Mukojima: Not Quite Anywhere

Tokyo isn’t all neon and black rain. Traverse east, and you’ll find parts of the original city–within the confines of the area covered when it went by its former name, Edo–which are difficult to classify. This is the old, or the original, or the sometimes down-at-heel side of town.

In 2012 construction of the tallest structure in the country was completed on the East side of the metropolis. Sky Tree stands at 634 metres tall, is bright white, and functions as a broadcasting tower, complete with viewing platforms, and a commercial complex at its base.

But just to its side is Mukojima. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries it was an industrial and entertainment area, and it still contains some traditional establishments in which geisha are employed. However, it’s not a tourist area and it can seem like there’s nothing there. Except an atmosphere.

It’s desolate, just a little. Run down with empty plots, but also some modern houses with shiny, new cars parked outside. Slightly industrial, a hint of commerce, some parts residential, but also nothing in particular. Too quiet. Left behind but right in the middle. Dusty, blasted by a hot wind and baked in the dazzling midday sun. It’s still there, holding on yet unhurried, and dominated now by every vertical metre of Skytree, which can be seen from all over Tokyo, marking out Mukojima like no other district is marked out.

But still, not quite anywhere.

Get off the train at Asakusa, crowded with tourists looking at the famous Sensō-ji temple and the historical streets around it, and you can walk to Sky Tree. Just cross Sumida River and head for the unmistakable tower, and you’ll find yourself walking through Mukojima, which might, or might not, distract you.

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