Local Secret: Todoroki Valley
Urban Jungle, Skip the Concrete
Tokyo offers a plethora of beautiful parks, from traditional Japanese landscaped gardens to European-influenced rose gardens. However, if you are looking for a walk on the wild side, while still retaining the ability to get a great cappuccino, then Todoroki is the place to go.
Todoroki Keikoku (Todoroki Valley) is just a few stops away from Jiyugaoka on the Oimachi line, and is the only valley in the city. Despite its convenient location in the middle of Setagaya, it could not be farther removed from all of Tokyo’s ‘tamed’ parks. Lush, green and wild, the long walking trail and Yazawa river give the impression of a jungle. The vibrant plant life is home to many species of birds, and there are fish that live in the river and pools fed by a waterfall. In the summer it is an oasis of cool, and people of all ages take a moment to rest and dangle their feet in the stream. Keep an eye out for the bright red Golf Bridge, which indicates the beginning of the walking trail, and is one of the iconic images of the park.
The lack of construction and preservation of the natural beauty of Todoroki Valley is due to the presence of Todoroki Fudosan, a temple with a waterfall used for Shugendo ascetic training. The name of Todoroki actually comes from this waterfall, as it means ‘the sound of roaring water’. While near the falls, keep an eye out for Setsugetsuka, a small tea house. In addition to bowls of matcha and traditional cakes, the small and eclectic menu sometimes includes nostalgic foods, no longer commonly served.In addition there is a Japanese garden with an impressive bamboo forest, which has been lovingly integrated with the forest surrounding it. Give yourself plenty of time to wander, and wear shoes with a decent grip.
The valley is home to several 3rd to 5th century kofun (burial mounds), with occasional mysterious cuniculi burrowing into the dark. This is another reason for the lack of construction, and the mounds are mostly hidden by vegetation. If you wish to see one more clearly, seek out the nearby (but somewhat difficult to locate) Nogemachi Park.
( Extra tip: for one of the best cappuccinos in Tokyo, head to the multi-award winning Maruyama Coffee in nearby Ooyamadai. This new branch is a boon for coffee lovers, who no longer have to make a pilgrimage to Karuizawa to sip their exquisite blends.)
While Todoroki Valley is the main draw of this corner of Tokyo, the area offers a few more noteworthy spots. For those with an interest in esoteric Buddhism or in stone work from across the Asian continent, the little known Zenyoumitsuji is worth a visit. The stone statues are particularly noteworthy, as are the unusual shishi (guardian dogs). If budou (grapes) rather than Buddhism are your thing, then a visit to Kimura Budouen Houreien is a must. The Kimura family grows grapes, and throughout August visitors can pick and eat the fruit directly off the vine. From January to May it is also possible to pick strawberries, under the watchful eye of their free-range chickens. Lovers of Japanese art or Murasaki Shikibu should pass by the Gotoh Museum, a private museum with lovely grounds, with a collection that includes the oldest existing emaki (picture scroll) of the Tale of Genji.
If your explorations continue into the evening and are looking for somewhere interesting to have dinner, then Otto is a good choice. A long established Italian restaurant overlooking Todoroki Valley, it is a local favorite. Besides providing solid pizza and pasta options, in the evening they also have reasonably priced meat and fish course menus. The atmosphere is casual and quiet, so no need to change out of your walking shoes.