Mukogawa : A Spot For All !
The Muko river in Hyogo prefecture finds its source all the way up in Himeji city. It falls from a mountain named Mt Shirakami in the Tamba highland range and travels all the way into Osaka bay and splits the cities of Itami and Takarazuka, doing the same to Nishinomiya and Amagasaki, along the way.
The river totals around 66 kilometres in length but most of the action is limited to a short 15 kilometre section of it.
Following the flow of water from Mt Shirakawa, the well used, built-up section of the river begins around the Takarazuka point, not far from the Takarazuka Grand Theatre. It is here that the cycle path begins and heads around 12 kilometres south toward Hanshin Mukogawa station.
Running parallel to the cycle path is a wide, sandy walking and running path that continues all the way to Osaka Bay, about 15 kilometres toward the sea.
On the weekends especially, like-minded runners, walkers and cyclists take to the stretch in search of their well-needed hit of endorphins.
More adventurous cyclists use the path to lead them to steep inclines and terrifying downhills in and amongst the hills of Mt Rokko. Runners, too, can come off the river at a small town called Nigawa, and begin an off-road run in the trails of Mt Kabuto.
While Mukogawa offers superb stretches of running and cycling routes, it isn't, of course, the only thing that merits the river a write-up.
Similarly to other inner-city rivers across Japan, Mukogawa acts as a wonderful community centre for those living in close proximity.
Sunday baseball, soccer and rugby teams descend on the river weekly, as do local school and University sports clubs.
And each morning, crowds of retirees amble along to their designated spot to go through their radio calisthenics routine.
Those who aren't affiliated to any particular group or event are the most noticeable, though. Locals and visitors utilise the space for whatever the activity may be; a stroll with their dog, a couple of drinks with a friend or perhaps a kick around of a football.
Mukogawa through the seasons
At the start of spring and just after the cold, cold winter, the more eager folk take to the riverside and fold out their mats in search of the sunniest spots for the first picnic of the year. The leaves on the countless trees change colour, and the infamous cormorants return from their winter migration.
As spring draws to a close and summer starts to heat up, families perch along the river bank and watch as their children strip down to their shorts, and cool down in the shallow waters. BBQs are allowed along most of the river, and lucky locals take advantage of this to no end. In the middle of the scorching Japanese summer, there are enough trees to offer you a shady spot to get some respite from the incessant humidity.
If you're lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the evasive river rat paddling by the river bank.
Summer's end reels in the start of autumn and the most noticeable change is the colour of the leaves. As it starts to get a little cooler post-summer, runners and cyclists will start to reappear in numbers on the wide, sandy running path. Leaves then begin to drop and decorate the sandy running path in a collage of colours.
Autumn beckons winter and the icy wind coming down from Mt Rokko momentarily steals the sensation from your fingers. As the sun comes out, though, the open space allows some warmth from the sun to reach your pores. Kites sail the skies and ignore the cold.
The Nishinomiya end of the river doesn't see much snow, but head North toward the mountains and just past Nigawa, and snow falls more frequently.