A Secret Slice of Nature in Tokyo

Looking out over the Tokyo metropolis, riding one of its subways or trains, or walking down a busy street, it’s hard to believe that there could be anything natural left in all of the massive sprawl of concrete one sees. And yet, located in the Setagaya Ward of Tokyo, is a hidden slice of (mostly) untamed nature: Todaroki Valley Park. Brett and I visited the park last year and it was high on our list of places we wanted to visit again this year.

The Todaroki Valley, a deep ravine, is the only one of its kind in Tokyo, carved out over hundreds of thousands of years by the Yazawa River. While the river is hemmed in by stone walls these days to prevent erosion, it still can be heard running over the rocks that line the bottom and sides, and visitors can stroll an almost one-kilometer path that sits next to the river as it weaves through the park. It’s still wild enough that visitors are warned not to visit during heavy rain as the river can flood quickly and overrun the walls. Benches have been placed along the way for visitors to sit and relax, read, or eat while enjoying the natural beauty of the park.

The park is home to some small shrines as well the Setsugetsuka tea house, serving tea and traditional sweets to visitors (it was closed when we visited last week), and a small walled Japanese garden located on the hillside near the end of the path. At the far end of the park is the Todaroki Fudō shrine, accessed by a long, steep flight of stairs. This tidy little shrine boasts an elevated platform for both cherry blossom and autumn leaf viewing, and has a shop offering amulets and other religious items for visitors. We were too early this year for the cherry blossoms, but some plum trees around the shrine were in bloom, and it was easy to imagine the hillside next to the shrine covered in blossoms or fall colors.

No matter the season, Todaroki Park is rarely crowded, always quiet and peaceful, and a unique place to escape the hustle and bustle of busy Tokyo and enjoy the natural world without ever having to leave the city.

12 thoughts on “A Secret Slice of Nature in Tokyo

      1. My three favorite Tokyo places (in no order) are Todaroki Valley Parks, the Yanaka neighborhood, and Asakusa/Senso-ji temple. While Todaroki Park is quiet, peaceful, and natural, Asakusa is the opposite – big, lively, crowded and full of tourists, but still beautiful and fascinating. Yanaka survived the Great Earthquake of 1923 and avoided being bombed in WWII, so it retains the feel of “old Tokyo, with many vintage buildings and sites. There’s so much to explore there. Outside of Tokyo I love Kamakura – it’s just a little over an hour away. We’re going to do a free walking tour there next month.

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    1. I am so happy that we learned about this park – it is a wonderful getaway right in the city (and only a short train trip away from where we’re staying). It really is beautiful – we enjoyed it just as much in the winter and we did last spring.

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    1. This place is pretty special – it’s not very crowded either. There were actually more people there last week then we encountered last spring. There are houses perched on the top of the ravine’s hillsides – what a view they have!

      Yes, the purification basins are used – they’re only for hand and mouth purification. Using the dipper you pour water first into your left hand, then pour into your right hand (outside of the basin). Then you pour water back into your left and drink it, but don’t swallow – swish the water in your mouth and spit it out on the ground/rocks under the basin. Then return the dipper for the next person.

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  1. Absolutely gorgeous! I love finding green spaces in the middle of cities. I think they feed the soul…of course this park feeds the soul with nature AND a temple!

    Thanks for explaining how the purification works. I was wondering.

    LOVE all the photos!

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    1. This place is really special and has become a favorite. I love visiting temples so the park ticks off a lot of boxes for me.

      I shudder to think I actually drank from the dipper back when I first came – I don’t remember anyone showing us how to do the purification ritual. They must have thought we were mad (and extremely disrespectful).

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