Ryogoku is a bustling center of life at the east end of Tokyo across the Sumida River. Ryogoku is best known as the spiritual heartland of sumo in Japan.
Ryogoku is a blend of the down-to-earth (typical of Fukagawa a little further south), with its mainstreet conglomeration of cheap restaurants, somewhat tacky entertainment, and the elegant, with its temples, parks, and numerous museums.
The Ryogoku area 両国
The Ryogoku area is centered around JR Ryogoku station. To the south is Eko-in Temple, to the immediate north the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, and to the north-east are numerous small single-interest museums.
The Ryogoku Kokugikan (literally Ryogoku National Sports Stadium) is on the north side of the JR Sobu line Ryogoku station. Built in 1985, it is the fourth sumo stadium in Tokyo. Traditionally sumo was held only outdoors at shrines and temples.
It was not until 1909 that a sumo-dedicated stadium was built in Ryogoku, Tokyo's traditional sumo area.
With a capacity of over 10,000, the stadium is used not only for sumo, but hosts a variety of events throughout the year such as boxing and pro wrestling, not to mention the 'Beethoven's Ninth for 5000 Voices' concert held here every year on the 3rd or 4th Sunday of February. Its main function, though, is as host to the 'Tokyo Basho': sumo tournaments held in January, May and September.
Kokugikan - the spiritual home of Japanese sumo
Sumo wrestlers' banners fly outside the Kokugikan in Ryogoku, Tokyo
A little inside the right-hand entrance to the Ryogoku Kokugikan is a small sumo museum. Lined along its walls are resplendent kesho-mawashi ceremonial aprons of every successive sumo yokozuna champion. Whatever your interest in sumo, these works of exquisite embroidery are worth a look. Each is accompanied by a short history and prominent photograph of the mighty wrestler. You can also see examples of the lacquered paddles used by sumo referees.
Entrance is free and, except during tournaments when limited to ticket-holders, accessible to all.
Edo Toyko Museum, Ryogoku
Edo-Tokyo Museum is just east of the Ryogoku Kokugikan. It is immediately identifiable by its distinctive design, something like a pyramid on stilts.
Allow at least a couple of hours to see the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This is a historical and cultural resource superlative in its imaginative presentations, interactivity, scope, and user-friendliness - for English-speakers as well.
No effort or expense has been spared here in presenting almost every facet of life in old Tokyo in a compelling and memorable way. Intricately constructed and minutely finished scale models abound, reconstructed historical buildings are there to be walked through, and a wealth of realia from over the ages is presented close up, sometimes even hands-on.
On entry the visitor is plunged into a replicated old Edo, crossing a life-size replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge. From here you look out over a vast space that resembles more an indoor version of a theme park than a traditional halls-and-corridors museum.
The extensive Edo section of the museum follows into modernized pre-War Japan - again presented in compellingly real detail and atmosphere. Especially recommended is the section dealing with Tokyo during the Second World War.
Perhaps best of all, all exhibits have at least some English explanation, explanations notable for their balanced and often politically enlightened commentary.
Access to Edo-Tokyo Museum
West exit of JR Ryogoku station (JR Sobu line)
Edo-Tokyo Museum, Ryogoku, Sumida ward, Tokyo
Eko-in Temple, less than five minutes walk south down Kokugikan-dori Avenue from the west exit of JR Ryogoku Station, has been the spiritual home of sumo since tournaments began being held here from 1768 until the first Ryogoku Kokugikan was built in 1909.
Before that they were held in Fukagawa, just a little further south in Koto ward. It is a spacious and beautifully landscaped temple with some exquisite statuary and unusual architecture.
Eko-in Temple dates from 1657, the year in which the Great Meireki Fire ('Meireki no Taika', AKA 'Furisode Kaji' or 'Maruyama Kaji') swept Tokyo for two days, destroying about two-thirds of the city and killing about 100,000.
The Shogun of the time, Ietsuna, wished to commemorate these victims, the majority of whom were not survived by family or relatives, and for that purpose set aside the land on which the temple now stands for their burial and erected a monument, Banninzuka, or 'The Mound of a Million Souls', to them.
It was around this that Eko-in temple was built. The temple has thus become a place where the victims of disasters and criminals, not survived or claimed by family or relatives, as well as animals, are laid to rest.
The original Banninzuka ('Mound of a Million Souls') monument of 1657 (see History above) is now graced with a modern, elegant statue of the Kannon Buddha since 2002.
Chikarazuka 'Mound of Strength' sumo monument & Mizuko-zuka, Eko-in Temple, Ryogoku
Through Eko-in Temple's torii archway and just to the left, only a few meters from the Banninzuka, is the Chikara-zuka, or 'Mound of Strength'.
The Chikarazuka was erected in 1937 as a gift from Sumo Association in recognition of the central historical role the temple has played in the sport.
It has become the object of veneration for new sumo initiates, who seek from it whatever extra power great helpings of chanko-nabe have yet been unable to bestow.
As mentioned above, Eko-in Temple has long been associated with the repose of the souls of animals, especially cats. This dates from the death of the beloved pet cat of the Shogun Ietsuna, who founded the temple, and which he had interred here.
Since that time several shrines to animals have been built on the premises. The most conspicuous is the The Hall for Prayers for the Souls of a Million Animals (Shodo-dobutsu-hyakumanto-ekodo), a tower that dominates the premises.
Across from the tower, next to the cemetery, is a bamboo grove with a collection of various tombs and monuments.
If you happen to have entered the temple from the southern entrance (through a small door in the big black metal gate), it will be on your right as you come in. Two of the more interesting sights in here are the Mizukozuka and the Nezumikozo (Jirokichi) Stone.
The Mizukozuka literally means the 'Mound of the Stillborn', and commemorates the souls of stillborn infants. It was constructed here in Eko-in Temple in 1793 at the order of a member of shogun's council of elders.
Mizukozuka is a memorable sight for the elegant pair of statues that flank its entranceway, for the rows and rows of tiny Buddhas that line either side of it, and also, in loud contrast to the ancient worn stone, the scores of children's gaudy plastic windmills set along its edges that turn in the breeze - piquant reminders, no doubt, of what would have been the children to play with them.
Nezumikozo (real name, Jirokichi) (1797-1832) was Japan's Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and powerful and giving to the poor. Nezumikozo translates something like 'Mouse-boy': a reference to his stealth.
In keeping with Eko-in Temple's dedication to those without family to mourn them, the chivalrous thief is commemorated here.
It is believed that rubbing the Nezumikozo Stone, usually with a pebble, and putting the dust-coated pebble in your wallet will give you a share of the luck that Nezumikozo enjoyed in going for years without being caught and contribute to your wishes coming true.
Just north of the Kokugikan are the Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens. Beginning as the grounds of a samurai residence in 1691. It was famed for its pond that was fed by the Sumida River.
The Sumida being as close to the sea as it is was affected by the tides, causing the water level in the garden pond to rise and fall with it.
The land's 20th century inheritor, Yasuda Zenjiro, granted the land to the public after his death in 1922, but the Great Kanto Earthquake of September 1923 destroyed it. Renovation was complete by 1927 when it became a park.
Immediate post-War development so polluted the Sumida River that the grounds virtually died. They were restored in 1971.
Unlike Kiyosumi Teien Gardens a little further south in Fukagawa, Kyu-Yasuda Teien Garden is, being a public park, free. However, you get what you pay for, and Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens, while pleasant, come (a close) second in kemptness and elegance.
Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens
Watch a YouTube video of Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens
A mural of Sumo wrestlers on the wall of the Kokugikan in Ryogoku, Tokyo
Just across from the north-east entrance of Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens is the fascinating Yokoami-cho Koen Park.
Yokoami-cho Koen Park combines natural, artistic and architectural beauty with historical interest.
Yokoami-cho Koen Park began life in 1930. While not massive, it is nevertheless very spacious, very green, and beautifully laid out. It is home to the Tokyo Metropolitan Hall of Repose (Tokyo-to Ireido), a large concrete Buddhist temple-style hall with a 41m-high (134ft) three-story pagoda.
Tokyo purchased the land from the army in 1922 and were working on turning it into a park when the Great Kanto Earthquake struck in 1923. Tens of thousands of victims of the disaster were brought here, and the park's role as a memorial space was determined.
The Hall of Repose was originally built in 1930 to commorate those victims. After the renewed destruction of World War Two, it was rebuilt in 1951.
Large paintings hanging around the walls inside still depict scenes from during and after the earthquake. By default, the 'repose' element of the Hall is also associated with the victims of the bombing of Tokyo during the last two years of World War Two.
Reconstruction Memorial Hall, Ryogoku, Tokyo
The other hall on the grounds, the Reconstruction Memorial Hall (Fukko Kinen-kan), was built a year later in 1931.
As the name suggests, it is a monument to the efforts of those who rebuilt the city, devastated by the fires that ravaged Tokyo in the aftermath of the Great Kanto Earthquake, and those only a couple of decades later from the bombing of Tokyo, which was mainly concentrated on eastern Tokyo.
The Reconstruction Memorial Hall comprises two floors full of realia, artworks, and data presentations - albeit quite old.
The ground floor is about the earthquake, and upstairs is about the Second World War. 20 minutes wandering through the Hall conveys a memorable impression of the destruction visited upon Tokyo by both events. Depictions of it in art by children of the time are particularly moving.
Outside the Reconstruction Memorial Hall are the twisted forms of various machines and facilities melted in the fires of the Great Kanto Earthquake.
Also of note here are the Monument to the Child Victims of the Earthquake, the Japanese-style garden, and sculptor Kimio Tsuchiya's Peace Monument to the Tokyo victims of World War Two, constructed in 2001.
A huge inclined semi-circle of stone planted with flowers, there is a small room in the center of it containing the names of 100,000 victims.
Yokoamicho Koen Park
Flower Peace Monument & metal object melted in Great Kanto Earthquake, Yokoamicho Park, Tokyo
Ryogoku Station (JR Sobu Line) connects west with Asakusabashi, Akihabara and Ochanomizu stations.
Book Hotel Accommodation in Tokyo Near Ryogoku