In the current article, I’d like to talk a little about Nakameguro, the Meguro river tributary, and a famous (albeit now largely unknown author) who used to live in this area.
Nakameguro is a really cool, trendy neighborhood that is fairly close to both Shimokitazawa and Shibuya in the Meguro Ward of Tokyo. The Meguro river runs directly through this neighborhood, and for my money, this is the best hanami (spring cherry blossom viewing, which is not to be confused with hanami parties (more below), because there are definitely better places to have the hanami party in Tokyo) in all of Tokyo. This area is high class, though it also has a good number of hole in-the-wall watering holes and izakayas. The only thing I dislike about Nakameguro is traveling there by train, because this necessitates changing trains in Shibuya, and if you have been to Shibuya station in the last ten years, you will realize this sucks (the station has been under constant construction, and the train line to get to Nakameguro is almost a mile from the Inokashira line (for me, coming from Shimokitazawa). When I go to Nakameguro, I walk, and there is a certain tributary of the Meguro river that runs right to Shimokitazawa.
Explore Nakameguro in Tokyo
The area around the station and lining the Meguro river is dotted with hip boutiques, hairdressers, eateries and the like. During hanami season, cherry blossoms on both sides of the river form an absolutely beautiful cherry blossom arch over the river, and both sides of the river are lined with eateries and stalls. Even normally (i.e. the non-hanami season), this is a pretty classy, cool area for the relatively well-to-do and the relatively young (this is really a thirty something or forty something type spot, whereas Shibuya is for teenagers and college students and Shimokitazawa is a spot for twenty-somethings).
DON’T DO IT. If you do, go to Shibuya and then change to the Tokyu Toyoko Line (or take the Hibiya subway line from elsewhere), and then prepare to kick yourself. As I mentioned, Shibuya station is a nightmare. From Shibuya, if you want to walk (which I recommend), get on Tamagawa Doori and head west until you hit Yamate Doori, and then follow the signs. It really isn’t that far. If you come to Shimokitazawa to spend an afternoon, and would like to spend your night in Nakameguro, I suggest the following stroll (provided the weather is cooperating).
Kitazawa River Green Way
This is what this tributary is called in English according to a google search. Didn’t know that. This is a tributary of the Meguro river flowing all the way from the west side of Kannana to, ultimately, the Meguro River. See the following pictures. When the weather is nice, this walkway is absolutely gorgeous, and is wonderful for flower viewing, running, cycling, or just generally enjoying nature in the largely concrete jungle that is Tokyo. Walking from Shimokitazawa, it should take about an hour to reach Nakameguro (in the east), but once again, if the weather is nice, you won’t even notice. Also, there are signs dotting this tributary, so you won’t get lost. From Chazawa Doori heading south, you will arrive at this tributary in about five minutes. Head east and just follow this tributary (making reference to the abovementioned signs along the way), and before you know it, you will find yourself in Nakameguro. It should also be noted that this walkway is dotted with playgrounds and other public facilities, so for those of you with kids, there are plenty of places to stop at along the way to take a break and play. The tributary is also dotted with signs and plaques explaining the various flowers and plants that grow along the walkway (most are in Japanese, so you may have trouble understanding them).
In order to write this article, I actually ran along this pathway heading west from Shimokitazawa, which is the direction I never take on this pathway. After crossing the major thoroughfare Kannana, this pathway enters some pretty residential areas, and the nature and greenery is not as impressive as it is in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood. This walkways snakes past Umegaoka on the Odakyuu train line, then enters a very residential area, snaking further west to Gotokouji (at one point, the walkway literally goes directly through Yamashita station (Setagaya train line (see previous article)). I kept running and kept running, past Kyodo until I reached the very end of this pathway, which, honestly, was very anticlimactic. This pathway, which extends for miles, ends with a blip and not a bang in a very austere playground in a danchi (which I guess can be called a housing complex) near Kyodo (as a side note, many of the so-called “playgrounds” and “parks” in Tokyo are very disappointing and are essentially vacant lots with a slide or some very basic structures, though of course there are some legitimate parks and playgrounds in Tokyo, notably, in my area, Hanegi park, which would give any park in the west a run for its money in terms of how big it is and how many facilities it has).
An author named Yokomitsu Riichi used to live in the area of this walkway at a time when this area of Setagaya was the middle of nowhere (I’ve actually read his account of moving to Shimokitazawa in the 1920s, and it emphasizes how bucolic the area was). Yokomitsu Riichi is now a largely unknown author, but for a time in the 1920s and 1930s, he was a contemporary of Kikuchi Hiroshi (who created the prestigious Naoki Shou (Prize) and Akutagawa Shou (Prize) (also on a personal note, a former student of mine who is an author and writer is Kikuchi’s granddaughter) and Kawabata Yasunari (unlike Yokomitsu, there is not a Japanese person alive who does not know Kawabata, especially his famous story “Yukuguni” (Snow Country)). Also as an interesting aside, when Yokomitsu lived in Shimokitazawa, Kawabata was living in Koenji (see previous articles), and I live in Shimokitazawa and my book club partner hails from Koenji. None of Yokomitsu’s work was ever translated into English as far as I know, and is largely forgotten today. I’ve only managed to find and read one of his books. What this one author is remembered for is being a pioneer in a literary movement called Shinkankakuha, or (according to wiki) “new sensation school.” The one book of his I read (“kikai” or “machine”) was interesting, though I have noticed that early Shouwa literature can be challenging to read (the Japanese language, especially the written language, from before World War II was very different, with many archaic expressions and Chinese characters that are quite different from the standardized ones used today.
Hanami (Cherry Blossom Viewing)
Along this entire walkway, there are cherry blossoms, and they are absolutely beautiful during the cherry blossom season. The Nakameguro area of the actual Meguro River is the best place to view cherry blossoms, but it also a very crowded place and, as mentioned, going there by train is unpleasant, so I really suggest walking there along this path, whereby, during the walk, you can enjoy the somewhat austere cherry blossoms before arriving as the main show in Nakamaeguro. In the area between Chazawa Doori and Awashima Doori on this walkway, there are many cherry blossoms, but also, there is a decent sized park near Awashima Doori where there are some bathroom facilities, which is why when I do hanami parties, I usually do them in this area. Let me explain. Hanami parties can be fun, but there are some downsides. A hanami party essentially involves you and your friends finding some cherry blossoms, sitting down underneath them, and having a picnic all day. There is lots of drinking and lots of eating, but in many cases, there are no bathroom facilities (what are you going to do after having six or seven drinks?) and no trashcans. Also, when the cherry blossoms are in full bloom in Tokyo, it is often still pretty cold, so these all day drinking marathons can be unpleasant. Popular hanami party places are often very crowded (I dare you to try to have a hanami party at Inokashira park or Ueno park). Because of their crowded nature, lack of trashcans, lack of public facilities, inclement weather and the like, I avoided attending hanami parties for years, but in this area, hanami parties are actually quite nice. First, it is very close to where I live, so I can walk, it is never too crowded, the cherry blossoms themselves are very nice, and there are public facilities. This stretch of about half a kilometer is perfect for hanami parties, and I’m honestly surprised this area is not more crowded (just goes to show you how unknown this walkway is, even for local Japanese people; also, there are not really any stations close to this area, so I suspect the people who come here are locals from the Shimokitazawa area). If you are in Tokyo for cherry blossom season (late March or early April, though it depends on the year in question), I recommend having a hanami party in this stretch of the walkway (also, as mentioned in a previous article, public drinking in Japan is perfectly legal, so for the average western person, getting absolutely sauced outside without fear of arrest is truly a novel experience), followed by a stroll to Nakameguro (Nakameguro has prettier cherry blossoms, but is extremely crowded so it is difficult to secure a place where you and your friends can set up your picnic blanket). In many really popular hanami party places, to even secure a spot for yourself and several friends, you might have to show up at six in the morning to stake out your spot. Trust me: with the lack of public facilities, lack of trashcans, crappy weather, and all of the other problems listed above, hanami parties are not my favorite, but in this area, if the weather is nice, it can prove to be a wonderful experience.
This walkway is a very convenient path, and it connects a variety of areas. To begin with, to take this path to its western extreme, you will find Shimokitazawa, Umegaoka, and Sakurajosui to all the way to Nakameguro at its eastern extreme. Therebetween, you will encounter major roads running perpendicular thereto (i.e. north to south), such as the aforementioned Kannana, Chazawa doori, Awashima doori, Tamagawa doori, and finally, Yamate doori. From these roads, you can easily access areas such as Shibuya, Sangenjaya, and many other places.
As this walkway extends largely through very residential neighborhoods, there are a series of rules one must follows (see the following picture). This walkway becomes rather narrow for certain stretches, and along these areas, you are discouraged from riding a bicycle, as this WALKway is mainly intended for pedestrians. As with many places in Japan, there are no trashcans, so you must carry your trash home with you. You are expected to keep your dog on a leash and clean up after him. You are not allowed to plant flowers without permission (I suspect they want to maintain the ecosystem as it is). Also, smoking is not allowed (though I have no idea how they would ever enforce this). Also, carrying on and partying late at night is not allowed (why anyone would want to do this is beyond me). West of Kannana, there is not much in the way of restaurants or eateries, but as you head east toward Nakameguro, there is a smattering of cafes, boutiques, and other cool areas.
If you are in Tokyo, Explore Nakameguro!
This walkway connects many areas, it has some interesting history, it connects many very interesting areas, and, when the weather is nice, is a rare area of greenery in this asphalt jungle that is Tokyo. If you ever visit this area, and especially, if you visit Tokyo during the hanami season, be sure to come check this area out; you won’t regret it.
Make sure you visit Shimokitazawa for more adventures. Read more:
[:en]Series! Exploring Tokyo for ¥1,000 or Less: Shimokitazawa[:]