Cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo now and there’s many famous areas to see the pink and white flowers across the city. One fantastic area that’s not so famous, nor crowded as many others, is a stretch of beautiful Sakura along the Shakujii River in the northwest corner of Tokyo, in Nerima Ward, between Toshimaen Park and Johoku Park.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrSakura offer a quintessential example of Japanese aesthetics. Up close one finds a sense of balance or in’yo 陰陽 in their color and texture. Their black, gnarled, branches sprouting fresh, pink and white blossoms are heralding spring’s arrival across Tokyo now, as they do every year.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrThe flamboyant display they put on contrasts harmoniously with Japanese modesty, as does their riotous appearance with the sense of peacefulness they invoke.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrTheir falling petals dropping into flowing river water brings to mind thoughts of mono no aware (物の哀れ) or the bittersweet essence of the impermanence in life.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrAt the same time the festive nature of the trees exploding in vibrant color implore us to celebrate life and community through hanami or blossom viewing parties. This custom is said to date back some thirteen hundred years to the Nara period, and is alive and well in Tokyo today, in the twenty first century.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrMost of the sakura along the Shakujii River between Toshimaen and Johoku Parks are of the Somei Yoshino variety (染井吉野), which is the most popular type of sakura in Japan.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrThe river runs northerly, west to east for a little over 25 km, from Kodaria City until it joins the Sumida River where it passes near Oji Town. Along the way it cuts through numerous, quaint neighborhoods and towns, spawning place names like Shakujii Park and Shajujiikoen Station. A long gone wooden bridge over the river, where the historical Nakasendo Road crossed it at one time, gave the name Itabashi to a town and Itabashi Ward.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrThe 2.5 KM stretch between Toshimaen Park and Johoku Park offers a wonderful route for hanami or just strolling, crossing back and forth over the river.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrAbout a dozen food stalls or yatai are set up in Takainari Park next to the river about halfway between the two ends of the route. Here you can buy typical Japanese festival fare such as okonomiyaki, yakitori and grilled ears of sweet corn, along with an assortment of drinks and draft beer.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrJohoku Park at the east end of the route is next to the river, about 600 meters south of Kami-Itabashi Station, which is about 10 minutes from Ikebukuro on the Tobu Tojo Line. Hikawadai Station on the Yurakucho or Fukutoshin Lines, another possible starting or finishing point, is right on the river about half a kilometer west of Johoku Park. There are a couple of supermarkets perfect for stocking up on food and drink across a bridge from Hikawadai Station.
Photo by Duane Cavalier on FlickrToshimaen Amusement Park is at the western end of the route. It’s served by Toshimaen Station, which is about 15 minutes from Ikebukuro Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro/Toshima Line. The station is in front of the park about 200 or so meters walk from Shakuji River. The Oedo line runs through Toshimaen Station as well and a train from Shinjuku Station will get you there in about half an hour. The park has a rollercoaster and other rides, and boasts an open-air beer garden under the sakura as well. There’s also a recently built onsen facility for relaxing after or before your trek along Shakujii River.
The Shakujii River in Nerima is an excellent place to enjoy sakura and hanami without the crowds of some better known locations around the city. Hope you have a chance to visit it this sakura season!