Rural idyll in the middle of the big city
Just consider the large number of rivers that should find their way into the sea by flowing through the megalopolis of Tōkyō! Isn’t it amazing that there are only such few watercourses one actually gets to see? There reasons for it are manyfold. It is not only due to the fact that in the 1960s the city had begun to built elevated streets and highways (which are still intact and part of its gigantic traffic system) – wherever space for such constructions could be found – preferably by covering the open waterways of rivers. But also and primarily due to the fact that, from very early years, the rivers and streams that ran through the whole city were regarded as something that needed to be tamed. During the first half of the 20th century (mostly) rippling rivers were forced into concrete channels – and soon after World War II some of those rivers had to give way for streets (i.e. streets were built on top of the river bed). The Kitazawa River (北沢川 / きたざわがわ) in the Setagaya district (世田谷区 / せたがやく) is a fine example of this.
Until the 1920s, the water of the Kitazawa River had been used for agricultural purposes. Also its fish population was known to be extremely abundant (crucian carp and loach frolicked here). However, the more the residential areas grew around it, the more its water became contaminated. Finally, in the 1940s, the river was completely canalised and it was begun to cover the river bed with a roadway.
In the meantime, however, people have remembered the charm of a natural watercourse and, from 1995, the first steps were taken to create the almost 2.5 km long “Kitazawa River Green Way”, by using part of the water that is flowing “underground” for the creation of a creek that is meandering through the concrete jungle – a green oasis in the middle of the city.
The water that flows peacefully here is not only a pretty sight, but also of particular purity. According to an agreement with Tōkyō’s government, the water quality must not deteriorate until it is discharged into the Megurogawa (目黒川 / めぐろがわ). In order to ensure this, the water has to undergo another cleaning process before it is allowed to flow into the green area. It finally reaches the Megurogawa near “Ikejiri Ōhashi” (池尻大橋 / いけじりおおはし).
No wonder, amazingly large carp, but also smaller fish and crabs, are romping around in these waterways and making them a welcome playground and adventure area for children (and adults just the same).
We start our walk at the Enjō-in (円乗院 / えんじょういん), about 500 meters south of Setagaya-Daita station (世田谷代田駅 / せたがやだいたえき) of the Odakyū Line (小田急 / おだきゅうせん).
The small, but all the more well-kept temple of the Shingon sect, which was founded in 1625, forms a photogenic introduction to our small hike. Enjoy the gardens, but also pay attention to the “tree ruin” in the courtyard of the temple – a reminder from the days of the air raids of World War II.
After approx. 700 meters we turn left behind the primary school of Daizawa 区立代沢小学校 / くりつだいざわしょうがっこう) („left“ means: heading north) for a short detour of about 230 meters and visit another gem: The rather splendid Buddhist temple Shingan-ji (森巖寺 / しんがんじ).
This temple belongs to the Jōdo sect of Japanese Buddhism and was founded in the early Edo period as a burial place for Hideyasu Yūki (結城秀康 / ゆうきひでやす) (1574-1607). This Mr. Yūki was not just anyone. He was born as the second son of the first Tokugawa-Shōgun, Ieyasu Tokugawa (徳川家康 / とくがわいえやす). And as a member of the family of Tokugawa who ruled as the country for more than 250 years, his wish was to be buried near the center of power, although he is said to have had a rather tense relationship with his biological father throughout his life.
It is therefore not surprising that the Tokugawa family emblem (usually called a “tripple hollyhock”, which is in fact three leaves of a plant that is commonly known as „wild ginger“) can be found everywhere.
The gigantic gingko tree, which stands in the middle of the temple area, dates from the time of the temple’s foundation – some believe that this tree might be even 200 years older.
The oldest surviving building is the Awashimadō (淡島堂 / あわしまどう), built in 1836.
Right next to the Awashimadō (on its left side) you will find an octagonal glass shrine dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten.
And don’t miss to take a look inside the building left of the glass shrine, the Fudōdō (不動堂 / ふどうどう) / Enmadō (閻魔堂 / えんまどう).
As the double name of the building suggests, it is home to Fudō-myōō (不動明王 / ふどうみょうおう), the grim-looking fire god (unfortunately, the statue was veiled during my visit) and Enma (閻魔 / えんま), the just as fierce-looking judge of the dead and ruler of hell. Right next to this statue you’ll find a comparatively small, but no less scary statue of the “Sōzukaba” (葬頭河婆 / そうずかば), the old woman that “rips the clothes off those entering the Orcus” (in the picture above it’s the “charming old lady” on the left, wearing some blue attire).
And right next to it, the Kitazawa Hachiman Jinja (北澤八幡神社 / きたざわはちまんじんじゃ) is also worth a tiny detour.
The powerful deity Hachiman (八幡 / はちまん) worshiped here has the task of protecting the northern part of Setagaya. The origins of the shrine are not for certain, but it is believed that its founding by the lords of Setagaya dates back to the second half of the 15th century. After it had been destroyed, the shrine was rebuilt in 1852.
A few years ago, its elevated location on a small, wooded plateau ensured a spectacular view of Mt. Fuji (富士山 / ふじさん) – as can be learned from a sign-board. Unfortunately, urban growth has meanwhile “blocked” this view.
On the first weekend in September, one of the largest festivals in the Shimokitazawa district (下北沢 / しもきたざわ) takes place here.
From the Kitazawa Hajiman Jinja it takes abou 250 meters in southern direction to come back to the Kitazawagawa Green Way. From there it is still about 1.7 kilometers to its eastern end at the above-mentioned Ikejiri Ōhashi, where you will find another highlight of city planning:
Meguro Sky Garden (目黒天空庭園)
– A traffic junction of the different kind
How to get there:
If you want to take a stroll along the Kitazawagawa Green Way from the west (as described above), take the Odakyū line (小田急線 / おだきゅうせん) to Setagaya-Daita station (世田谷代田駅 / せたがやだいたえき); leave the station via its south exit and head south for about 500 meters.
For those who want to start the walk in western direction, the north exit of Ikejiri-Ŏhashi station (池尻大橋駅 / いけじりおおはしえき) of the Den’entoshi Line (田園都市線 / でんえんとしせん) is probably the best starting point.
The public facility is, of course, “open” around the clock.