Historically, a post town on the Mito Kaido, one of the major roads north-bound out of Edo, Matsudo is now a bustling suburb of Tokyo. But its history remains, making it a fun place to spend a little time exploring any time of year. Particularly noteworthy are the Tojogaoka History Park and Matsudo Shrine.
Tojogaoka History Park
Situated on a hill overlooking the Edogawa River, this park is the site of the Tojo House, the family home of Tokugawa Akitake, younger brother of the last of the Tokugawa shoguns. The house was built as a country home and was named for the local area. Akitake built this well-preserved home in 1884 in traditional Japanese style. This in itself is interesting, as many historic homes of this period were built in the Western style.
On weekends, volunteer guides are often available, some of whom speak English. They are friendly, helpful and very informative. The home features a fireproof storeroom, formal and informal receiving rooms and several sleeping rooms. Which receiving room was used reflected the relative rank of the person being received. The formal receiving rooms contain more opulent decorations and overlook an expansive Western-style lawn as well as the Edogawa. In the distance, on a clear day, Mt Fuji can also be seen. Regrettably, a high-rise apartment building now under construction on the Tokyo side of the river will soon block half of that view.
The bathroom, with its Taisho-era tub on a stone floor, accessed by stepping down from a wooden-floored changing area, is a particularly interesting glimpse of what it must have been like to live in the house.
Nestled in the woods at the back of the house is a suite of rooms built for Akitake’s mother in her dotage. While many rooms of the house feature carved wooden transoms, the transoms in the “granny flat” boast butterflies and old lady’s favorite flowers. Dominating the carving and other decorations of the rest of the house are the hollyhock leaves of the Tokugawa family crest.
Although the kitchen and servants’ quarters are not open to the public, that section of the house is visible across an atrium from the passageway connecting the genkan to the formal reception room. The servants’ quarters is the only part of the house with two stories but, when the master was in residence, the servants were required to close the shutters facing the atrium, lest they inadvertently look down on their superiors.
The house is open Tuesday through Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is 150 yen. When Monday is a public holiday, the house is open on Monday and closed the following day.
Also in the park is the Tojo History Museum, a small museum with displays about the Tokugawa family. Unfortunately, there is little information available in English in the museum, although some of the portraits, maps and old photographs are interesting even without detailed explanations. The museum is open on the same days as the house, although it does not open until 9:30 a.m. Admission to the museum is also 150 yen; a combination admission ticket is available at a 20% discount.
On the other side of the train tracks from the foot of Tojogaoka Hill, and fronting on the Sakagawa River, is Matsudo Shrine, the largest Shinto shrine in the Matsudo area. The shrine was built in 1626, deifying a third century Imperial prince who was believed to have once camped on this site. The main shrine building is about 150 years old and houses certain important historical relics.
Also on the shrine grounds are Akiba Shrine, several minor shrine structures and the storehouses of the o-mikoshi portable shrines. The Akiba Shrine has its own festival on June 30 every year, while Matsudo Shrine itself celebrates its annual grand festival (“reitaisai”) on Oct 18. Sitting between the Akiba Shrine and the Matsudo Shrine is a massive tree encircled by a frame strung with wires. Used white paper fortunes are tied to these wires, and ema votive plaques are also hung from them.
Every Shinto shrine has a temizusha water trough where one may purify before worshipping. The water which flows into the temizusha at Matsudo Shrine is regarded as particularly pure. The spigot is a stone dragon’s head, reflecting the tradition of depicting the god of water as a dragon or snake. Drinking the water, and even filling a few bottles to take away, is permitted.
Another feature of Matsudo Shrine is its position next to the Sakagawa River, which must be crossed by bridge in order to approach the shrine from the Mito Kaido. A row of cherry trees sits between the shrine and the river, affording fine cherry blossom viewing in season. More importantly in the summer months, however, is the river’s use for floating lanterns. This centuries-old tradition of sending wishes to ancestors by floating lanterns down a river is still practiced here every summer. Additionally, white “chochin” lanterns light up the river from near Matsudo Station to just past Matsudo Shrine from July 14 to Aug 10.
Matsudo is served by the JR Joban Line and the Shin-Keisei Line. If you’re travelling to Matsudo from Tokyo it is easiest to catch the Joban Line from Ueno or Nippori stations of the Yamanote Line or to connect from the Hibiya or Chiyoda subway lines at Kita-Senju station.© Japan Today