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.