Living very much in the shadows of its close neighbours Tsukiji and Tsukishima, the town of Tsukuda is not exactly on the map when it comes to tourism. However, it can make a pleasant half day trip for anyone wanting to extend their morning tour of Tsukiji fish market or just simply to get away from the well-worn touristy places in Tokyo. It was a windy day when we went there by bicycle crossing the Kachidoki Bridge which was ripped up and spat out by Godzilla in the 1954 original.
Arriving in Tsukishima we stopped to sample some of the areas most famous dish; Monjayaki, at ‘Monkichi‘ (3-8-10 Tsukishima) which was a very busy place where pictures of Japanese celebrities don the walls giving recognition of their visit. With our stomach’s full on the mix of pan fried batter and finely chopped ingredients we headed over into Tsukuda.
This sleepy little area is situated on reclaimed land and was formerly a small fisherman’s village over 300 years ago when 33 fishermen left their homes in Osaka and moved to Edo (the former name of Tokyo) to introduce the latest fishing methods at a time when Osaka was more developed than Edo. Tsukuda was the name of their village and thats how this place in Chuo-ku got its name.
Japan may be considered to be a bit of an isolated country and likewise Tsukuda has always been a bit secluded from the rest of the capital which means its been left relatively unspoiled and is one of very few places in Tokyo which still offer glimpses of the city in a bygone era. Our first stop was the rustic, wooden building of Tenyasu (1-3-14 Tsukuda) which is the oldest of three tsukudani (seafood boiled in sauce) boutiques in the area.
The shop is open between 9am – 6pm and has been open for over 170 years and actually features, as does much of Tsukuda, in the ridiculously silly low budget movie ‘The Toxic Avenger Part II‘ (1989) where Japanese food critic Go Nagai makes a cameo appearance in a mock TV interview where he says the food has magical powers and can attract beautiful women and before you know it the Toxic Avengers latest antagonist is hit over the head by a fish moments after her clothes all fell off and she stumbles into the interviewers lap and he thinks god has answered his call to meet a pretty lady. The only ladies we saw there were the steady stream of middle-aged housewives making special trips to pick up the long-lasting speciality that can be bought by measure. There are over a dozen different types of tsukudani ranging from 350 yen to 1200 yen for 100 grams.
The next stop was Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine (1-1-14 Tsukuda) which is situated among the towns quiet back streets featuring rows of old wooden houses. Once every three years though the place comes alive for its festival held on the first weekend of August. An enormous gate covered in copper plate welcomes you to the Shinto deity of fishermen and ocean travellers and is protected by foxes.
The striking red Tsukudakobashi bridge is just round the corner from the shrine and is an area of boat moorings and decrepit fishermen’s dwellings. There is even a half submerged boat in the canal and its banks are lined with nagaya – long wooden structures divided into independent houses separated by narrow alleys – which date from the Edo period and Tsukuda is among only a handful of places in Tokyo where you can still see such row houses. How long they’ll be around for is uncertain as they’re considered to be something of a fire hazard these days. Tsukuda Namiyoke Shrine is back by the canal and was built to pray for the safety of fishermen. This small shrine has stones lying around its tree which are used in strength competitions.
On the riverfront near the floodgates is the memorial tower which is a replica of the 1866 hexagonal designed lighthouse although its prime use these days seems to be as toilets!! This landmark can be reached by ambling through the pleasant Tsukuda-koen; a pond and fountain as the centrepiece surrounded by bricked paths and many park benches.
Walking over the Tsukuda Ohashi Bridge will take you in the direction of Ginza district but before the bridge was built in 1964 the residents of Tsukuda had to rely on ferries.
The other option for exiting Tsukuda is to head to Tsukishima station but not before you’ve stopped for one more snack. Hisagoya Abe (3-1-12 Tsukuda) is a tiny place selling delicious takeaway liver katsu (140 yen) at its window and its well worth crossing the highway to sample this liver cutlet at a shop which was founded in 1949 although it has moved locations in that time.
Tsukuda can be reached via Tsukishima station on the Yurakucho and Toei Oedo lines.
* This article was originally written for publication in a local magazine and is actually the sum of a few individual trips to the area rather than one cycling adventure as it seems like here. Hence, the different clothes I’m wearing!