Higashi – It’s “East” in Japanese. The east side of “central” Tokyo is the city’s old town. It was the centre of “Edo”, the old name of Tokyo before the Meiji Restoration. It was here where the shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu established his office after he unified Japan, making Edo the “de facto” political capital of Japan, marking the start of Edo’s transformation from a backwater town into the megalopolis that it is now.
The Imperial Palace
The east side of Tokyo is the location of several government and imperial offices, most notable of which is the Imperial Palace, the residence and office of the reigning emperor of Japan. The expansive Imperial Palace Complex covers much of the Chiyoda ward in central Tokyo, though the only part open to the public is the East Garden, which is accessible from the western exits of the Tokyo Station. The current Imperial Palace though is just a remnant of the old Edo Castle, which covered an even larger area, all the way to Chidorigafughi, north of the current palace.
Right between the Tokyo Station and the Imperial Palace grounds is the Marunouchi district. With its glittering high rise buildings, Marunouchi hosts the headquarters of some of Japan’s largest companies. Tokyo is a sprawling city with multiple “central business districts”, but I could say Marunouchi is king of them all. It’s probably the cleanest, most visually appealing business district I’ve seen. The streets are so immaculate, with nary a hint of the smallest piece of garbage even in the nooks and crannies, and the expansive glass walls of its buildings are so squeaky clean that you could see right through them with barely a hint of haze. Spiderman would have a tough time making his webs stick here, I would imagine.
Further to the east lies Ryogoku, Japan’s “sumo wrestling central”. It is also here where our hotel was located, just a few steps away from the JR Ryogoku Station. The station itself is just 4 stops away from Tokyo Station, with just 1 train change, so it wasn’t bad at all. The area was a residential part of the old Edo, and though today it’s all filled with concrete houses, it’s still a quiet and charming neighbourhood. The streets around the train station are also filled with restaurants, making it a good option as “home base” while visiting Tokyo, if you don’t want to spend for a more central location like Shibuya, Shinjuku or Ginza. It is the absolute place to be though if you are watching sumo, as the main sumo wrestling stadium, the Ryogoku Kokugikan, is literally just beside the train station. Unfortunately there were no sumo matches while we were there.
Just near the Ryogoku station as well is the Edo-Tokyo Museum. Housed in a building that looks like a machine from Star Wars, the museum contains various dioramas, and life sized replicas of houses in old Edo, as well as landmarks such as the Nihombashi Bridge. The museum showcases how the city evolved, from the time of the Tokugawa Shogunate, up to the Meiji restoration when Japan rapidly industrialised ans started making the machinery it is known for today, like cars.
There’s way too much to see and experience in Tokyo though and a trip to a museum may not rank high up your list if your interest is shopping, eating, people watching or just plain roaming around. But if you do get time to relax your pace a bit, hitting this museum will certainly be a good choice.
* Photos were taken last April 2015.