Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Arakawa to the sea

Something I have been meaning to do for years is to follow the Arakawa river - which flows near here - to the mouth, where it enters Tokyo Bay.    Many times we have cycled part of the distance, but never the whole way to the mouth - even though it's only 20 km or so, down hill and basically flat.  The New Year holdiay seemed like a good time to get on our oritatami (folding) bicycles and see what there was to see at the sea.
I have been thinking about the Arakawa recently since Lily asked me about characteristics of various parts of Tokyo.  The Arakawa is historically prone to flooding.  The map below shows major flooding that took place in 1910, which prompted dramatic government action to build sluice gates and diversion channels.  This has some interesting pictures and explanation, and is where I took the map from.

Largely because of the flooding, and but also due to issues of the city limits, land along the Arakawa has historically been cheap. The lower reaches of the river also contain a large community of Dowa,  the Japanese "untouchable" class of outcasts who traditionally work in death industries including meat, funerals, flowers, leather works and remain discriminated against. (I may expand on this some other time.)

These days the Arakawa is lined with sporting fields which act as a buffer zone to the floodwaters, light industry,  large scale apartment buildings, and on the North /East side major expressways.  There is also a conspicuous presence of homeless people living in blue tarpaulin constructions along the river bank.  (The local governments have pulled down the homeless villages in Ueno and Hibiya Parks, and no doubt others as well. )

We cycled, and cycled, and cycled, each kilometre a marker announced how many more kms to the river mouth.   After a couple of hours of leisurely cycling we reached the 0km.  What a let down!  I was expecting to see something impressive... something like... the sea.... as far as I could determine, the river continued, and the cycle track continued.  I am not sure how a geographer measures the end of a river.... We continued on and we did see Tokyo Bay.. and it was... well.. Tokyo Bay... nothing more, nothing less. Water....

Having reached the end of the cycle path / river, we opted to cross the bridge across the bay to have lunch in Nishi Kasai, a machi  that is worth a quick note. It's built on reclaimed land, and has a reputation as one of Tokyo"s suburban multicultural hubs.  The reputation, seems deserved.  There was a conspicious South Asian presence on the streets, a branch of our much loved local Indian restaurant -  Abiskar, a Filipino restaurant - the first I can remember seeing in Tokyo, a general store with an impressive herb and spice collection, and a Mexican restaurant all within 200m.

We had some rather average Mexican before folding up the bikes and taking the subway home.

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