There is no better time than spring to spend the day outside. Especially these days, when cherry trees are in full bloom, we are all drawn towards green and quiet spots, we all want to witness nature's awakening and feel the inevitable melancholy caused by the view of fragile flowers giving in to the breeze.
But it is not all about romanticism. Flowers in all colors bloom everywhere, the new leaves are green and lush, birds sing and people laugh. So yes, these days are to be enjoyed fully.
Now, although the city of Tokyo offers several parks, many other green spots can be found all around the city that are quieter, and at times offer more than just a mere walk through the trees. One such park is Higashitakane Forest Park, located on the Kanagawa side of the Tama River, not far away from Futako-Tamagawa. As the name suggests, Higashitakane is not just a park, but also a forest. It covers a rather large area, and features several species of tall, old trees that make this place very unique.
The added value of the park is that it includes a forest walk which can serve as an educational trail. Walking though the wooded path, people, and children in particular, can both admire nature and learn a lot about the wildlife that made this park home.
The trail goes through bamboos, oaks, ferns, pines, mini rice fields, it follows a tiny and curvy water trail that is home to fish and ducks. All along this trail, small signs and boards contain explanations of what's in that spot and other useful information to help understand a bit more about the nature around us. Of course, cherry trees are present, too, and attract a lot of hanami lovers who make sure to find a spot under one of them. Those who arrive too late have to settle with a square of grass on the wide lawn.
In the center of the park there is also a small pond, with a gazebo in the middle that's reachable via a tricky wood and stone bridge. But it offers a nice shelter from the heat and direct sunlight, in addition to a nice view over the park.
A thing that surprised me a lot when I moved to Japan and went for my first hanami was that people have picnics in cemeteries. After all, there is space, there is grass, and there are beautiful cherry trees (a famous spot is Yanaka cemetery). When I walked from the station to Higashitakane park I also had to go through a huge cemetery. And in that occasion I could see many groups sitting between tombstones and cherry blossom, all partying and laughing and having a good time.
Also, because the walk is uphill, at one point the view of whole Tokyo appears, and it is impressive. From that place beyond the Tama river, one can see Tokyo Skytree in Asakusa! That's one of the places where we can really appreciate (and maybe be overwhelmed by) the size of this mega city.
The Higashitakane forest park can be reached easily from Kuji or Tsudayama stations on the JR Nambu line. Access and other info can be found at the park website.