The district of Ryogoku (両国) in Tokyo’s Sumida Ward is perhaps best known for Kokugikan, where sumo tournaments are held multiple times a year. Which begs the question, are there things to do for those who aren’t sumo fans? After living in this pleasant little neighbourhood for over a year now, I would say a resounding yes. Join me for a stroll around museums, parks and hearty meals.
Ryogoku Station (両国駅)
Ryogoku is served by two train lines: the JR Chuo-Sobu Line, and, my personal favourite subway line in Tokyo, the Toei Oedo Line. They are not connected and in fact located a decent 500 metres or so apart. There is not much in terms of food and shops near the metro station; for that you are best heading to the JR one. If transferring from the subway to the JR station, you can enjoy this artistic wall flanking the elevated train tracks.
Around the JR station, there are the usual chain cafes, family restaurants and izakaya for nightlife (though not so much since COVID-19).
Edo-Tokyo Museum (江戸東京博物館)
Right next to Ryogoku Station on the Oedo Line towers the Edo-Tokyo Museum. This building is absolutely massive so you cannot miss it. It is so important that it is even included in the station name on signage, and during announcements on board the Oedo subway.
Permanent exhibitions detailing the history of Tokyo when it was still called Edo include a full-sized replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge and dioramas. The current special exhibition until April 4th showcases masterpieces from the Egyptian collection of the Egyptian Museum of Berlin.
I must confess that despite seeing this museum’s facade everyday when using the station I have never been inside it. I’m not a history buff so have never really felt the urge.
You can find more details about the museum on its official website.
Ryogoku Kokugikan (国技館)
If you are coming to Ryogoku for sumo, the JR station offers better access. The current Kokugikan as been in operation since 1985 and can house over 10,000 spectators. With the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament currently in session, there were people everywhere this weekend. Including a drunk old man who was shouting out nonsense. But the arena is shut outside of sumo season, so you can usually stroll or cycle around here in peace.
Kyu-Yasuda Gardens (旧安田庭園)
A few hundred metres from Ryogoku Kokugikan is the Kyu-Yasuda Gardens, of which entry is free. According to the Go Tokyo guide, the pond at the centre of the garden used to be connected to the Sumida River, causing its water levels to rise and fall in sync. The same effect is recreated today using pumps.
The garden is a peaceful oasis in the centre of the city, and a nice place to read a book. I admit that I only entered it for the first time this weekend, but now I know. It is connected to the Japanese Sword Museum and Yokoamicho Park.
Yokoamicho Park (横網町公園)
I pass this park almost everyday and spent many hours inside it during those endless months of “stay at home” requests. The park’s most prominent features are a memorial for victims of the Tokyo air raids during WWII, and a museum commemorating the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. The presence of a playground also means plenty of families and SAHM bring their kids there for some fresh air.
The numerous sakura trees in the park makes it a nice spot to grab some cherry blossom shots during this time of year. I would sit here in the summer as well, but I always get eaten alive by mosquitoes when I do.
Sumida Hokusai Museum (すみだ北斎美術館)
This museum, which opened in 2016, is dedicated to the renowned ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai, who was born and spent most of his life in Sumida. His most famous piece is “The Great Wave off Kanagawa,” which, if you see it, you’ll know it. It’s used in so many Japanese-themed goods as a tsunami art wave.
The museum contains a permanent exhibition featuring high-resolution replicas of Hokusai’s art with touch panels, as well as information on his life and work. His original art can be seen in rotating exhibitions throughout the year.
The architecture of this four-story museum designed by Sejima Kazuyo itself is a work of art. The building, which actually interests me more, is seriously cool and exudes futuristic vibes in contrast to its historical content. It’s like somebody dumped an alien spaceship in the middle of a park.
Another building with gorgeous modern architecture, Edoyu is a luxury hot spring facility that opened in June 2019. The large vertical strips of silver that adorn the front entrance replicate the noren curtains to a hot spring, and they are very aesthetically pleasing. Inside you can enjoy six types of baths, three types of bedrock bath, and three types of sauna. There are also places to take a nap or get some beauty treatment.
With an admission fee of 2,750 yen, it is a little bit on the pricey side. But there is no time limit to how long you stay. The facility is open from 11am to 9am the following day, so you could effectively sleep there at a rate much less than a hotel.
Yokozuna Burger (横綱バーガー)
Last but not least, something for the foodies! While Ryogoku is famed for chanko nabe — a hearty, protein-packed hotpot that forms the staple diet of sumo wrestlers — I much prefer a good ol’ burger. Nestled in the suburban streets is the delicious burger joint known as Yokozuna Burger. With its namesake menu item only costing 550 yen for a 110g beef patty, it is very reasonably priced compared to other gourmet burger places. The establishment only has three counter seats and appears to be run solo by one man, so it mainly caters to takeout and delivery.
Address: 東京都墨田区横網2-14-8 / 2-14-8 Yokoami, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Summary: Features of Living in Ryogoku
- You’ll probably see sumo wrestlers walking around doing their thing even outside of tournament season. I saw one at McDonald’s once.
- If you like museums, history and parks, you’re in for a treat. The area is also generally very safe to walk around, even in the dead of the night.
- Cross one of the many bridges over Sumida River and you’ll quickly find yourself in Asakusa or Nihombashi, which is very convenient. I love cycling through the neighbourhood and surrounding areas.
- Walk 20~30 minutes the other way and you can get to Tokyo Skytree or Kinshicho. The former needs no introduction. The latter has not one, but two Toho Cinemas, all the shopping you could ever want, and a red-light district that is like a mini-Kabukicho (pre-COVID).
- Ryogoku is a fine choice if you’re looking to balance rent prices and proximity to central Tokyo.