The true origin of this place name is a bit complex. But the kanji refer to a spot that broke the waves hitting Edo Bay. While the name may pre-date the Edo Period, it’s generally assumed that this is a reference to man-made structures that broke the encroachment of the sea against the seaside palaces of the daimyō and the Tokugawa themselves.
In the Edo Period, the area was home to sprawling seaside mansions of the Tōhoku-based lords of Sendai Domain (descendents of Date Masamune[i]) and Aizu Domain (sponsors of the Shinsengumi[ii]). The Date clan had been loyal to the first shōgun, Tokugawa Ieyasu, before he was made shōgun. The Matsudaira clan of Aizu were related to the Tokugawa shōgun family by blood and marriage. If you look at the massive size of the city blocks in the area, you’re looking at vestiges of the daimyō palaces and samurai mansions that once stood in the area.
The area is resplendent in so many contradictory ways. A crazy wall of skyscrapers block cool air from Tōkyō Bay, but at the same time offers customers, residents, and workers an insanely beautiful view of the bay. In this area, you can find the remains of 浜御殿 Hama Goten the Seaside Palace of the Tokugawa shōguns. Today the palace is called 浜離宮庭園 Hama Rikyū Tei’en Hama Detached Palace Park and features some magnificent stone walls, gorgeous gardens, duck/goose hunting grounds, and a beautiful teahouse in the middle of a lake in which you can relax with a hot cup of maccha and eat Japanese sweets on tatami mats. It’s considered one of the best preserved daimyō gardens in Tōkyō.
A short distance from Hama Rikyū is 芝離宮 Shiba Rikyū Tei’en Shiba Detached Palace. The garden has a long history going back to the Sengoku Period[iii], but it’s an easy shoe in for top 5 traditional gardens in Tōkyō. It’s noticeably smaller than Hama Rikyū, but absolutely worth the visit, especially if you don’t have time for Hama Rikyū. That said, if you like Japanese gardens like your truly does, you could easily spend half a day at both, before you move on to your next activity.
Near all of this is an often overlooked spot, the rebuilt Shinbashi Depot. This was the original location the starting point of the main 東海道線 Tōkaidō-sen Tōkaidō Line, the first train to follow the Tōkaidō Highway and unite Tōkyō with Kyōto & Ōsaka. Japan and trains have a long and colorful history, but this is pretty much where it started. If you like trains or are interested in how the Meiji Period began building up modern infrastructure, the museum inside the station building is a must see. You could walk from here to modern Shinbashi Station (formerly Karasumori Station) and find a Shōwa Era party town. The name Shinbashi means “New Bridge” and the remains of the original are a short walk from here as well.
You’ll have to walk to Hamamatsu-chō Station if you want to go, but from there you have a straight shot to 竹芝桟橋 Takeshiba Sankyō Takeshiba Pier. Here you have a view of Kachidoki Bridge and the mouth of the Sumida River as well as a great deal of Tōkyō Port, including Tsukishima, none of which existed in the Edo Period. Boats come and go, but you’ll probably see more helicopters than anything. If you have a good zoom lens and want to take pictures of all kinds of Japanese helicopters, you’ll love this pier. If I have time to kill, I like to get a simple bentō lunch and chill on the pier and bask in the awe of the importance the bay played in the history of Edo-Tōkyō.
If you visit this spot, you also have access to:
- Wanna read my original article about Shiodome?
- Wanna read my original article about the Sumida River?[iv]
- Wanna read my original article about Shinbashi?
- Reconstruction of the original Shinbashi Station.
- Hama Rikyū Garden (seaside palace of the shōguns)
- Shiba Rikyū Garden (a daimyō garden next to Hamamatsu-chō Station)
- Takeshiba Pier (a pier and hotel complex at the mouth of the Sumida River)
[i] Date Masamune is one of the most famous daimyō of the closing days of the Sengoku Period.
[ii] The Shinsengumi were an elite samurai peace keeping troop during the final days of the Tokugawa shōgunate.
[iii] It was a former 後北条 Go-Hōjō Late Hōjō seaside fort. The ruins of the Hōjō Era tea house are still preserved.
[iv] Do so at your own peril.