April 30, 2020

Tennozu Isle

Found near Shinagawa Station, Tokyo's artsy island of Tennozu Isle is one of my favorite getaways from the hustle and bustle of the megalopolis.

Tokyo's posh and artsy Tennozu Isle all lit up at night

It’s a cool spring evening and all of the families (who should be staying home as the governor of Tokyo has requested) have departed Tennozu Isle. Left alone with nothing but my own thoughts, I’m overcome by a profound sense of calming tranquility. Despite being smack-dab in the midst of the world’s busiest megalopolis, all is quiet and serene. I think to myself that this sensation must be what writer Ryan Holiday is attempting to convey in his insightful book Stillness is the Key. For a minute, I allow myself to relax and forget all the insanity that has been plaguing the world as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

For years now, I have been coming to Tokyo’s Tennozu Isle whenever I needed a reprieve from the worries of the day. Though I cannot exactly put a finger on what it is, there’s just something about this place that puts my mind at ease. Perhaps it’s the waterfront property? Perhaps it’s the artsy vibe? Who knows! Regardless, Tennozu Isle has long been my staunch bastion of serenity in the middle of the chaos that is modern life in Tokyo. While I don’t frequent the haven nearly enough, somehow I always find myself returning to Tennozu Isle and especially so when in desperate need of quiet, alone moments.

Haven’t heard of Tennozu Isle before? Well, know that this 200,000 square meter area was originally developed as a bayside canon battery during the twilight years of Japan’s Edo period (1603–1868). The region was later redeveloped in 1985 and fully outfitted with a series of leisurely interconnecting boardwalks, piers, and parks. What’s more, there’s also a number of unique shops, galleries, and cafes on Tennozu Isle for your browsing enjoyment. Combined, these attractions have given rise to a popular date venue for many young Japanese.

While Tennozu Isle is, and always will be, a spot for me to pause and reflect, know that this slice of Tokyo also has plenty of allures as a tourism destination. Conveniently situated between Shinagawa and Odaiba, Tennozu Isle is a fantastic hour-long add on when visiting either location. If you’re looking for something to do on an otherwise uneventful Sunday, I cannot more highly suggest that you swing by Tennozu Isle.

Getting to Tennozu Isle

Tokyo’s convenient and regularly-used JR Yamanote Line

Tennozu Isle can be reached in a number of ways. The easiest means of access is through the manmade island’s dedicated train station which is serviced by the JR Rinkai Line and the Tokyo Monorail (the one that goes to Haneda Airport). Alternatively, you can also just walk from Shinagawa station. The trek will take you along some of Tokyo’s charming canals and is an excellent way to spend a lazy afternoon. All in all, the hoofing it option should take approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and makes for a great stroll.

Note that if you’re coming by train, you’ll want to refer to a service like Hyperdia to calculate the best train connections. Just plug in Tennozu Isle station and the nearest station to you. With just those two data points, the system will figure out how to get from point A to point B. Honestly, it’s a real lifesaver when you’re trying to navigate Tokyo’s complex train infrastructure!

What to See on Tennozu Isle

The boardwalk of Tokyo’s posh and artsy Tennozu Isle

While Tennozu Isle’s main allure is the man-made island itself, a host of tempting little shops, cafes, and restaurants await. In the interest of brevity, I am going to opt for a “choose your own adventure” style of list. While I could list my own favorites, you readers are a very diverse crowd with a wide variety of interests…

  • T. Y. Harbor
    This facility serves as Tennozu Isle’s iconic brewery. The restaurant pours several exceptional craft beers and is a must visit for anyone going to Tennozu Isle. Located at the edge of the island bordering the canal, T. Y. Harbor is the quintessential definition of an atmospheric eatery. In recent years, the restaurant also opened its own dedicated bakery which cooks up some tempting and savory breads.
  • Bond Street
    This is the central boulevard that passes through Tennozu Isle. Along either side of the street, you’ll find a number of elegant and culturally sophisticated shops and cafes to check out. For example, Slow House is a two-story shop that features a wide range of clothing, food, and other such products that have been fashioned with the environment in mind. Similarly, many of the cafes here also practice an organic mindset.
  • Works of Art
    When Tennozu Isle was completely refashioned in the late 1900’s into its current incarnation, the developers were adamant about recreating the island with art at its heart. To this day, you’ll discover unique outdoor architecture, murals, and other such publicly displayed works throughout the island. Additionally, within the atrium of the Tennozu Central Tower Building you’ll also find a space dedicated to the imaginative creations of Tokyo’s young budding artists.
  • Terrada Art Complex
    Speaking of art, no mention of Tennozu Isle would be complete without paying proper lip service to this one! Collectively called the Terrada Art Complex, this facility is actually one massive warehouse space. That said, Terrada Art Complex now boasts its own set of diverse galleries that guarantees there is always something of interest on display.
  • Parks & Piers
    Lastly, know that Tennozu Isle has a number of charming water-side parks and piers to enjoy. Over the years, I’ve spent a good number of hours simply daydreaming in these spaces while gazing out at the canal. Of all of the nooks to explore, my favorite is the set over oversized wooden benches found near the aforementioned T. Y. Harbor.

If you want some more inspiration, check out this page on Tennozu Isle’s official site. There, you’ll find a couple of thematic curations that will help visitors better plan how to enjoy Tennozu Isle.

Attractions Near Tennozu Isle

Tokyo’s Sengaku-ji temple complex where the the acclaimed classic Chushingura drama reached its climax

As noted in the prelude, Tennozu Isle is conveniently located between Haneda airport, Odaiba, and Shinagawa. As such, it makes for an easy detour when visiting any of these locations. For example, you could spend the day on Odaiba checking out the island’s famous Gundam statue then hit up Tennozu Isle at night for dinner and drinks at T.Y. Harbor. Alternatively, you could also plan a visit to Tennozu Isle as a final destination before heading off to Haneda for your flight home.

In addition to these suggestions, one other recommendation I have is to hit up the relatively nearby Sengaku-ji. This rather unknown temple played a critical role in the acclaimed classic Chushingura. A riveting tale of samurai loyalty, this story is extremely well known in Japan. While a full exposé of the whole narrative is far beyond the scope of this piece, know that Chushingura tells the tale of forty-seven dutiful samurai who sought revenge for their ill-fated lord. To this day, Sengaku-ji still harbors their graves.