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Updated: November 22, 2022
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) is one of Japan’s greatest artists. His ukiyo-e woodblock prints including The Great Wave off Kanagawa, part of the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, are famous worldwide. Perfect for art lovers, this walking tour will introduce you to Sumida City, where Hokusai lived and worked.
Start your tour at Ryogoku Station, an important transport hub in Sumida City, one of Tokyo’s 23 special wards. Abutting Sumida River, Ryogoku is famed for sumo; you can’t miss the iconic Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo stadium north of the station.
Starting behind Ryogoku Kokugikan and the adjacent Edo-Tokyo Museum, Hokusai-dori Street runs east-west through Kamezawa, home to sumo stables, traditional craft shops and other businesses. Look out for Hokusai’s art on streetlights, etc., along the street.
Opened in 2016, the Sumida Hokusai Museum honors the achievements of Sumida City’s most famous son. In addition to special exhibitions, it has displays on Hokusai’s life, works and his relationship to Sumida City, where he spent most of his 88 years. The permanent exhibition contains a model of Hokusai’s studio and has displays on monitors and a video showing the making nishiki-e, a type of multicolored woodblock printing. The museum faces Midoricho Park, where a sign marking Hokusai’s birthplace stands.
The area around Umaya Bridge is depicted in Viewing Sunset over the Ryōgokubashi Bridge from the Ommayagashi River Bank from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes Ryogoku Bridge and Mt. Fuji in the background. The present Umaya Bridge was built in 1929 after the Great Kanto Earthquake and is the only span across Sumida River with three arches. Umaya means “horse stable,” a reference to stables here in Edo period; look out for horse decorations on the bridge. It’s an ideal viewing spot for TOKYO SKYTREE and the summertime Sumida River Fireworks Festival.
This tranquil garden from the Edo era (1603-1868) contains a traditional Japanese garden with a pond, complete with bridges and carp, that once connected to Sumida River. Today, pumps recreate the river level’s rise and fall in the pond. A famous stone known as Komadomeishi is depicted in an 1822 Hokusai triptych of the river. It stands in this quiet oasis between the Japanese Sword Museum and Yokoamicho Park.
Ryogoku Kokugikan is a stadium and a shrine to sumo, Japan’s national sport. Close to Sumida River, this area was a Hokusai haunt. He depicted the scenery in works such as Picture book of the Sumida River – Both banks at a Glance, a set of woodblock-printed books published around 1806. One print shows people caught in a rain shower as they rush over Shinyanagibashi Bridge on the river’s western shore; the background is a shogunal lumberyard where the sumo stadium now stands.
South of Ryogoku Station is Honjo Matsuzakacho Park, which contains a small Shinto shrine behind a white wall topped with tiles. Here stood the residence of Kira Yoshinaka (1641–1703), a court official in the Edo shogunate who was assassinated by the retainers of warlord Asano Naganori in Japan’s most famous act of revenge; the story is known as the Revenge of the Forty-Seven Ronin. Kobayashi Heihachiro, one of the samurai defending Kira, was said to be Hokusai’s great-grandfather.
Ryogoku Bridge was built in 1659 and connected two feudal provinces; Ryogoku means “both provinces.” Before being rebuilt in 1932, it was depicted in numerous woodblock prints by masters such as Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. In one print in his Picture book of the Sumida River –Both banks at a glance, Hokusai depicts people thronging the grand arch of the bridge from the perspective of Ryogoku Hirokoji, a former entertainment district on Sumida River’s western shore. In the background, is the eastern shore and Ejimasugiyama Shrine south of Ryogoku Station.