My Tokyo Guide
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Updated: September 30, 2020
Before Tokyo was Tokyo, the city was known as Edo. It gave its name to the Edo period (1603-1867), when the shogun (national military leaders) transformed a small fishing village into one of the world's largest cities. This tour, perfect for visitors on a stopover, brings you in contact with that rich history.
The Ryogoku neighborhood is nestled right in the old heart of Tokyo, and its long history—including as the traditional home of sumo wrestling—makes it the perfect place to begin our journey. Ryogoku Station can be a bit confusing because it is actually two separate stations, one for the JR Sobu Line and one for the Toei Oedo Line. This time, let's start at the JR station. If you head out the west exit, you'll pass some fun sumo memorabilia on the walls of the station, and then you'll find yourself right next to Ryogoku Edo NOREN, a shopping and dining center with "old Edo" as its concept.
The Edo-Tokyo Museum is the premier Edo museum in Tokyo. It lets you explore the history, traditional culture, and lifestyles of the Edo period, the Meiji era (1868–1912), and pre-World War II Japan. In addition to special exhibitions on a variety of fascinating topics, the permanent displays include a scale model showing what the bustling Nihonbashi area was like in the old days, and recreations of traditional Japanese homes and traditional Japanese rooms. You can even step into a replica of a palanquin, like the ones used by Edo-period feudal lords.
Just next to the Edo-Tokyo Museum, you'll see the green and gold roof of the Ryogoku Kokugikan. The Ryogoku neighborhood has been the home of sumo wrestling—Japan's de facto national sport—for centuries, and the Kokugikan is where some of sumo's biggest moments unfold. This stadium, which has an official capacity of over 11,000, plays host to three of the six annual honbasho (grand sumo tournaments) in January, May, and September. During these 15-day tournaments, colorful banners line the street outside the stadium. Even if the timing doesn't work out for you to attend a tournament, check out the Kokugikan's Sumo Museum and gift shop!
This legendary confectioner was founded in the Edo period—the year 1803, to be exact. Sit at the counter, and watch skilled artisans sculpt exquisite traditional unbaked sweets right in front of you before you eat them. The menu includes a selection of seasonal cakes, cookies, jellies, and more. And don't forget to enjoy your sweets with some matcha green tea! The store also sells gorgeously packaged gift sets—perfect for any friend with a taste for the finer things.
Kabuki, Japan's most famous traditional performing art, emerged right at the beginning of the Edo period. Numerous plays written over the centuries provide a colorful slice of Edo-period life. The best place to see kabuki today is Kabukiza Theater in Ginza, founded in the late 19th century. Even if you don't have a ticket for a performance, there's still plenty to experience and enjoy at Kabukiza. You can visit the Kabukiza Gallery, which features props and costumes used in actual performances; the fun gift shops of the Kobiki Hiroba shopping plaza; the fifth-floor roof garden; and the Kabuki Inari Daimyojin Shrine outside Kabukiza.