One of the things I love about walking in the Japanese countryside is the huge variety of fruit trees and plants you find growing around just about every human settlement. Here are a few trees I saw in my walk along the Tamagawa river in Tokyo’s western Ome city, Sawai district. This area is just about as rural as you can get in Tokyo and just a little over an hour from the skyscrapers in Shinjuku on the Chuo and Ome lines. Before the industrial revolution, in the Edo era (1600-1868), Japan was a completely self sufficient nation where the population was absolutely maxed out to a sustainable figure of about 30 million. That meant every usable scrap of nutrition and land was put to use in one way or another. One common method for farmers and nobles alike was to have as many fruit trees crammed into their gardens as possible. They would plant fruit trees on river banks and hill sides that were to steep for anything else. To this day you still find that old roads and gardens are lined with fruit trees. On one short walk along the river I noticed over 12 species of fruits and nuts, I took photos of some of them. I also passed an “honesty box”, a small stall set up where locals put out the fruits of their gardens for sale, totally unmanned. You take what you need and put the money in the box on the table. That a system like this works in this day and age never ceases to amaze me. Unfortunately this one was pretty much sold out, but they had peppers, sudachi (which I have never seen growing in Tokyo before) and chestnuts. Amazing! As I reached the bridge leading up to Sawai station I looked up to see the nice little restaurant. Some lucky people had gotten the best seats in the house!
To get to Sawai just hop on the Chuo line and go as far as Ome station, from there you get on the smaller Ome line (just walk across the platform) and then it’s just a few stops more. This place will get pretty crowded in November, as people come out to see the leaves turning red all over the mountain sides. Magical.
It’s been a long summer and I have hardly left Tokyo at all, so please forgive me for keeping up the posts on the wonderfully green nature around Tama River, in western Tokyo’s Ome City, Sawai district. The river is very typically Japanese, getting wider and wider as it goes, with a varied and interesting path. At some spots the river is deadly, but just a stone throw away is a placid spot where kids can swim and play. I can’t imagine catching anything here but the river is popular with both fly fishers and anglers. I bet the mountains are full of boar and deer as well. It must be an interesting place to hunt in!
It’s fantastic to get out of the city sometimes. The train ticket from Shinkuku to Sawai Station using only JR trains is only 890 yen and takes about 75 minutes one way.
I keep going back to the photos I took a couple of weeks ago in Tokyo’s western parts, in Ome City’s Sawai district which is about as rural as you can get in Tokyo. Japan is blessed with some of the most fertile soils in the world, and plenty of rain and the occasional layer of volcanic ash means that stuff grows really well here. The forests are thick and massively green and very unlike the European forests that I am used to. I know that this part of Japan is in the temperate zone but it almost feels and looks like a rainforest in parts, at least where the undergrowth is so thick that straying from the track is just not an option. The many earthquakes, the water and the trees together work to crack the mountains open and rock falls are common. Here and there new rivers and small waterfalls spring forth. I can only imagine the hardships of the first people to come here and break ground for farms and forestry with only simple hand tools.
If you have a free weekend and want to get out of the concrete jungle into the lush green jungle of western Tokyo, Sawai station is just a little over an hour and a simple change of trains away! More photos to come!
More photos from my day trip to rural Tokyo, beyond Ome City! The walk from the station is quick and easy (the return journey a little harder though) and the river is gorgeous with plenty of people fishing, kayaking or just swimming in some of the calmer pockets of the water. The Tama River is quite famous, as it is one of the major rivers of Tokyo. If you were to brave the river and ride it all the way you would eventually reach the border between Tokyo and Kawasaki City before exiting in the Pacific Ocean. The river used to be pretty wild but civil engineering, grand earthworks and damns have tamed it somewhat. The last time there was major flooding was in 1974, but until then the river was so unpredictable it would cut villages or towns in two as it suddenly changed course (for example in 1590 when several villages were permanently cut in half, the most famous being Todoroki, half of which is now part of Kanagawa Prefecture and the other half is now part of Tokyo).
Up here in Sawai the river is still relatively narrow and shallow though. There are plenty of bridges crossing the river in the area, but the most popular is the hanging bridge just underneath Kanzan Temple (寒山寺), a small building with a large bronze bell underneath which is very popular with tourists who all take the chance to ring it, including me. There is something deeply satisfying to ringing such a large bell! The little temple commands a great view and inside there is a very interesting “memento mori” painting in the ceiling. More photos and more nature to come!