My Tokyo Guide
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Updated: October 5, 2021
Fukagawa is a beautiful and historical part of Tokyo which is renowned for its link to the great haiku poet Basho. Trace Basho's steps and life in this area with a tour around Kiyosumi Shirakawa and Fukagawa.
Kiyosumi Shirakawa is a fascinating area of Tokyo full of culture, coffee and history. Its backstreets are any urban explorer's dream come true as you pass quaint cafes, arts and crafts stores, boutiques and a multitude of coffee shops. Fukagawa, which incorporates Monzen Nakacho and Kiyosumi Shirakawa, is perhaps more known, however, for its profound connection with legendary haiku poet Basho (made famous for his poem "Oku-no-Hosomichi") who lived there in the 1600s and left his mark throughout the streets and alleys of the town.
Take the A3 exit of Kiyosumi Shirakawa Station and as you come onto the street turn right and walk towards a statue of Basho which is at a spot named Saito-an which sits right next to the beginning of the Matsuo Basho Walk Path. Saito-an is purported to be near the site of the villa of one of Basho's followers, Sanpu Sugiyama. It's also the starting place of Basho's epic trip titled, "The Narrow Road of the Deep North" for which Basho received national
A few steps from Saito-an is a charming walkway along the small Onagi River named Matsuo Basho Walk Path which leads you all the way down to the banks of the great Sumida River, Tokyo's main water artery and one which affords great views of Tokyo Skytree and surrounding areas. As you walk down the narrow pathway there are wooden panels with haiku written delicately on them. They are, essentially, a reminder that Basho's work has remained in Japanese consciousness for centuries and are still an important part of Japanese cultural life.
The legendary Japanese artist Hokusai once painted Mannen Bridge in the early 1830s. It's a quaint old bridge which takes you on the road down to Basho Inari Shrine. From Mannen Bridge you'll have access to some very photogenic spots so, naturally, it's perfect for photography and art lovers.
As you get across Mannen Bridge, there's a small shrine on your left named Basho Inari Shrine which was created in 1917 as a tribute to the great man himself. It's unclear where the actual location of Basho's residence was in Fukagawa but when a tsunami hit the area and a stone frog was found it gave cultural historians a clue that he might have lived around this location. Basho was a huge fan of frogs and visitors to Fukagawa will find frogs as a visual leitmotif running throughout the town,
A few meters from Basho Inari Shrine is the very charming and quaint Basho Memorial Outlook Garden. It overlooks the Sumida River and majestic Kiyosubashi Bridge and has some nice monuments and interesting history about Basho and his work. This compact rooftop garden is also an ideal resting spot after walking from the station and along the riverside. As well as officially being part of the nearby Basho Museum it's also said to be one of Basho's former residences in Fukagawa and is a vital stop on the Basho tour around Kiyosumi Shirakawa.
Any trip to Fukagawa wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Basho Museum. With friendly and accommodating staff, with an informative pamphlet in English and an English audioguide, it's a fascinating tribute to Basho, his travels throughout Japan and his enduring legacy. With banana trees (Basho literally translates as banana tree) planted outside the entrance and cute toy frogs decorating the lobby it's an endearing nod to Basho's rich cultural importance to the local area. Also, you can buy T-shirt and items which related to Basho at the lobby. It holds the original stone frog found after the 1917 tsunami, a myriad of memorabilia and artefacts from throughout Basho's life and afterwards, and shows, through detailed maps, his great walk from Fukagawa throughout the northern parts of Japan. Although the descriptions and information in Japanese it's still of great interest to anyone interested in Basho, haiku, poetry or Japanese history.
One of Basho's poems, "I'm a wanderer" encapsulates the experience of walking throughout Kiyosumi Shirakawa and on the same trail he took centuries ago.
I'm a wanderer
so let that be my name -
the first winter rain
Basho was indeed a wanderer. A flaneur. A man who walked, observed and transformed his experiences into haiku so great and so well loved and admired by a country that he's still revered today. Fukagawa is a magical area of Tokyo. Peaceful, traditional, historical and welcoming, it makes for a perfect day trip in the capital. As you walk from the station, down the pathway, onto the banks of the Sumida and past the shrine and museum it becomes evident that Basho, in a way, is still living and present in this district. His work lives on and his legacy has been passed down to the new generation of poets who take similar inspiration from these streets and areas like it.