For many, “cycling in Tokyo” conjures up an image of crowded anarchy—cyclists flitting between the road and pavement with no rhyme or reason, swerving to avoid knocking over old ladies, and near brushes with death… all on your ride to the supermarket. For those Tokyoites missing the serene feeling of cycling through the countryside, or who want to actually get up to faster than 7kmph, help is at hand. Just an hour from Tokyo on the train, in the reaches of Saitama, lies Musashi-Kyuryo National Government Park (commonly known as Shinrin Koen) and its 17km cycle course.
Ride away the Tokyo blues
Shinrin Koen is the size of approximately 65 Tokyo Domes and was the first government park in Japan. The park boasts a great range of scenery and outdoor activities, but what really sets it apart from other day trips from Tokyo is the cycle course. After renting a decent quality bike (or bringing your own) from either of the “cycle centers” at the north or south sides of the park, you set off on the well-maintained cycle track. Children of elementary school age have to wear helmets. Cheapo tip: there are sometimes “cycle rental” stands set up outside the park entrance, but these will be more expensive—don’t be lured in, wait until you are inside to rent your bike.
The one-way system and no pedestrian/car rule allow you to cycle at a good speed uninterrupted and will ease safety concerns for inexperienced cyclists or those riding with children. Serious cyclists can do the whole 17km in one go, with cheerful owl signposts telling you how far you have left to go. You can also take the course at a leisurely pace, stopping off at the many rest areas and enjoying the sites of the park. The excellent sign posting (in Japanese and English) make it easy to tell where you are, and allow you to cut off a portion of your ride, if you so desire. The far reaches of the track are slightly more challenging, with more hills and fewer rest spaces. Regardless, zooming though the trees while enjoying the scenery on your bike is the perfect antidote to the congested roads of central Tokyo.
Flowers and fun
Connoisseurs of traditional Japanese landscaping might have to go elsewhere for their rock gardens: much of Shinrin Koen’s scenery is European in style, beautiful though it is. The park tends more towards sweeping open spaces, serene lakes and towering trees, rather than sculpted gardens. Still, there is much flora and fauna to enjoy all year round, including cherry blossom in the spring, hydrangeas in June, stunning red fields of kochia in October, and charming sasanqua in the winter.
The park is also an outdoor activity treasure trove, for children and adults. Kids will go mad over Japan’s largest air trampoline and a kids’ dome with over 50 pieces of play equipment. The whole family can have fun and get some exercise at the forest athletic field, which includes a roller slide and aerial ropeway, or play flying disc golf! The park is a popular spot for forest bathing and jogging, with 5km and 10km courses available.
Dogs are allowed in part of the park, although you have to fill out a form upon entering. You can rent BBQ spaces on weekends and national holidays, or eat at one of three park restaurants. Environmental education and orienteering events are held on a regular basis; contact the park management center for more information.
Shinrin Koen is a great out-of-Tokyo day trip which allows you to get some headspace in nature before returning to the city. With a variety of scenery and activities available there is something for everyone, but its excellent cycle course is what sets it apart from other parks. Be aware that the cycle track is very popular on national holidays, so get down early before they run out of bikes!
Access to Shinrin Koen
Train: Take the Tobu Tojo line to Shinrin Koen Station, approximately an hour direct from Ikebukuro. From Shinrin Koen’s North exit, take the bus bound for the park or Rissho University. It is approximately a 5-minute ride.
Car: Parking is available at ¥1,650 per day.
For more cycle routes around the city, see our guide here.