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The construction and 2012 opening of Tokyo Skytree brought radical change to a part of Mukojima, a quaint downtown neighbourhood on the east side of the Sumida River. With new apartment towers, shops and the like being built on the southern side of the area, some of its traditional charm seems to have been lost. However, as soon as you move away from the immediate vicinity of the world’s tallest TV tower, a remarkably well preserved shitamachi zone appears before your eyes.
With land once far cheaper here than on the Asakusa side of the river, Mukojima was known as a flourishing industrial and entertainment neighbourhood in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The area incurred heavy damage from both the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake and the American air raids in 1945, but escaped the almost-complete devastation suffered elsewhere. As a result, structures from the 1920s and ‘30s still survive here, some of them hosting traditional shops and eateries and others functioning as residences.
Mukojima is also one of the very few areas in Tokyo where it’s possible to spot real geisha, who train and work in the establishments along and around Kenban-dori, the old thoroughfare. Keep your eyes peeled in the evenings, and you just might get lucky. As for getting in, any of the Tobu Skytree line’s three nearby stations (Skytree Station, Hikifune, Higashi-Mukojima) are fine places for starting your adventures.