Cities > Tokyo > 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Tokyo, but You Should...
3) Catch the Last Tram
The Toden Arakawa Tram, Joyful Minowa, Asukayama Park & More
Starting in the late 1800s — during the Meiji era (明治時代) — extensive tram lines were constructed across Tokyo. At its peak, there were dozens of tram routes crisscrossing the city. Unfortunately, as was often the case around the world, the system was dismantled almost entirely starting in the late 1960s. However, residents in the north of Tokyo fought back, and in 1974, the remains of two lines were fused together as a single route and rebranded the Toden Arakawa Line (都電荒川線).
Although a small spur-line portion of a second tram — the once lengthy Tokyu Setagaya Line (東急世田谷線) — also remains in operation, Arakawa is the last tram from the original Toden system to survive to this day. With 30 stations along its route, Arakawa snakes across a significant percentage of an older portion of north Tokyo and has stops near more than a dozen metro or train stations. It provides vital connectivity to this portion of the city.
As far as the operator of the Arakawa Line, Toei Transportation (東京都交通局) — which also runs the Toei Metro (都営地下鉄) — is concerned, the Arakawa Line is very much a tourist attraction. In 2017, the company held a survey to choose a nickname for the line to attract more attention and the public chose Tokyo Sakura Tram (東京さくらトラム). Sakura (さくら) — Cherry Blossom in English — was favored over other options like Retro and Rose. Since that time, Toei has advertised the Tokyo Sakura Tram on posters in some of their metro stations, as well.
At the time that travelgasm.com first wrote this piece, though; the Tokyo Sakura Tram barely cracked the top 200 attractions on the big tourist advisory sites and when we used it on multiple occasions, the vast majority of riders were day-to-day commuters with only the occasional Japanese camera-clad tourist. It feels much more like the kind of thing a Japanese dad would do with his eight-year-old, train-obsessed son to give mom a break on a Saturday afternoon than a major Tokyo tourist attraction. Accordingly, we consider it to be a solid addition to our 7 Things Tourists Don't Do in Tokyo, but You Should.
When we enjoyed the Sakura Tram in the autumn, the roses were in bloom and the prettiest portion of the route was between Minowabashi (三ノ輪橋) and Machiya-ekimae (町屋駅前), but if you have the privilege of riding it during its namesake Sakura season in the spring, the highlight of the ride is its partial loop around Asukayama Park (飛鳥山公園). Asukayama Park is locally famous for its cherry blossoms, but it doesn't receive as much attention from tourists as other cherry blossom watching spots (花見).
The Tokyo Sakura Tram runs every few minutes between 6 AM and roughly 11 PM with shorter waits during peak commute times and longer waits off-peak but be sure to refer to the official schedule to avoid any unwelcome surprises. Full details are available on the official site, but a day pass for the Toei Metro — or a combined Tokyo Metro-Toei Metro day pass — allows unlimited travel on the tram at no extra cost, a day pass for the tram alone is available for purchase for ¥400 on the tram itself, and the tram is compatible with a PASMO, SUICA, or other tap card, as well. Note that you also can buy a single ticket, but you do need exact change, and it is much more convenient for everyone if you just use a card.
To eat nearby, there are hundreds of restaurants near the 30 stations along the route, so you always can signal for a stop and hop off the tram if something looks tasty, but a convenient place to eat is the cutely named Joyful Minowa (ジョイフル三の輪) covered shopping street or shotengai (商店街). Joyful Minowa runs parallel to the tram line for several blocks between Minowabashi and Arakawa-Itchumae (荒川一中前), and there are a solid number of inexpensive restaurants and shops with street food including assorted meats and veggies on a stick (串焼き), bento boxes (弁当), and more; all at very local prices.
Because there are so many metro and train stations near stops for the Tokyo Sakura Tram, there are any number of interchanges you could use to make it to the tram line, but we've mapped out the full route between Minowabashi and Waseda (早稲田) below. We also mapped out the slightly shorter route we preferred. Our path includes the shortest walk from the Minowa (三ノ輪駅) metro station to the Minowabashi tram stop, the location of Joyful Minowa, and the ride to Kishibojimmae (鬼子母神前) where we stopped and transferred to the practically connected Zoshigaya (雑司が谷駅) metro station. We've also noted a couple of potential alternate arrival or departure points for shorter routes that highlight the cherry blossoms and roses in the spring and autumn, respectively.
How to Get Here: To follow our route, take the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line (Silver) to Minowa Station (H19). Take Exit 2, turn left, and follow our suggested walk to the Minowbashi (SA01) Tram Stop. Take the tram to Kishibojimmae (SA27). Disembark and enter via Exit 1 of Zoshigaya Metro Station (F10). Zoshigaya is on the Tokyo Metro Fukutoshin Line (Brown). Alternate options are mapped below, as well.
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