Let’s embark on a captivating journey through the rich history and cultural tapestry of Tokyo’s Tsukishima and Tsukuda islands. From the origins of their names to their transformation over centuries, these islands offer a unique blend of tradition, culinary delights, and scenic beauty. Join us as we delve into the captivating past and vibrant present of Tsukishima and Tsukuda, discovering the hidden gems and cultural treasures that await in these enchanting corners of Tokyo.

Origin of the Names

The name Tsukishima is believed to have originated from a moon-viewing site known as “Tsuki no Misaki”, designated by Ieyasu Tokugawa during the Edo period (1603-1868). While the cape of the moon referred to a hill in present-day Mita 4-chome, it was once an actual cape during the Edo period. Examining a map of Tokyo Bay reveals the reclaimed land that has altered the landscape over time. With today’s kanji, Tsukishima means “Island of the Moon”.

Present day Tsukuda is written with the kanji for “cultivated rice field”, despite never having been one. It earned its designation as it served as the home to 33 fishermen from Tsukuda-mura in Osaka, who, under the guidance of their master Mori Magoemon, journeyed to Edo to procure fish to be offered to the shogun.

Delving into History and Culture

Upon examining the map, one cannot help but notice the peculiar shapes of both Tsukishima and Tsukuda, characterized by their straight lines and regular corners. These distinct outlines are a testament to centuries of development, which have gradually shaped these landmasses into functional urban spaces.

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The blocky, unnatural right angles of Tsukishima island are a deliberate result of human intervention. Faced with a growing population in the waterside city, Tokyo sought solutions to the scarcity of habitable land along its marshy and sandbar-ridden coastline. Thus, successive governments embarked on reclamation projects, aiming to expand livable areas. One such endeavor involved the ambitious project of reclaiming land in the Sumida River estuary using soil dredged from Tokyo Bay. This monumental effort culminated in the creation of Tsukishima in 1892, marking the island’s inception as a product of deliberate human design and ingenuity.

Initially serene, the island transformed into a bustling industrial hub during the late Meiji period (1868 – 1912), attracting a wave of laborers seeking residence. This shift in demographics reshaped the landscape, giving rise to rows of tenement houses and local shops catering to the burgeoning community. To accommodate the working-class population, these establishments offered goods at affordable prices, fostering a vibrant atmosphere that drew people from neighboring towns, spanning across lower and middle-class demographics.

Despite enduring the trials of the 20th century, including the devastation wrought by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and the ravages of World War II bombings, Tsukishima emerged resilient. Recognized as a vital industrial center, it swiftly recovered from the earthquake’s aftermath and remained relatively unscathed during air raids, thanks in part to the presence of a nearby hospital. As a result, Tsukishima boasts a wealth of unique historic buildings, offering visitors a glimpse into Tokyo’s storied past.

In stark contrast to the bustling modern landscape of present-day Tsukishima, the island’s origins trace back to its designation as an industrial zone. Factories and warehouses once dominated its skyline, serving as the backbone of its economy. As the need for labor increased, residential neighborhoods emerged to accommodate the growing workforce, giving rise to a distinctive working-class atmosphere. Today, remnants of this early industrial era linger in pockets across the district, where wooden houses line narrow lanes, nestled in the shadow of more contemporary apartment complexes. The late 1980s saw a pivotal shift with the introduction of public transport connections, notably the opening of Tsukishima Station on the Tokyo Metro Yurakucho Line and later the Toei Oedo Line, ushering in a new era of accessibility and connectivity.

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Conversely, the neighboring island of Tsukuda tells a different tale. Originally a natural spit of land, Tsukuda Island’s fate has long been intertwined with the ebb and flow of Tokyo Bay’s fortunes. Legend has it that Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Edo period (1603-1867), extended an invitation to fishermen from Settsu Province (now Nishiyodogawa Ward, Osaka) to establish a fishing community on the island. This maritime tradition has endured through the centuries, with fishing boats still finding harbor along its shores. Additionally, Tsukuda boasts its own culinary specialty, tsukudani, a savory dish simmered in soy sauce and mirin, claimed by locals to have originated on the island, further solidifying its maritime heritage and cultural significance.

Despite being enveloped by urban development, Tsukuda Island has retained its unique atmosphere and charm, offering visitors a tranquil escape reminiscent of a coastal village, a world away from the bustling streets of inner Tokyo.

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Gourmet Paradise: Monjayaki and Beyond

At the heart of Tsukishima’s allure lies its culinary scene, particularly its association with the beloved Japanese dish, monjayaki. Often referred to as “Tokyo’s soul food,” monjayaki is a savory pancake made from a batter of flour, water, and various ingredients such as seafood, vegetables, and meat, all cooked on a hot griddle.

Visitors to Tsukishima can indulge in this local delicacy at the numerous okonomiyaki and monjayaki restaurants lining the streets of the island. One of the best ways to experience monjayaki is by visiting one of the many restaurants offering DIY griddle tables, allowing diners to cook their own creations while bonding with friends and family over the sizzling sounds of the grill.

Beyond monjayaki, Tsukishima boasts a diverse array of dining options, from traditional Japanese izakayas serving up grilled skewers and sake to trendy cafes and bakeries offering a modern twist on classic Japanese flavors. Food enthusiasts will find themselves spoilt for choice as they wander the streets of Tsukishima, discovering hidden gems at every turn.

Adding to its cultural richness, Tsukuda boasts its own culinary specialty, tsukudani, a delectable dish simmered in soy sauce and mirin, believed by locals to have originated on the island itself. This gastronomic tradition serves as a testament to Tsukuda’s maritime heritage and enduring significance in the cultural tapestry of Tokyo.

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As you wandered along the picturesque streets of Tsukuda, you’ll discovered a traditional Japanese bridge quietly nestled amidst the modern Tokyo landscape. Adorned with vibrant vermilion railings, the bridge stands as a vivid contrast against the subdued hues of the surrounding retro buildings and apartments. Despite its construction in 1984, the bridge evokes a sense of the area’s historical geography, occupying nearly the same position as a man-made moat that once divided the island of Tsukuda into eastern and western sections.

Known as Tsukudakobashi Bridge, it offers a tranquil view of a small dock where local fishing boats sway gently atop the water, awaiting their next voyage. The surrounding neighborhood exudes local charm, with residents leisurely strolling through the streets, exchanging warm greetings, and adding to the tapestry of everyday Japanese life.

Located just west of the bridge was once the bustling Tsukuda Ferry Dock, which has been in operation since 1645. Initially served by rowboats, the ferry transitioned to tugboats in 1876. However, in August 1964, the historic ferry service ceased with the inauguration of Tsukuda Ohashi Bridge, marking the end of an era.

From the bridge, one can witness the modernization of Tokyo while appreciating the seamless blend of old and new. Adjacent to the bridge, a small park provides an ideal spot for relaxation, where visitors can unwind on benches surrounded by lush foliage, soaking in the serene vista of the river framed by a captivating array of architectural styles.

Just nearby, amidst the tantalizing scent of simmering soy sauce, lies the Tsukuda Machikado Museum, where visitors can explore a fascinating array of exhibits. Here, you’ll encounter the impressive Sengan Mikoshi, a portable shrine weighing 3.75 tons, alongside a pair of meticulously preserved lion masks dating back to the early 1800s.

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Sumiyoshi Shrine

Sumiyoshi Shrine traces its origins back to the 3rd year of the Shouhou era (1646). Enshrined within its hallowed grounds are the revered Sumiyoshi sanjin (Three Shinto gods), along with Empress Consort Jingu and Tokugawa Ieyasu, adding to its historical significance. Located in Tsukuda, which served as the gateway to Edo-minato Port during that period, the shrine attracted a multitude of visitors, particularly fishermen, who sought divine blessings for safe sea voyages. Even today, Sumiyoshi Shrine continues to command deep respect, drawing pilgrims who come to offer prayers to the deities.

The shrine grounds house numerous invaluable cultural treasures, including a shrine signboard inscribed by Prince Arisugawa Takahito, encased in a ceramic frame, and a Shinto water ablution pavilion adorned with an intricately engraved landscape of Tsukuda from that era. During the annual summer festival, held once every three years, the shrine comes alive with bustling activity as lion dancers and the ornate octagonal Mikoshi portable shrine set forth from its premises, attracting throngs of enthusiastic revelers.

Sumida River Terrace

The Sumida River Terrace spans a lengthy 32 kilometers alongside the Sumida River, meandering through Tokyo and passing by Tsukishima and the adjacent Kachidoki neighborhoods. While it’s widely frequented by joggers and pedestrians, you can opt for a leisurely stroll towards the riverbank to simply unwind and soak in the picturesque surroundings. After a casual walk, taking in the distant skyline, we settled onto one of the many benches dotting the promenade, relishing the serene atmosphere as boats gently traversed the tranquil blue waters, and the salty breeze caressed your skin.

From the Sumida River Terrace, Tokyo’s urban skyline unfolds before you, offering captivating vistas that include iconic landmarks like Tokyo Tower and Tokyo Skytree. Depending on your vantage point, you may catch a glimpse of these majestic towers piercing the skyline. While they seamlessly blend into the cityscape during the day, the towers come alive at night, illuminated in a dazzling display that sets them apart from the surrounding skyscrapers, casting a romantic ambiance over the city that’s entirely unique to the nighttime hours.

As evening falls, the waterfront comes alive with the glow of illuminated bridges and towering skyscrapers, creating a mesmerizing backdrop for a leisurely sunset stroll or romantic dinner overlooking the bay.

Tsukishima and Tsukuda, with their blend of culinary delights, rich history, and scenic beauty, offer a captivating glimpse into the soul of Tokyo. Whether you’re a food enthusiast eager to sample authentic Japanese cuisine or a culture seeker yearning to uncover the hidden gems of the city, they promises an unforgettable journey filled with discovery and delight. So why not embark on an adventure to this enchanting island and experience the magic of Tsukishima and Tsukuda for yourself?