More photos from my day trip to rural Tokyo, beyond Ome City! The walk from the station is quick and easy (the return journey a little harder though) and the river is gorgeous with plenty of people fishing, kayaking or just swimming in some of the calmer pockets of the water. The Tama River is quite famous, as it is one of the major rivers of Tokyo. If you were to brave the river and ride it all the way you would eventually reach the border between Tokyo and Kawasaki City before exiting in the Pacific Ocean. The river used to be pretty wild but civil engineering, grand earthworks and damns have tamed it somewhat. The last time there was major flooding was in 1974, but until then the river was so unpredictable it would cut villages or towns in two as it suddenly changed course (for example in 1590 when several villages were permanently cut in half, the most famous being Todoroki, half of which is now part of Kanagawa Prefecture and the other half is now part of Tokyo).
Up here in Sawai the river is still relatively narrow and shallow though. There are plenty of bridges crossing the river in the area, but the most popular is the hanging bridge just underneath Kanzan Temple (寒山寺), a small building with a large bronze bell underneath which is very popular with tourists who all take the chance to ring it, including me. There is something deeply satisfying to ringing such a large bell! The little temple commands a great view and inside there is a very interesting “memento mori” painting in the ceiling. More photos and more nature to come!
It is easy to forget that all of Tokyo is not yet claimed by concrete and cars. There are still some very rural areas in the western parts of the metropolis for example. One of greenest areas in Tokyo is Ome City, which is only an hour from central Tokyo on the JR Chuo line and not even the westernmost part of Tokyo. Some of the orange and silver Chuo line trains go all the way out to Ome City where you will need to change trains to hit the real countryside. I went to Sawai, the sixth station on Ome Line (sixth after Ome, 19th after Tachikawa), a small station that is used by about 275 people daily. Although this part of Tokyo has been connected to central Tokyo since the building of a national road in 1603, it still feels very rural.
The post office has the old style post box you do not see in bigger cities much any more. The station is usually unmanned (but not on busier weekends) and it is located on the mountainside. The main attraction of Sawai is the old sake factory but I also enjoyed a meal of soba and wasabi in the sake factory garden, next to and overlooking the river. I took a whole lot of very unartistic snapshots to try and capture the feel of this place. Even after having lived so long in Tokyo it still amazes me every time that these kinds of places still exist so close to the biggest city on Earth. I can recommend you visit the countryside around Ome City if you ever feel stuck in all the concrete that is Tokyo. It is a perfect day trip or even half a day trip if you are quick about it. More photos of the river, trees and sake factory of Sawai!
One of my favorite kinds of stores in Tokyo are the prefectural satellite stores, where you can buy local specialities, unique food and beverages, souvenirs and crafts from the home prefecture of the store. They are scattered all over Tokyo, some prefectures have several big stores like Hokkaido, whereas some prefectures have only one or two very small stores almost hidden away somewhere: it doesn’t matter to me, I like to find them all! The other day I was passing through Yurakucho rather late, and feeling slightly hungry but not enough to eat a proper meal I decided to visit the Osaka prefectural store on one of the corners of the Kotsukaikan just next to JR Yurakucho station (not the side towards Marunouchi). I don’t know how many times I have promised myself to visit Osaka more, but no matter what I do I never seem to be able to get there, so instead the Osaka satellite store will have to do! I had the local speciality, a very flat okonomiyaki loaded with pickled squid and as a desert I scouted around the store for something interesting to drink – something loaded with sugar! I know I am not supposed to snap photos in the store (who am I kidding, with my huge and loud monster of a Nikon I can hardly call it snapping a photo…!) but I just had to show you these fantastic ramune (lemonade, soft soda pops) and a very stylish and retro-romantic coffee bottles! How about the Kimchi, Takoyaki, Curry, and Rayu variations of the humble ramune? I am usually all for oddly flavored ramune, which are usually quite weak, and if it hadn’t been for the fact that I unsuspectingly bought a navy-curry flavored ramune a couple of weeks ago that actually really tasted quite strongly of curry, I would have tried them all! On the shelf below I found the more appetizing and more Osaka looking Billiken and Pro-Wrestling flavored ramune! I suspect them to be more conservative when it comes to flavoring. The coffee is the classical retro-brand so famous in Osaka, the Marufuku (丸福珈琲店) ice coffee brand. I don’t know what it taste like but it is so famous it is already on top of my list of places to visit when I get to Osaka next!
When Japan opened up to the Western world in the end of the 1860′s, it didn’t take long for western things, customs and manners to be adopted by the Japanese. One such thing was the concept of a bar. The first western style drinking bar opened up in Asakusa in 1880 and it is still there, Kamiya Bar, with three floors, a restaurant and even an outside bar, right on the street corner near the famous Kaminarimon gate. A lot of the hip young creatives would go to drink there until the war and the bar has featured in many novels and even movies. To tourists it is mostly known for the unique brand of brandy, the Denki Bran, a mix of all sorts of liquor creating quite a special taste. At 30 or 40% (there are two varieties) it can be difficult to drink straight but its also popular in different long drink and even cocktails. Even though it absolutely unique, a true Tokyo and Asakusa souvenir and quite nice, it is really dirt cheap. I can’t remember how much I paid for this bottle but it is almost criminally cheap! Absolutely the souvenir to take home if you have friends that are into unusual liquor.
Kamiya bar is easy to find. Just stand in front of the Kaminarimon, facing it. Turn about right, and walk along the road until you have the bar on your left, about 100m.
The name is a combination of the word for electricity and the word for brandy. In 1882 when the drink was invented electricity was the cool new thing and almost all major brands that started in this period of Japanese modernization had the word electric or electricity somewhere in their names.
And for no real reason I also post a cherry blossom photo!