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Explore Sumo and Edo Culture on a Sumida River Walking Tour

Explore old and new Tokyo with this unique experience on the Sumida River that embraces tradition, culture and sumo.

By 6 min read

Before Tokyo’s iconic skyscrapers defined its skyline, the city was known as Edo from 1603 to 1868. In those days, Edo was a place where traditions held more weight than technology. People lived harmoniously with the seasons, following life’s natural ebb and flow. It was a society where the simplicity of human interaction often outweighed the complexity of modern city life.

The Sumida Tour leads you through the neighboring districts of Ryogoku (Sumida City) and Asakusa (Taito City), both deeply rooted in the history of this bygone era. In addition to visiting sites of historical significance, the tour offers an intimate experience of sumo wrestling and hands-on opportunities to engage with popular crafts from the Edo period. These activities provide a unique window into what life might have looked, felt and tasted like in this captivating world.

Culture Along the Sumida River

The Asahi Beer Hall is evocative of a frothy beer.

Life in Edo was closely tied to local bodies of water, with an intricate system of rivers and canals used to ferry goods and people. These include the Ryogoku and Asakusa districts, which lie alongside the meandering Sumida River as it winds southward before spilling into Tokyo Bay.

Along the river’s bank, you’ll stroll through Sumida Park and see sweeping views of Tokyo Skytree and colorful artworks from the great masters of ukiyo-e (Japanese wood print art that translates to “the floating world”)—including Katsushika Hokusai and Utagawa Hiroshige. Many of these depict scenes from the bustling Edo riverside, a window into the era.

Later, you’ll cruise on the Sumida River, passing under several bridges—each with its own look, some low enough you’ll have to duck. The river is flanked by the Asahi Beer Hall, a structure evocative of a frothy beer, lying adjacent to the golden-toned, curiously-shaped Asahi Flame.

You will also pass by other vessels plying the river, including yakatabune (pleasure boats), which were once favored by samurai lords and nobles. On these, they cruised the local waterways while feasting and enjoying entertainment.

The best time to take one of these cruises is during July’s outstanding Sumida Fireworks Festival. However, the river may be enjoyed any time of year, and its bridges are often adorned with nighttime illuminations.

Create Traditional Edo Art

At Saitamaya Koume you can raft “wagashi,” Japanese-style confectionery, according to the season.

After sailing on the Sumida River, you’ll experience artisanal crafts popular during the Edo period. At Saitamaya Koume, you’ll receive master instruction in crafting wagashi, Japanese-style confectionery traditionally enjoyed with green tea. These treats are shaped to reflect the changing seasons, like autumnal leaves and chestnuts or the delicate sakura (cherry blossoms) that capture the essence of spring.

At Atelier Sougeikan you’ll be able to craft a lantern featuring a Japanese “kanji” (Chinese character) that reflects the Edo era’s culture.

You’ll visit Atelier Sougeikan, where you can immerse yourself in edomoji, or “letters of Edo,” calligraphy. The studio’s master artisan is dedicated to reviving this art among Japanese youth and overseas visitors. Here, you’ll be able to craft a lantern featuring a Japanese kanji (Chinese character) that reflects the Edo era’s culture, including its close ties to the world of sumo wrestling.

The Ancient Sport of Sumo

The Sumida River tour offers an intimate experience of sumo wrestling.

Another tour highlight is the Ryogoku Kokugikan, the national arena where grand sumo basho (tournaments) occur every January, May and September. Even if your visit doesn’t align with a tournament, you can still admire the architecture, accommodating around 11,000 spectators. In front of it stands a massive tower where resounding taiko  (drums) announce the tournament.

A live sumo demonstration at the Hana no Mai Edo Tokyo Museum will have you savor a meal of chanko nabe, the hearty meat and vegetable stew that wrestlers eat to maintain their robust physique. Here, you’ll see several sumo bouts and have the opportunity to engage in a special Q&A session with the wrestlers. Many are willing to speak candidly about their unique life.

You’ll also have the opportunity to visit a sumo stable, which is an experience typically out of reach for most people in Japan, including even passionate sumo enthusiasts.

During practice at the stable, wrestlers are at their most vulnerable—visibly enduring intense physical discomfort in real time—and yet this is an integral part of the sport. According to one stable’s top wrestler, the challenging aspect of sumo encourages its practitioners to be resilient and continue fighting.

Swords and Spirituality

The Japanese Sword Museum features rotating collections of Japanese blades.

While sumo wrestling had a brutal history where competitors fought to the death, it evolved into entertainment during the Edo period. A similar transformation can be seen in the history of swords, which you can explore at the Japanese Sword Museum on this tour.

The museum features rotating collections that delve into various aspects of swordcraft, including the processes of forging and mounting blades. Many swords in the collection were donated by local collectors and enthusiasts, with some designated as natural treasures. These swords include the tachi (long sword) used by samurai on horseback during the turbulent Sengoku (Warring States) Period and the katana, a shorter and less lethal weapon used during the relatively peaceful Edo era.

Adjacent to the museum, you can stroll through the serene Kyu-Yasuda Teien Gardens, a naturally landscaped garden with a pond that attracts birds like wild ducks and kingfishers. A short walk away is the Ekoin Temple, which shares a spiritual connection with the sumo world. This temple, built in 1657, commemorates over 100,000 lives lost in a fire that began when the wind carried away a memorial kimono, sparking a deadly blaze that consumed Edo’s densely packed wooden homes.

The temple grounds are scented with incense and provide a peaceful place to conclude your tour. Before parting ways, your guide will also suggest other noteworthy places to visit. As your journey through the captivating world of Edo ends, you’ll have gained a deeper appreciation for the history, culture and traditions that define Japan.

The juxtaposition of Edo’s past with the modern world offers a unique and thought-provoking experience. Whether you were enthralled by the grace of sumo wrestlers, the artistry of Japanese swords or the tranquility of serene gardens, the Sumida Tour will leave you with lasting memories and a newfound understanding of Japan’s heritage.

Booking Information

Explore old and new Tokyo on a Sumida River tour that embraces tradition, culture and sumo.

Ready to embark on an unforgettable Edo journey through the world of sumo and the picturesque Sumida River? Discover all the details you need to secure your spot on this unique tour. Visit the Sumida Tourism Information website to inquire directly about the tour or ask any questions you may have regarding bookings.

Sumida-ku Walking Tour Information

  • 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • ¥27,000 (minimum two people)

Book this trip through True Japan Tours.

You can also book your own tour of the Sumida River via:

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