very pedestrian friendly location. The views of Tokyo Sky Tree and the Asahi buildings are very famous and a typical photo opportunity for those visiting Tokyo. The north side is also home to the Tokyo Water Bus which has its main terminal here. It’s very popular for people to start the day in Asakusa visiting the Sensoji before boarding the water bus and heading to Hamarikyu Gardens or Odaiba. I’d suggest a quick walk around the park as well as it’s a great way to relax. On a nice sunny weekend you can expect to see lots of families in the area with their children. Of particular interest, if you walk along the eastern side, you will come close to the elevated highway which provides an experience that only Tokyo can provide. Being mere metres from the looming highway above can invoke strange feelings that can’t be explained. I wouldn’t suggest it for everyone as the idea of hearing cars overhead also brings screams of environmental chants calling for a curb on carbon emissions, but that’s beside the point.
Heading south will take you towards Ryogoku. This is a great opportunity to see some of the more interesting bridges in the area as well as visit Ryogoku. Ryogoku is home of the most important sumo stadium in Japan where they hold 3 tournaments a year. For most of the trip, you will be pleasantly surprised by the detailed art located within the railings of the river walk as well as the details of the bridges. From the famous red bridge in Asakusa to the equally vibrant yellow of Kuramaebashi, you will see some of Tokyo’s most brightly painted bridges. While this is the case, most of the time, not every bridge will be as beautiful, and to be honest, not everyone likes a bridge. Towards the Ryogoku area, you will may be surprised to see large canvas drawings. These pictures vary from school kids helping to define the area to traditional Japanese paintings to describe the area’s past. It is a great way to learn about the area and how things have changed and all of this is free. Be sure to avoid leaving the riverside as the areas on the other side of the dike are not as interesting, but you can find a few gems along the way.
Once past Ryogoku, you will come upon the Hamacho and Hatchobori area. For this area, it’s best to keep to the west as there is less of a need to exit the riverside area to cross a small river. This area, along with most areas along the river, is popular for runners. It is common to see runners at all times of the day running both up and down the river. For the casual tourist, there are a number of paintings on the walls as well as various gardens and art displays. I would recommend this area for its relaxing views and the ability to just sit down and enjoy the views. While it isn’t a natural as the Edogawa, in fact there is almost no nature in the area at all, it is still fairly peaceful. The architecture of the area is also noticeably different. You will notice that the buildings are a little higher and a little newer in this area compared to the Ryogoku and Asakusa areas. Both Asakusa and Ryogoku both have tall buildings but they tend to be focused whereas this area tends to be evenly distributed. If you travel along the east side, walking around in the streets can be very interesting as you will be walking in an area that is filled with locals. It’s a popular residential area that tends to be on the high end of the social ladder. For this reason, the area tends to be more peaceful and distinct.
Just south of Hatchobori is the last section of the Sumida River. Tsukiji, Tsukishima, and the Hamarikyu gardens mark the area with their own distinct flavours. The Tsukiji area is relatively calm and a wonderful area to walk as you get beautiful views of Tsukushima and Kachidoki. It’s also a great way to end a walk by heading in and getting some sushi. If you head to the other side and visit Tsukishima, you can easily get good monja yaki. While both areas don’t have much to offer, I do recommend you to visit as both areas provide another unique look at Japan. In contrast to the area just to the north, this area does its best to combine modern high rises with nature. It’s very common to see small plazas everywhere. You can easily take a break and just enjoy the view. If you head along the east side, you will have to travel past Monzennakacho. There is a very small island located between Monzennakacho and Tsukishima. While this island is not very significant and almost never on any tourists “to do” list, I’d recommend a visit if you just happen to be in the area. It’s a peaceful place with hardly anyone there. Of course there are a few homeless but the views up and down the river are spectacular and show off the urban beauty of a city built around a river.
For most tourists, I would only recommend visiting the Asakusa to Ryogoku section of this river. The main reason is that the entire river is long and that’s the only section which would be interesting to a casual tourist. Even for residents, I wouldn’t recommend visiting this area unless they lived in the nearby area. If you are a runner and looking for a nice place to run, and you happen to be staying in Asakusa or somewhere near the river, I highly recommend that you go for a run if you have the time. It’s a wonderful experience and being able to run part of the area is worth it. It’s better than trying to fight your way through traffic and trying to avoid getting hit by cars on the regular streets.