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Tokyo Cycling: Riding along the Zenpukuji River

In previous articles, I’ve often mentioned that Tokyo’s rivers offer some of the best cycling the city has to offer. Major waterways such as the Arakawa and Tama rivers are obvious choices for long, uninterrupted rides. However, Tokyo’s smaller, lesser-known rivers can also be great for a quick, scenic ride—if you know where to find them. The Zenpukuji River is one such hidden gem. Read on for a step-by-step guide to enjoying one of the best cycling routes on Tokyo’s west side.

Route Overview

A small alley in a park
The Zenpukuji River cuts through several large parks—the perfect place to escape into nature.

The Zenpukuji River is actually a tributary of the larger and more famous Kanda River, splitting off from it near Nakano-fujimicho Station on the Tokyo Metro subway line. The river course in this article starts just before the waterways split in the dense urban setting of southern Nakano Ward, cuts through a series of expansive, beautiful parks, and ends up in the tranquil neighborhoods of Suginami Ward.

Getting Started

A small river is flowing between buildings

The starting point of our course, just outside of Nakano-fujimicho Station. Ride on the right side to ensure that you stay on course when the Zenpukuji River splits off from the Kanda River, pictured above.

The best place to start this journey is just outside Nakano-fujimicho Station. When heading east to west, this is the first point where it becomes possible to ride alongside the river (still the Kanda River at this point). From here, proceed west. If you stay on the right side of the Kanda River, you’ll automatically hook up to the Zenpukuji River, which you’ll ride along for the rest of your trip.

After about a kilometer of riding, you’ll run into Tokyo Metropolitan Road Route 318, one of Tokyo’s major thoroughfares and the only major interruption you’ll experience on this ride. After crossing Route 318, sync back up with the river and continue riding west, watching urban apartment buildings fade away into single-family homes and riverside parks.

In the distance, a modern building with several round towers and a traditional temple roof
In the distance: the Great Sacred Hall of the Rissho-Kosei-kai, a sect of Japanese Buddhism. This is the most fascinating landmark you’ll see on this route. You’ll find it between Nakano-fujimicho Station and Route 318.
The buildings next to the river start getting smaller.
Just after crossing Route 318. The scenery is still urban, but that will start to change just as you round the river bend, as depicted in the image below.
Some cherry blossom trees along the river.

Into the Green

A park with a pong and a lot of green
Wadabori Park, among other spots along this route, is popular with birdwatchers and nature photographers. Restaurants and vending machines are nearby, so this is an ideal place to stop and recharge if needed.

Before you know it, you’ll be cycling under a canopy of green as the Zenpukuji River continues to wind its way west. You’ll pass through several vast parks with luscious green landscapes as far as the eye can see.  You’ll quickly forget that you’re actually riding through one of the world’s largest metropolises. Don’t fret if you’re short on energy–there’s an array of small shops and plenty of vending machines to be found near the beginning of this section of the ride.

Multiple paths parallel the river–great for weekend rides when the park can get crowded.

End of the Line

The inside of a park with blooming cherry blossoms

Unfortunately, this course comes to an abrupt, unceremonious end. At the time of this writing, the river trail is under construction, which blocks the river-adjacent paths after about six kilometers of riding. Even if you venture into the surrounding neighborhoods to work your way around the construction, you’ll soon find that the riverside paths become too narrow to comfortably cycle. So from here, the best thing to do is to head back the way you came, perhaps taking a few detours on side paths to mix things up a bit. Or, if you don’t mind the perils of Tokyo urban riding you can venture off into the neighborhoods of Suginami Ward and continue to explore Tokyo’s west side.

Get the Details

If this river riding course piques your interest, check out this map for a detailed breakdown of the route featured in this article.

Originally from California, I've been living and working in Japan, now my second home, since 2009. My work as a communications consultant lends a unique perspective to my writing, and I often explore the business behind Japan’s beauty. When I’m not working, you can find me hunched over a screen reviewing kanji flashcards in my never-ending quest to master the Japanese language.

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