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!
It is easy to forget that all of Tokyo is not yet claimed by concrete and cars. There are still some very rural areas in the western parts of the metropolis for example. One of greenest areas in Tokyo is Ome City, which is only an hour from central Tokyo on the JR Chuo line and not even the westernmost part of Tokyo. Some of the orange and silver Chuo line trains go all the way out to Ome City where you will need to change trains to hit the real countryside. I went to Sawai, the sixth station on Ome Line (sixth after Ome, 19th after Tachikawa), a small station that is used by about 275 people daily. Although this part of Tokyo has been connected to central Tokyo since the building of a national road in 1603, it still feels very rural.
The post office has the old style post box you do not see in bigger cities much any more. The station is usually unmanned (but not on busier weekends) and it is located on the mountainside. The main attraction of Sawai is the old sake factory but I also enjoyed a meal of soba and wasabi in the sake factory garden, next to and overlooking the river. I took a whole lot of very unartistic snapshots to try and capture the feel of this place. Even after having lived so long in Tokyo it still amazes me every time that these kinds of places still exist so close to the biggest city on Earth. I can recommend you visit the countryside around Ome City if you ever feel stuck in all the concrete that is Tokyo. It is a perfect day trip or even half a day trip if you are quick about it. More photos of the river, trees and sake factory of Sawai!
Last night I passed Nihonbashi and had a few minutes to take some snapshots. Nihonbashi is a bridge that counts as the geographical point zero of Japan, it is from this span that the all road distances are calculated and is considered the true center of both Japan and Tokyo. Today it is a somewhat sad sight as the river has long since been built over by a huge expressway and the bridge itself is barely noticeable. As I was standing on the bridge taking these photos a group of young men in business suites stopped next to me and asked each other in loud voices what was so special about this place. As listened to their conversation I realized that even people who walk across this bridge every day have a fairly hazy grasp as to the significance of the place. Well, now you guys know better and the next time you ride in a taxi or a bus over the bridge you can recalibrate your mental compass and imagine yourself at Japan’s point zero! Besides, the old dragon and lion statues on the bridge itself are very cool, in a sort of Japanese-gothic!