Ryōgoku Bridge & the Sumida River

Spend some time with the history of Tokyo and you soon learn that the central city, particularly from the Imperial Palace to Koyo-ku, is built on and around a system of rivers and canals, many of which have since been filled-in. These waterways largely disappeared after World War II, but prior to that time, central Tokyo was dominated by moats and canals from the Edo era. These waterways are visible in a map of Edo-era Tokyo, annotated below (north is to the right):

Points of interest include:

The wide Sumida river is a clear dividing line between the main part of central Tokyo (e.g. the Imperial Palace, Ginza, etc.) and the area on the opposite bank (which includes the location of today’s Ryogoku Sumo arena). One of the important bridges that spanned the Sumida River was the Ryogoku-bashi 両国橋. The name of the bridge illustrates its importance; per Wikipedia, “In 1659, the Ryōgoku Bridge was built, spanning the Sumida River just upstream of its confluence with the Kanda River 神田川. Its name, meaning “two provinces,” came from its joining Edo (the forerunner of Tokyo in Musashi Province 武蔵の国) and Shimōsa Province 下総の国. The district derived its name from that of the bridge.”

Map of Shimosa Province 下総の国 (source):

There was obviously no subway back then, so anyone wishing to cross the river would need to do so by boat or by bridge. (Today, though it is far easier to cross the Sumida-gawa, the river still creates a large psychological barrier between the greater-Ginza area and Koto-ku; the Ginza is considered cosmopolitan, one of the “hearts” of Tokyo, whereas Koto-ku is considered a somewhat boring, residential area).

The bridges of the Sumida-gawa became vibrant settings for human activity, which was chronicled in woodblock prints such as Hokusai’s 江都両国橋夕涼花火之図 Fireworks in the Cool of Evening at Ryogoku Bridge in Edo, or Hiroshige’s View of Ryogoku Bridge, the famous place of Edo 広重三代「東京名所両国橋之図」.

The excellent Tokyo-Edo Museum has a diorama of Ryogoku Bridge 江戸東京博物館の両国橋ジオラマ that illustrates how the townspeople interacted with the bridge:

The culture of the bridge is a center-point of the animated film, Miss Hokusai 百日紅 (Sarusuberi):

The Asakusa Okura warehouses (kura) 浅草御蔵, mentioned in the map earlier, are clearly visible at the left side of the next few frames (this is near the present-day Kuramae Station 蔵前駅:

Finally, in the wide shot below, we see the mouth of the Kanda River at left; the second frame is a pleasant scene in a boat under the Ryogoku Bridge.

See also:

Other Sumida River bridges:

Related topics:

Bridges and River Cruises:


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