Tokyo Greenways: The Forgotten Paths Amidst a Concrete Jungle

Tokyo Greenways: The Forgotten Paths Amidst a Concrete Jungle

Simon Wright

It’s hard to imagine that the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo was once covered by vegetation, streams and rivers. But their remnants remain across Tokyo right under your feet. Numerous walking paths, known as greenways, now run along the forgotten rivers and streams that once crisscrossed the city from Edo times before the concrete grew over them and they largely disappeared. These scenic paths stretch across Tokyo with lush and varied vegetation, for the most part, on either side while passing a range of interesting sites. Some notable paths among many are the Chidorigafuchi, Kenzawa, Jiyugaoka, Tachiaigawa, and the Karasuyamagawa Green Roads.

The Karasuyamagawa Green Road winds around Setagaya into Meguro. Any starting point on the path is as good as another but the Gotokuji Temple is an interesting place to begin, a short walk from Gotokuji Station on the Odakyu line, and lies about 100 metres from the path. It is a must see especially if you are a cat lover. During the Edo period the feudal lord Li Naotaka and his servants were taking a walk when he apparently saw a cat making a waving gesture to come into the temple. He followed the cat and soon after entering the temple a thunderstorm began. Over tea in the temple during the thunderstorm, the priest then received his own stroke of luck. The lord expressed his gratitude by granting him rice crops and land, which allowed the temple to flourish. It subsequently became the burial ground for Li Naotaka’s prestigious family who served in the Tokugawa Shogunate. Naotaka’s good luck story became a legend over time that finally took the form of the iconic maneki-neko, depicted as a waving cat and a household object that has become ubiquitous around Japan as a good luck charm.The temple now boasts a number of interesting features including a pagoda and a unique section where the goddess of mercy, Kannon, is surrounded by hundreds of different sized maneki-neko’s.

Close by the temple and also only a short distance from the path is the ancient Setagaya Castle Ruins dating from 1366 to it’s eventual abandonment in 1590. Now all that remains are the fragments of the foundation and a well maintained path through them.

After taking in these culture sites rejoining the path is easy and it proceeds to wind through Setagaya offering a peaceful respite from the traffic with the usual view of houses and buildings replaced by trees and flowers on either side. Joggers and walkers take advantage of the green escape, and families and couples stroll at a leisurely pace and can be seen resting on the numerous benches beside the path. Before long, the path crosses the Sangenjaya neighbourhood. A trendy little hub filled with a number of cafes, restaurants and bars and provides an ideal spot for a bite to eat or a drink. The path then continues towards the Meguro River and a small stream with vegetation, ornaments, and the occasional section filled with different colored fish runs alongside the path and the sound of running water accentuates the natural ambience. Somehow the beeps and rumbling of traffic only a street away fall silent.

Meguro River soon appears and the large cherry blossom tree branches arch over either side and are particularly beautiful in spring. Nearby there are also a number of trendy restaurants and bars - another nice spot to pursue options for lunch or dinner and take a rest. The path continues alongside Meguro River until finally reaching Tokyo Bay.

The numerous greenways are ideal for a relaxed stroll with friends and then taking in the cultural sites and bars and restaurants along the way. Once the excitement of the city buzz of Tokyo begins to wane and a craving for nature begins, the greenways offer an alternative respite and a nice addition to usual go-to parks around the city. These long winding paths traverse across some of the most interesting parts of Tokyo. A short stroll can easily turn into a long walk as there always seems to be a new park, temple, shrine, restaurant, bar or any one of the multitude of hidden gems to be discovered along the way.