Sumida rolls out specialties ahead of Tokyo Sky Tree tourism surge
BY LOUIS TEMPLADO STAFF WRITER
The tower attracted nearly 40,000 visitors to the ward during the Golden Week holiday from April 29 to May 5, which is quite a feat when you consider it isn't even finished yet.
Come next spring, it will open to the public as the world's tallest tower, measuring a height of 634 meters.
But Sumida city hall isn't waiting for the finishing touches to cash in on the tourism bonanza.
Long in the shadow of famous Asakusa district across the river in Taito Ward, Sumida Ward is making moves to raise its profile and find things to fill the tower's souvenir shops once Tokyo Sky Tree finally opens.
"Sumida has always been known as a place where people make things, real things," explains Kazuhiro Kashimada, chief of the ward's economic affairs division.
"But unlike regional tourist spots, we don't have a definitive product, such as towels, for example. We have many workshops and factories producing very different products. We want to make that diversity the our selling point," Kashimada says.
Last year, the ward created its own seal of approval, Sumida Modern, which it bestowed on 28 items deemed the best in the ward.
Ranging from hand-chiseled calling card cases and copper water sprinklers to water-repelling swimsuits and giant rolls of sushi with the diameter of a CD-ROM, the items were chosen from nearly 150 local businesses.
At the end of April, the ward restarted the long selection process, with an eye to creating a lineup to show off in a 650-square-meter tourism showcase to be set up inside Tokyo Sky Tree.
The ward itself is the product of samurai minds turned to handicrafts, according to historian Mitsuhiro Seki.
After the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate, when the warriors were no longer needed, they moved from the precincts around Edo castle to land across the Sumida river. There they were urged to take up trades to support themselves.
During the Meiji Era (1868-1912), they produced uniforms, shoes and buckles, as well as mechanical parts for Japan's modernization. After World War II, small factories settled in, giving the area its vanishing working-class vibe.
Selling the Sumida Modern brand means product-placing some of that history.
The whopping, ward-approved Sumida Chanko Roll, for example, is themed around sumo because the sport's Tokyo's Ryogoku Kokugikan is located in the district. The sushi roll's 15 ingredients are all things that grow above the soil or have no hands to touch the ground (because that means defeat in sumo), or they have names that pun on the word "victory."
"I didn't really believe that design and presentation would help make money" until ward officials teamed up designers and food coordinators with his product, Shindo says. The attractive and amusing packaging draw the eye.
At a test run of the extra-large sushi roll at a ward-sponsored event, he sold out of all 300 pieces he'd brought in a single day.
Shindo's "bento" (box-lunch) factory employs 50 people and makes 1,600 lunches a day for offices in Tokyo's central business district. Although the firm produces just eight pieces of the Sumida Chanko Roll in a day, making it a culinary collector's item, plans are to ramp production way up.
The sky's the limit, says the businessman, once Tokyo Sky Tree reaches its pinnacle.