Apparitions of Arakawa

The story “The Arakawa Meat Wagon” by Ross Baxter takes place in the ward of Arakawa, located in the heart of Shitamachi – the oldest part of Tokyo and the location of the feudal capital of Edo. Here, memories and echoes of the capital city’s past can still be found, hinting at the glories and mysteries it one held.

As “The Phantom Games” continues its promotional run, your humble editors thought it would be a good idea to take a summer stroll around Arakawa and create the photo essay you see here. Although these locations do not appear in the story, we feel they add to the general atmosphere and ambience to be found in “The Arakawa Meat Wagon.”


Perhaps the most famous historical site in Arakawa is Yoshiwara, the notorious Red Light district of the Edo Period (400 years ago). The “Yoshiwara” place name was taken off official street maps after WWII, but traces still linger today, such as this dodgy hostess club “Mr. Dandy” which stands where the Houses of the Oirasan stood, and where ladies of the night sat plucking their shamisens to lure masked, kimono-clad revelers to their chambers.

The tree below is a literal  Weeping Willow. The Mikaeri Yanagi was a willow tree placed at the outer gates of Yoshiwara. It received its name, ‘The Looking-Back Willow’, from the clients who paused on their journeys home and looked back at Yoshiwara one last time … looked back at the girls and the rest-houses with names such as the Garden of Unmoving Brightness …and sighed with regret; for they knew they may not live to see Yoshiwara again.

Before they entered, many of the revelers would pay their respects to the shrine of Susanoo the Storm God, one of the major deities in Japanese Mythology. The shrine still stands on the same grounds today and is also host to two komainu stone guardians, and a giant gingko tree covered with ema – votive tablets written and placed there by visitors to the shrine.

The Last Tramline in Tokyo

The Toden Arakawa line, affectionately known as the Ching-Ching Densha because of the sound of its bell, is the last surviving tram service in Tokyo and a charming addition to Shitamachi’s downtown retro atmosphere. It was built in 1913 and is still going strong, although the once-extensive streetcar network has been closed down. It runs from Minowabashi to Waseda station in the West, and a one-way journey from terminus to terminus takes 50 minutes.

The Streets of Arakawa

BELOW: A piece of optical illusion artwork outside the main library of Arakawa ward.

Wakamiya Hachiman Shrine; since ancient times, women living in the area have come here to pray for their various illnesses to be healed.

Some of the local alleyways and street corners of Arakawa, that display the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi.

Come and visit “Joyful Minowa”, Arakawa’s historic and picturesque shopping mall! It’s still open for business during the pandemic … well, almost!

Some of the local murals celebrate the Ching-Ching Densha and the local festivals …

Arakawa meets with the Sumida river, the artery of the ancient Edo capital.

You can read an exclusive interview with author Ross Baxter here …

You can find his story “The Arakawa Meat Wagon” here!


About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
This entry was posted in Japan, Literature, Modernism, Mythology, Short Stories. Bookmark the permalink.

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