Rob Goss explores the Tama region, which covers the western area of Tokyo, and boasts everything from mountains and ancient temples to clamping
If the 23 special wards that make up the heart of modern Tokyo defy stereotypes with their diversity, then the Tama region goes even further: covering 1,160 square kilometres and home to just over four million of Tokyo’s almost 14 million residents, it blows the concrete jungle stereotypes out of the water.
Exploring Tama from central Tokyo, the region begins with suburbs before becoming gradually more rural and even remote, providing a varied range of experiences and attractions. Almost bordering the 23 special wards, Kichijoji has a hip reputation because of its independent cafes, cool bars and street fashions, as well as being one of the neighbourhoods connected to the chilled out Inokashira Park – a lovely spot to picnic, watch street performers or have a paddle in a rowboat. Going ever so slightly further into Tama, but still easy to access because of Tokyo’s extensive rail network, you also find the superb Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum and its collection of 30 historic structures in Koganei Park.
In Chofu, other Tama standouts often overlooked by travellers are the Jindai Botanical Gardens and neighbouring Jindaiji Temple. The 105-acre gardens mix roses, cherry blossoms, azaleas and other seasonal blooms, as well as a greenhouse full of orchids and aquatic plants. In a lovely, wooded grove next door, Jindaiji Temple is said to have first been built in the 800s and still has some structures dating as far back as the 1600s. It’s easy to while away an hour or two here in the old stores and restaurants by the temple’s main gateway, and it’s worth planning a lunch stop at one of the rustic restaurants serving handmade soba noodles.
Going further west, it doesn’t take long for the Tama region to transition from suburbs to scenic. Just an hour by train from central Tokyo, the 599m Mount Takao has trails (or a cable car) that lead to the mountainside Yakuoin Temple – first built in the 700s – and then to a summit that delivers a distant glimpse of Mount Fuji. More challenging and more tranquil are peaks such as Mount Otake, Mount Hinode and Mount Mitake, the latter of which is home to a shrine as well as traditional lodgings. For a bit of the outdoors with a bit of style, glamping has also taken off in Tama in recent years, with options including the luxurious Keikoku Glamping Tent in Hinohara.