Hidden away in a neighbourhood just 20 minutes from Shibuya, this stunning ravine is like another world, writes Rob Goss. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)
Strolling under the green canopy of Todoroki Valley, listening to the gentle flow of water, it’s incredible to think you are in the heart of Tokyo. Found in the neighbourhood of Todoroki in Setagaya-ku, less than 20 minutes from bustling Shibuya, the park is centred on a forested ravine, and an hour or two here makes for a very chilled out break from city life.
After descending a flight of steps into the narrow ravine, a pathway traces what feels like a mountain stream for just over a kilometre, a walk that in itself is calming – and refreshingly cool in Tokyo’s hot and humid summer months. But it’s the things you see on the way that really make the park so different to anywhere else in central Tokyo.
You’ll pass small natural springs and, at one point, come to a waterfall called Fudo no Taki, which for centuries has been used by followers of Shugendo (a body of ascetic practices that originated in the Heian era), meditating as the chilly water falls upon them. It’s more of a mellow trickle these days, but the park’s name (Todoroki can mean ‘roaring’ in Japanese) suggests that the falls were once a more dramatic sight and sound to behold. Nearby is the small but atmospheric Todoroki Fudoson Temple, a particularly pretty spot when its cherry blossoms are in bloom in spring. Elsewhere are ancient burial mounds thought to date to somewhere between the Kofun era (250-538) and Nara era (710-794).
The mood of the ravine changes with the seasons, from the yellow-gold and red hues of autumn to a lush summer greenery, and there are plenty of spots to sit down and slowly soak it in. At the rustic Setsugekka teahouse you can do that with green tea and sweets, or cooling shaved ice covered in fruit sauce in summer. Or you could stop for a moment at the ravine’s small Japanese garden – not as carefully landscaped as many other traditional gardens in Tokyo, but with the way it seems to merge naturally into its surroundings, it’s just as tranquil.
To get to Todoroki Valley take the express train from Shibuya Station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line to Jiyugaoka Station, then change to the Tokyu Oimachi Line and alight at Todoroki Station. Take the south exit and head towards the Seijo Ishii supermarket, turn right and you will see the entrance.