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Monday, February 25, 2008

Inokashira Park & Zoo

井の頭公園と動物園

Inokashira Park - lake.

-less than 20 minutes from Shinjuku or Shibuya
-a venerable old Tokyo park founded in 1918
-the first Imperial gift of its kind to the nation
-has a zoo and aquarium
-popular cherry-blossom park in spring
-famous for its temple to Benzaiten, goddess of love

Inokashira Park is a venerable old park straddling Musashino and Mitaka cities in western Tokyo. A little rough around the edges, it is nevertheless elegant in atmosphere, in full working order, and freer and more laid back than many other more kempt Tokyo parks.

More than just a place to enjoy nature, Inokashira Park, especially on the weekend, is a gathering place for casual musicians, artists, and street performers, sharing their creativity with other visitors - an alternative vibe not found so readily inside Tokyo's 23 wards.

Inokashira Park was bestowed as gift from the Imperial family in 1918 - the first such park in Japan. It is dominated by an elongated, tree-lined lake, fed by the Kanda River, on which you can paddle a row boat (600 yen for the first hour, then 200 yen per extra 30 min) or take a pedal boat or "swan boat".

Benzaiten Temple, Inokashira Park.

The lake is split by walkways for ease of access. The south-west corner of the lake features the exceptionally colorful temple of Benzaiten, (originally the Hindu Sarasvati Devi) the goddess of "all that flows," and, by extension - at least in Japan - love. Tradition has it, though, that the capricious goddess will halt the flow between any couple that ventures out on the lake in one of the hire-boats - FYI!

Inokashira Park is richly forested, and is a sight in spring, when it is overrun with cherry blossom picnickers. Its fall colors are also a good reason to visit later in the year.

There are several cafes in the park, and public toilets everywhere.

Inokashira Park Zoo

Monkeys at Inokashira Park Zoo.

Not to be missed if you are visiting Inokashira Koen is its zoo. In two parts, the main part is past a road that runs diagonally through the park to the west. Cross the footbridge over the road, pay your 400 yen (150 yen for kids) and enjoy the company of monkeys, birds (check out the beautiful pheasants), guinea pigs (able to be petted until 3pm), squirrels, and Hanako the elephant (born 1947 - presently the oldest in Japan), to name a few. There is also a walk-through tropical greenhouse.

Using the same ticket, you also have access to the remainder of the zoo - back in the park itself - on a peninsular that sticks out into the park's main lake. Check out, in particular, the splendid mandarin ducks, and don't forget the aquarium.

As with the park, don't expect to be dazzled by the zoo. However, it is in basic working order, run conscientiously on what is obviously not a massive budget, and more than worth the price of entry.

Further south, the park has an Olympic sized swimming pool, tennis courts, and an athletic track.

Ghibli Museum, Mitaka

At the south-west end of the park is the whimsically designed Ghibli Museum for fans of the animation studio, Studio Ghibli. Tickets (1000 yen for adults, 700 yen for high/junior high school students, 400 yen for elementary school pupils) are not available from the Museum itself, but must be purchased in advance from a Lawson convenience store, using Lawson's automatic Loppi ticket system, or, if you are overseas, through a Japanese travel agent. (For a fee, our affiliated site, GoodsFromJapan, is able to arrange the purchase of tickets. Please be aware, however, that tickets for busy periods may be sold out weeks, if not months, in advance.)

Access

From Mitaka Station on the JR Chuo line, take the Park Exit (i.e. south exit) and walk straight ahead until you come out onto the main road running left-right. Cross the road, go right, and then take the first left - just past the Marui department store (its logo looks like OIOI). Walk down colorful Nanai-dori Avenue, full of little cafes and alternative shops, all the way to the park and the lake. The main attractions of the park are to your right.

Keio line from Shibuya. If you take the Keio line from the Shibuya direction, get off at the stop before Mitaka: Inokashira Koen Station. This station is at the very eastern tip of the park, so you can take in the whole of the charming elongated lakeside on your way to the main body of the park.

By car. Turn south at Kichioji Eki Mae intersection and you'll come across a 24-hour car park about half a kilometer down. 400 yen per hour, and 200 yen for every extra 30 minutes.

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