Kanda River: Hop on a bicycle and head upstream

By Alena Eckelmann

Tokyo might not seem like a particularly green city, but seasoned urban ramblers know that nature abounds if you look in the right places. Once you’ve strolled the Imperial Palace grounds and municipal parks, head to the city’s waterways and you’ll find ample greenery—not to mention numerous traces of the capital’s past.

One of the best day trips can be enjoyed by taking a bicycle along the Kanda River, which runs for nearly 25 kilometers from its source in Kichijoji’s Inokashira Park, taking in Suginami, Nakano, Shinjuku and Bunkyo wards, before flowing into the larger Sumida River near Ryogoku Bridge in Taito Ward. During the Edo Era (1603-1868), the river was diverted into a canal — the now-vanished Kanda Josui — which supplied the capital with drinking water.

Starting at the mouth of the river, the first bridge that we reach is Yanagibashi. While the current steel structure was built in 1929, there has been a bridge here since 1698. Visitors are unlikely to realize that this neighborhood was a flourishing red light district 200 years go; these days it’s rather more sedate, serving as a base for the charter boats that are frequently seen cruising around Tokyo Bay.

Following the river upstream leads to Hijiribashi, next to Ochanomizu station. This arched stone bridge was built after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, which makes it positively ancient in a city where most buildings are only a few decades old, if even that. It’s worth cycling a loop around the neighborhood to take in some of its sacred sights: the Confucian temple of Yushima Seido, the Shinto shrine of Kanda Myojin, and Nicholai-do, an Orthodox cathedral.

The Kanda River feeds the ponds of Koishikawa Korakuen, a beautiful landscaped garden from the early 17th century that’s tucked away behind the Tokyo Dome City complex. A little further along, Edogawa Park is a stretch of greenery that looks best in hanami season, when the hundreds of trees lining the riverbank are in full bloom. Nearby you’ll find the back entrance to Chinzan-so, a gem of a garden set atop a hill, which is home to a three-story pagoda — relocated from a temple complex in Hiroshima Prefecture — that’s said to be 1,000 years old.

The estate next door houses a mysterious-looking stone building, the Eisei Bunko Museum. Don’t let the unkempt garden fool you — the museum actually holds immense treasures, showcasing artifacts, documents and works of fine art collected over centuries by the Hozokawa clan of Kumamoto. Following the small path through a Chinese-style round gate, we reach Shin-Edogawa Park, yet another beautiful garden where you can kick back free of charge.

Crossing the tracks of the Toden Arakawa Line — Tokyo’s last remaining tram line — we head past Takadanobaba and on to Shimo-Ochiai, where a pedestrian path runs alongside the Kanda River. This is another popular sakura spot that’s worth checking out next spring.

While Nakano Ward is mostly urban sprawl, more greenery awaits in Suginami Ward, where little parks, sports grounds and the odd local temple and shrine invite cyclists to stop for a rest and further exploration. In the Mitakadai area, monotonous apartment blocks give way to houses with gardens, each with their own charm and character. The bridges that span the Kanda River here, meant only for local traffic, offer a fine perch from which to watch the many koi in the river.

Our final destination is Inokashira Park, a popular spot for families and couples, with a long, narrow pond at its center that’s fed by the same spring as the Kanda River. It’s presided over by the Goddess of Water, who has a shrine set on a small island in one corner of the park. Here, locals fill plastic containers from a tap which turns out to provide the best natural spring water in Tokyo, pumped up directly from its source. After the journey along the Kanda River, it tastes nothing less than divine.

This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (

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Kanda River: Hop on a bicycle and head upstream ...

... but bring your ID card with you for the police checks; especially if you happen to be black.

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The ID card is a must in Japan and police can be jerks everywhere, even in the west and even if you're not black, so try dropping the attitude. Open your mind and you might actually find it to be an interesting bike trip. I love exploring Tokyo, especially by bike.

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The ID card is a must in Japan and police can be jerks everywhere, even in the west and even if you're not black, so try dropping the attitude.

I'm a 45-year-old African-American expat living and working in Tokyo. I've been the victim of police harassment for over 10 years. I'm continuously being stopped while riding my bike for ID checks [...] They don't just stop me; they also follow me around the neighborhood in patrol cars, and undercover cops follow me in unmarked cars.


--Enjoy your bike tours, just remember to bring your ID card; having no ID card with you is a class A felony here--

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Yanagibashi.....Visitors are unlikely to realize that this neighborhood was a flourishing red light district 200 years go.

I live there and I didn't even know this. Very interesting.

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The Kanda River! Nanda! Sounds good! Gimme a bike and I am da Man da! :8)

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Wow...I've never been stopped by Police before. I've been to Japan seven times now for weeks on end and so far nothing. Not to jinx it or anything!

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Haven't been down the length of the Kanda River yet, stick mostly to the area arounds it source.

But traveling a long a river can find you some interesting spots.

As for being asked for my Alien Registration Card, usually only when I buy or sell things, etc for ID verification. Never was stopped for a bicycle check in my 13+yrs here, never was asked by any police officer to show it either.

Seems that some people get stopped often and asked to show ID while others never get checked. Not sure why as there don't seem to be system to it.

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Zenny11: It could be skin color? I'm not white, nor black (Hispanic). They say I look middle eastern but I haven't been stopped either.

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I used to live in Hirakata and would bike along the Yodogawa to Osaka. It was a nice ride except for the stupid motorbike barriers every 100 yards or so.

As for being stopped for ID, it never happened to me in Osaka in 3 years. But my friend living in Seiseki-Sakuragaoka (outside Tokyo) complained that the cops used to stop him constantly. Sure enough, I visited him one time and these two jerk cops on their bicycles saw us standing outside the mall and turned around and rode back with these big smirks. They came up and demanded to see our ID's. We were just chatting outside the local department store and we weren't even riding bicycles. For the record, we are both white so it must not always be about skin color. I guess it just depends on what area you're in and if the local cops are racist or not. Although I do agree that black people are looked down upon more than whites.

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