Tokyo on Foot: Meguro River Cherry Blossom Walk
Spring. The excitement is already mounting all over Japan as national news programs, internet bloggers and Facebook memes begin the countdown to where and when the first blossoms of spring will bloom. It is almost a national sport, with vested interests checking the forecasts regularly so as to plan their Hanami (flower viewing) party on just the right day. It’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit of the thing as the days get warmer and the promise of more time outdoors looms larger.
It would be a brave person indeed who could declare where the most beautiful sakura blossoms are, or where the best place to view them would be. It seems every person in Tokyo has her favorite spot. Mine is along the Meguro River, and I often take a walk there at this time of year to get my annual sakura viewing fix.
From Meguro Station, head downhill towards Yamate Dori. My first home in Tokyo was just nearby here, and this stretch of shops with their faded red lanterns and metal shutters never fails to make me feel just the slightest bit nostalgic.
If you time your walk to start after 10 a.m. you will find that these shops sell all sorts of plastic homewares and metal tea kettles, containers big and small for every possible domestic necessity. There are also funky fashions, shoes that are endearing but a little shabby and, in my favorite shop, pottery in every hue of blue and white. You will definitely be tempted to pick up a teapot or a heavy pottery nabe (stew) bowl here, so it might be best to pop back in on the return journey and save yourself the bother of lugging it around all day.
You will soon find yourself on the Meguro Shinbashi bridge, with the Meguro River, now hemmed in by concrete walls so that it resembles more of a canal, swiftly flowing beneath you. Looking upriver will give you one of those many breathtaking moments that occur in Japan. Both banks of the river are heavily planted with sakura trees, and at this time of the year they are brimming with petals that shimmer and scatter on the smallest of breezes. Walking along the banks is a delight. I usually walk the length of the canal until I reach one of the small bridges that cross the river. How far you walk is up to you. You can then return via the opposite bank. Alternatively, you can walk until you reach Nakameguro Station, and then return home from there.
Be warned that this is a very popular spot, especially on weekends. During the week it is mainly the elderly and the very young who sit beneath the branches and collectively sigh as a gust of wind releases a shower of petals called a hana fubuki (flower blown snow). The youngest chase the falling flowers whilst the oldies halfheartedly try to catch a petal in their sake cups. It is a very lovely spot to linger a while either marveling at the fragility of these beautiful flowers or gazing at the forceful river, itself blanketed in pretty pink petals.
Nighttime on the river banks is also a wonderful sight to behold, with red and yellow lanterns lighting up the pink canopy overhead. Vendors selling yakitori and beer make for a cheap and cheerful meal, for lunch or dinner. There are seats here, but a rug on the ground is the preferred way to participate if you have the time.
Now comes the difficult choice. Stay and relax under the branches, or head off to view the other delights of Meguro Dori? This is a short walk, so you could head in one of two directions to add some extra kilometers. In one direction there is a precinct of very interesting and beautiful temples, in another, an almost two-kilometer-long stroll through some of the best interior shops in Tokyo. Walking up one side of the street and then back to the station on the opposite side of the road will give you a seven kilometer walk. However, I will save these two options for next week or maybe the week after.
For today, the blossoms win. They are only here for such a fleeting time, after all.
When to go: This walk is enjoyable at any time of year, but it is particularly lovely when the cherry blossoms are blooming (usually in late March to early April).
Map it out: To follow this walking route on a map, see below or click here to open in Google Maps.
Top photo by Guilhem Vellut.