As you step out of the central exit of the Shakujii Koen station in Tokyo’s Nerima ward, you immediately find yourself on the receiving end of the local equivalent of all roads leading to Rome. An array of narrow streets converges at the station from all directions, each one crowded with commercial and residential activity. The gentle 11-minute ride from Ikebukuro, one of the hub stations of Tokyo, along the Seibu Ikebukuro Line belies the suburban bustle. Yet, hidden only a short walk away, is one of the most truly beautiful and peaceful parks of Tokyo.
Shakujii Koen is in fact comprised of two lakes. The first one is Shakujii lake, and then there is the Sampo-ji lake. They are separated by a vehicle thoroughfare that is so small that the lakes are often considered as one connected body of water. Both lakes have been wonderfully developed with generous sidewalks, timber boardwalks, and lilting sakura trees, which makes this park a favourite of local joggers, pram pushers, and strollers alike.
Shakujii Koen is also a favourite spot for local anglers who want to try their luck and drop a line while having a friendly conversation along the banks of the lake. Casting the net a little wider, many bird-watchers and shutterbugs will travel to come to see some of the rare birds that only appear in this park.
From the station, an easy stroll downhill takes you to the headwater of the Shakujii lake, where a cute store built on the lake with a wooden weir waits. Coffee, snacks, and multi-flavoured ice cream can all be purchased to accompany you on your way around the lake. If you would prefer to see the lake from a different perspective, pedal-powered swan boats that have been operated since 1934 are lined up along the wooden weir, ready for you to jump in and traverse the still waters.
The atmosphere along the lakeside is thoroughly family-friendly and perfect for an afternoon stroll. On any given day you will find in one corner of the park older gentlemen playing Japanese chess, in another a college student completing homework, and in yet another corner a group of painters set up with their easels in different directions capturing the moment in oil and canvas; not to mention the gaggles of ducks that call the park home.
One of the great drawcards of Shakujii Koen is the stillness of the waters and the wonderful reflections of the surrounding trees. The combination makes for a peaceful and contemplative atmosphere around the lake that encourages you to take a break from life’s hustle on one of the many benches. The mid- to late-afternoon is a real treat, as the sun sets and casts a variety of colours across the sky and water.
The walk around the lakes also contains some additional paths that take you to some beautiful hidden shrines and local historical areas, including the remains of an old castle and memorials for the tragic deaths of the previously reigning lord and princess. Next to the Shakujii lake there is a small area that contains children’s play equipment and often has small food stalls selling standard Japanese fare such as yakisoba, takoyaki, and yakitori. After a walk around the lake, it makes for a great way to satisfy the hunger in the shade of the overhead pine trees.
Shakujii Koen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo but still retains its feel as a local secret waiting to be discovered. If you’re looking for an escape within Tokyo where you can gather your thoughts and contemplate the bigger questions, the peace and reflective waters of Shakuji Koen might just be the antidote for putting things in perspective!
You can click here if you want to read more about the park.