On the 25th January, after eating breakfast, Kiku and his friend Miko-chan consulted the seasonal almanac, and were a little surprised to read that the next five day marker was known as ‘marsh waters frozen solid’.
“Are there marshes in Tokyo?” Miko-chan asked Boss Panda. The old bear smiled and said “Even before Tokyo was the capital city of Edo long ago, it was comprised of many marshes, both tidal salt marshes and freshwater swamps, as well as lots of other sources of water.” Kiku thought about this for a moment and wondered aloud “where did all that water go?”
Boss Panda suggested that they go out for the day so that he could show them some of the hidden signs of Tokyo’s water. “We will take a trip out to Tokyo SkyTree, where we get a good view of the city and I’ll explain…”
From the Bamboo Bathhouse they walked to Sangen-jaya station and took the Den-en-Toshi line into Shibuya, from where they crossed central Tokyo on the Hanzomon Metro Line to Oshiage for Tokyo Skytree.
When they had reached the observation deck of SkyTree and were looking out over the city, Boss Panda began to explain that Tokyo was essentially originally made up of high ground to the West (known as yamanote), with rivers and streams flowing through valleys within it to the lowlands of the East (known as shitamachi), where there were once many marshes and pools. In today’s heavily built up landscape, you might find yourself suddenly going down into a dip, where depressions had been made in the volcanic ash topsoil, or up a steep hill and suddenly come across a surprising view. “If you come across a garden with a large pond, then that was likely built as part of a feudal lord’s villa during the Edo period (1603 – 1868), but you might also come across a concrete covered play park, which might indicate that there was once a marsh or swamp-like pool there that has been filled in.
Kiku looked out over the ever-changing city and asked “but what about the rivers and water channels themselves – surely they still need to flow?” Boss Panda explained that many rivers had been diverted underground as the city grew, but that if you walked some streets (such as the main streets of Shibuya) you would notice how they meandered. This was a sign that the road was once a watercourse. “In fact”, he said, “in Shibuya until recently, the river was still visible in some places but in a very poor state, in fact looking more like a dirty drainage channel than anything else, and not really accessible due to elevated train tracks but in the last few years parts of it have been smartened up, the transport lines moved underground, and a newly built footpath allowing people to stroll its edges and walk to Daikanyama…”
As they were leaving SkyTree to take the train home, Kiku noticed with amusement that you might still be able to take advantage of ‘waters frozen solid’ in the city. Pointing at the seasonal ice rink in the plaza he said, “ you might not be able to skate on a frozen marsh in Tokyo anymore, but this is a good alternative!”
Article about ‘rediscovering lost Tokyo’ from The Japan Times here
As part of Shibuya’s redevelopment and organisation, a new commercial complex known as ‘Shibuya Stream’ opened in September 2018, along with the new pathway following the former Toyoko train line route. Parts of the rail track can still be seen embedded in the paving, and turned into street furniture, and even part of a former platform has been left along the route. There are places to stop for refreshment along the route such as a fresh lemonade speciality store.