How to get there
The Tama River is a popular spot for Tokyoites to spend their weekends or days off, away from the busy city. It is a refreshing oasis with lush green river banks among the otherwise concrete jungle of the vast metropolis. Easily accessible by public transport from major train stations, Shinjuku and Shibuya among them, it had always been one of our list to explore during our stays in Tokyo. With our bikes packed into rinku bags (covers are needed to take a bicycle onto Japanese trains) we took the Keikyu-Kuko Line from Shinagawa to Otorii Sation near the river mouth of the Tama River with a plan to ride up stream.
After stocking up on sweet and savoury rolls in a bakery near the train station we then cycled the short distance along the main road south towards the river path. We started our bike route upriver towards Chofu from underneath the bridge that crosses the Tama River near Otorii. We gained some curious looks from some older Japanese gents that had congregated in the shade of the bridge, I guess not so many tourists venture here.
The Cycling Trail
It was a hot summer’s day, temperatures in Tokyo can easily reach 40C and we made sure to have a lot of water with us, plus the obligatory sun protection. Cycling in this heat is certainly not the easiest of tasks but with the cycle path being flat and by the river we caught a cooling breeze, plus the wind from the cycling gave us the needed respite every now and then too. The cycle trail along the river winds itself parallel on an elevated bank, it is shared with pedestrians and other cyclists, which makes it a very safe path for a bike ride with kids.
The buildings we passed to our right side were mainly apartment blocks and residential houses with the odd industrial building thrown in. Down below on the river flood plain was another path, accessible every now and then by stairs or a ramp. There were many groups of school children out on the baseball fields, spending their summertime in sports camps. We saw a group of them sitting under the shady cherry trees taking a break from their games.
Plenty of Funny Playgrounds
There were few others cycling on the path, most of them were older men out for lunch or fishing, and to our surprise there were no women at all. Approaching lunchtime, we saw others people lying under the trees or on the benches relaxing or even taking a short nap, something the Japanese seem to be able to do about just anywhere. There were plenty of playgrounds, which would make a great stop for families with smaller kids too.
Lunch at Cafe Delight
We were making very good progress on our ride so we started to look for a place where we could have lunch. We got lucky and found café Delight in front of Tamagawasengen shrine. Despite the heat we chose to sit outside of the little restaurant with the train crossing of the Tokyu Tamagawa Line on the other side of the road. Jerome was happy to watch the barriers go down when a train was approaching to move in and out of the station while we waited. The food we were served at this cool café, was fish and chips for Jerome and myself, Chris fancied a burger instead. Both dishes were rather tasty and we were pleased to have stumbled onto this little neighborhood gem albeit with western food. Jerome could have probably sat there all afternoon to watch the trains pass by every few minutes, however we cycled on, further up along the Tama River.
A Little Accident
There were men in the shallow waters of the river with their long fishing rods, some had even set up parasols to be in the shade from the hot sun. We would have loved to jump into the river to cool down, unfortunately it did not look like there were any spots for wild river swimming (there are spots where you can, further up the river near Ome), a splash from the water bottle had to suffice. At some point Jerome fell off his bike, thankfully it was only a scrape on his knee. A friendly local security guard cycling past saw the mishap and offered Jerome some plasters, which he miraculously produced from his pack! We have always found the locals so helpful and friendly. Jerome did shed a few tears but more from the shock than the pain and was soon able to move on.
End of the Bike Ride
Cycling on for a few kilometres we reached the end of our bike ride along the Tama River at Keio Tamagawa station. We realised we should have brought some swimwear with us to get a well-deserved dip at Chofu’s outoor pool before heading back into the concrete jungle of Tokyo. Instead, just off the river path we sat down in a small shrine with a cool drink from one of the vending machines before pedalling to the station. We packed our bikes into the rinku bags and boarded the Keio Line bound for Shinjuku station.
Some Additional Information
The bike path along the Tama River stretches almost 80km from the sea inland as far as where the river narrows and becomes more a mountain stream. The cycling is a fairly easy ride in either direction, as it is flat all the way, with only some gentle slopes. Depending on the child you can always shorten the ride to one of the earlier stations into town or lengthen it to ones further upstream. You are never far from a station back into Central Tokyo, either Shinjuku or Shibuya – but please be aware that these stations are some of the busiest train stations in the world and are rather busy at any time of day, especially though during rush hour and I would highly recommend avoiding the busiest times. There are plenty of places along the river to stop and eat or drink but I would advise carrying some water and other basics with you.
We thoroughly enjoyed our ride on the riverbank and so we immediately planned to take on the next part during another stay as soon as we could – which actually occurred a few years later – and you can read about here.