Tokyo’s hidden nature spots

Produced for Tokyo Metropolitan Government by BBC StoryWorks Commercial Productions

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These articles were first published as advertisement features on BBC.com and were created by BBC StoryWorks, GNL’s commercial content team, on behalf of Tokyo Metropolitan Government.

The popular image of Tokyo is a vibrant metropolis bustling with people, activities and excitement. While this is true, the city is also blessed with tranquil green spaces where you can immerse yourself in nature and see a completely different side of the capital.

“International visitors will be surprised by the diversity of Tokyo,” says Ruth Marie Jarman,  Jarman International KK, a Tokyo-based business and tourism consultancy. A walk in even what seems the most mundane suburb will have some pop-culture, nature, historic or store-front gem around every corner. A camera is a must because each fleeting view in every nook of Tokyo will demand more memory space than you can handle.”

Japan's nature spots are teeming with wildlife

Jarman highly recommends spending some time out in nature during a visit to the city. “Like an oasis in a desert, the carefully manicured gardens, pristine koi ponds, huge trees and relative stillness will replenish your energy tank for the remainder of your stay,” she says. “Thanks to the Japanese penchant for cleanliness, nature spots are likely to be garbage-free and safe any time of day. Visitors can also get a taste of the flora in Japan’s countryside via a stroll through one of these ‘hidden’ locations.”

Todoroki Valley—a green oasis in the heart of the city

Just 20 minutes by train from the bustling entertainment mecca of Shibuya, this wooded ravine is located in a peaceful neighbourhood near Todoroki Station. The 1km trail is flanked by a section of the Yazawa River and is suitable for all ages. Descending the steps into Todoroki Valley, visitors are greeted with lush greenery and birdsong, belying the fact that you are still in the middle of Tokyo. The area is particularly attractive with the coming of cherry blossoms in the spring or during the fall foliage season.

Todoroki Ravine Park

There is plenty to delight and surprise visitors, including bamboo groves, picturesque bridges, a small shrine and a colourful temple. There is a waterfall located just past the shrine, with water flowing from the mouths of the two dragons. A tea house near the waterfall, complete with a pond filled with koi, offers Japanese seasonal sweets and is an ideal spot for a break. Benches are dotted along the way, while the grassy Todoroki Valley Park at the end of the trail makes a family-friendly spot for picnics.

Communing with nature in Okutama

On the western side of Tokyo lies Okutama, which is perhaps best described as the region of Tokyo that doesn’t feel like Tokyo. While still part of the city, the Okutama area offers a wide array of opportunities for outdoor recreation, with mountains, gorges, hot springs and rivers. One of the most popular spots is Mt. Takao, which is 599 meters tall and features eight mountain trails for hikers and nature lovers. However, there are many other lesser-known hidden gems to explore in the region.

One of these is the Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens, located on Mt. Mito, which offers a variety of hiking courses and an opportunity to try the Japanese concept of forest bathing. The essence of forest bathing is to simply immerse yourself in nature, relieving your stress as you soak in the soothing sights and sounds which surround you. Mamoru Morikawa, director of the Citizens’ Forest Management Office, suggests the Waterfall Course for visitors who would like to try forest bathing themselves.

Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens

“This is the first course in Tokyo that has been designated as a ‘Forest Therapy Road’,” Morikawa says. “It’s suitable for all ages and takes about 20 minutes one way. It’s paved with wood chips, making it very easy to walk, and you can feel the life and power of the forest through the sights and smells of nature, see the Mito Waterfall and enjoy wonderful views. The best time to visit is in early May for the fresh greenery, and in early November for the autumn leaves.”

The Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens includes various facilities to help visitors make the most of their day, including the Forest Hall, with information and displays on the courses and the various creatures and plants living there, and a restaurant serving dishes made with fresh local produce. Due to the elevation of the forest, the temperature there can be five to 10 degrees cooler than in downtown Tokyo, and Morikawa recommends that visitors wear long sleeves and pants and appropriate shoes for hiking. While not part of the Citizens’ Forest, the attractive Hossawa Falls are located nearby. This is the only waterfall in Tokyo to be included in Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls list, so consider including this in your visit if time allows.

Hossawa Falls

A day trip to the Akigawa Valley

For an unforgettable day out in nature, visitors may wish to consider the Akigawa Valley. Makayla Sadamori, a tour guide and owner of The Spirit of Japan Tours, says this region is a true paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. A long-time resident of Tokyo, Sadamori pivoted to offering bespoke virtual tours for international clients during the pandemic. In the process, she discovered the untapped beauty in her own backyard and is looking forward to sharing it in person when visitors return to Japan.

“I keep coming back to the Akigawa Valley for the picturesque countryside there,” Sadamori says. “The hiking trails take you by fields and houses surrounded by flower gardens, and small shrines and temples. Time seems to flow at a slower pace, and the river meandering through the valley is crystal clear, with emerald-green pools that are so inviting. There are many spots on the river banks where you can stop for a picnic or have a barbecue.”

Her favourite route includes crossing over the Ishibunebashi Bridge and concludes at the Akigawa Keikoku Seoto-no-Yu Spa, an onsen (hot springs) where visitors can relax in the communal indoor or outdoor baths. Those who are interested in using the private bathing facilities are advised to make reservations in advance.

Akigawa Keikoku Seoto-no-Yu Spa

Akigawa means “autumn river”, and as the name suggests, the area is especially attractive in the fall foliage season. “I highly recommend visiting Kotokuji Temple, an old Zen temple at the foot of a hill. The huge ginko trees guarding its entrance like two ancient sentinels are a sight to see, especially in the fall when they turn golden,” says Sadamori. Another highlight of the area is the Otake Limestone Cave, which has been designated as a Natural Monument by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government. A number of providers offer kayaking, fishing and barbecuing facilities in the region, while Fukasawa-kei Shizenjin-mura has log cabins and tent sites for those wishing to stay overnight.

Akigawa Valley

When planning your trip, consider including one of the city’s hidden nature spots and discover a side of Tokyo that you never imagined was there. You can refresh your spirit, commune with nature and find fabulous photo opportunities—and still make it back in time for dinner at your accommodation downtown!

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