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Meguro River Walk
An inner city hike

The Meguro River winds its way to the Bay through three of Tokyo' "cities" Setagaya, Meguro and Shinagawa. During the 1980s, these cities banded together to improve the river area and today it's an attractive place for an afternoon's urban hike. Kristen McQuillin leads the way.

Nakanobashi

This walk through Meguro City is approximately four kilometers long and goes past (or over or into) 25 bridges, two parks, a love hotel, two temples and three museums.

Begin at Ikejiri-Ohashi station on the Tokyu Shin-Tamagawa line, one stop from Shibuya. Leave the station via the east exit and turn right. The south bank of the river is one block away. The attractive, brick roads are lined with cherry trees which make a spectacular show in spring and cover the street with comfortable shade during the summer.

Your first stop is two blocks away from the head of the Meguro River. At the first cross street (between blocks 3-1 and 3-5) turn right and walk to the end of the street. You'll see a children's playground on your left - typically Japanese, there are huge, concrete climbing structures and metal jungle gyms teeming with children.

Seseragi

Your target, Higashiyama Kaizuka Koen, is just beyond the playground. A quiet, wooded parklet reconstructs an ancient, Jomon-period house and its environs at the site of an archeological digging of kaizuka, or shell mounds. The house is constructed of mud and wood and looks like a giant beehive. The park itself is shady and damp. A small stream falls over stones and leads to a pond filled with black koi. Sun creates a mottled effect on the water as it filters through the leaves of the young trees planted on the periphery.

When you've had your fill of this quiet place, or of the children's playground, head back to the river and continue on your way.

Your walk continues along the south bank of the river. You'll pass by a number of bridges built and named according to their locations. Ohashi is the "Big Bridge" that carries the street at Ikejiri-Ohashi across the river. Tokiwabashi, the "Time Bridge," is where you turned for the park. Now you pass by Bandaibashi, Hikawabashi and Higashiyamabashi. Megurobashi, the sixth bridge on your route, allows the river to pass underneath it but pedestrians are prohibited. You'll have to detour around this highway overpass. Turn north (left) to reach the closest traffic light.

The seventh bridge, Nakanobashi, is the perfect place for a photo opportunity. The cheery red arches of the bridge contrast with the green of the spring foliage and the darkness of the river. The flora and fauna, while re-emerging after years of encouragement, are still rather subtle. You are not likely to see any fish in this part of the Meguro River, though they do live further downstream.

If your creative muse is urging you to take advantage of the scenery, stop in at the family-owned art supply and framing shop on the north side of the river, near Chitosahashi. You'll find plenty of sketchpads, pens, colored pencils, paints, brushes and other art paraphernalia crammed into this tiny store.

Meguro River in the afternoon

For the next few blocks, you'll see boutiques and restaurants interspersed with residential buildings. Stop in to browse clothing or buttons, have a glass of wine or view some art.

Two places along this stretch of the waterway stand out. On the north bank is a lot that stockpiles broken and used slabs of granite and marble - another art supply store of sorts. It's interesting to note the varied styles of stone and, judging from the stacks, this place has been here for a long time!

Across the river is Johann, a cheesecake shop of local renown. You may want to buy a slice to take away as a snack later on. There are usually several varieties available: plain, sour-cream topped, melon and a special of the day. If you're feeling hungry enough for a meal, the north side of the river and the side streets near Naka-Meguro station are dotted with tiny eateries. Or supplement your cheesecake with more substantial picnic trimmings from the basement of the Tokyu nearby.

Just beyond Naka-Meguro station, the Jyakuzure River joins the Meguro River. At the intersection is a small community garden. Children play ball here and during hanami, picnickers come with baskets laden with treats from Johann.

Continuing the walk along the river, you come to Komazawa Dori. If you're ready for a brief detour away from the river, turn right and walk south on Komozawa Dori, crossing over to the Shokaku Temple at the corner of Yamate Dori. In the far corner of the temple compound is a low, arched gateway leading into a picturesque cemetery.

Jizo figures at Daienji Temple

Your next stop is on Yamate Dori, just across the street from the temple. The Megurogawa Funa-iriba is where the river was widened to make room for boats unloading cargo. No boats ply this part of the river, though, so the widening is unused. There are three levels of open plazas which host flea markets and other events on the weekends. During the week, this is a popular spot for pigeon-feeding seniors, for citizens exercising their dogs and sometimes for teenagers to practice rollerblading. It's a good place to take a break and watch the ebb and flow of people walking their dogs and stopping to chat with one another.

If you want to learn about the technology of the river and its water management, as well as the river's flora and fauna, don't miss the free River Museum of Meguro, also in the plaza. On the first floor of the museum you can peer down into the actual structure of the retarding basin that prevents flooding; upstairs a multimedia display demonstrates the workings of the basin. The river improvements included building the high river walls you've been walking along, which help to prevent flooding.

During the summer the river dries to a shallow stream and you might wonder how it could possibly flood. In part this is due to our increasingly paved and cemented-over world. Descriptions of the techniques used to ensure that water seeps through the ground and into the waterway are one of the museum's highlights.

Back out in the sunshine, continue walking along the river. The area around the museum is home to many spotbill ducks, who seem to like the rocks in the funa-iriba. You'll recognize the incineration plant on the north side of the river by its tall, white smokestack. This is where the city's garbage comes to be burned.

The Meguro Citizen's Center complex combines a park with three swimming pools, a bowling alley, an archery range, tennis courts, a library with a small collection of English language books, a restaurant and rooms for community activities. Facilities are available to citizens of Meguro city and the general public. If you're in the mood for a swim or a bowl as you pass through, you can make use of the facilities for a small fee.

Also in the Citizen's Center complex is the Meguro Art Museum. There are two sections: one exhibits paintings and artworks by Meguro artists and is free to the public; the other half has visiting exhibitions. The admission price depends on the exhibit but is in the JY500 range.

Thread your way back through the Citizen's Center park to the river. At Meguro Dori, turn right and cross the street for a side trip to a unique museum - truly the only one of its kind in the world. A few blocks down Meguro Dori you reach the Parasite Museum. Get your fill of parasite specimens and don't miss the eight-meter tapeworm display on the second floor. Interactive displays allow you to see exactly what parasites inhabit Japan and what they can do to you. The souvenir gift shop boasts parasite jewelry, tote bags and T-shirts.

After being sufficiently grossed out, return to the river. You'll see a tall, turreted building on the south bank. This is the Gallery Hotel/Meguro Club, a discreet, pricey love hotel. Depending on who is in your walking party, you may want to pop in for a "rest." You can buy two hours of quiet space for only JY8000!

Past the hotel, you'll come to the final bridge of the day, Taikobashi. Restored in 1991, it is designed in an Edo-period style. It, along with Meguroshinbashi, which you passed over at Meguro Dori, are government designated Famous Bridges.

At Taikobashi, cross over to the north side of the river. On the right are Meguro Gajoen Hotel and Sugino Women's College. Up the hill past them is your final stop before reaching Meguro station, the end of your walk.

Daienji Temple in late afternoon is a solemn place. Jizo figures, commemorating stillborn or aborted infants, stand sentinel near the gate as you enter. Weathered toys and stuffed animals left as tributes are poignant. To the right statues of the Gohyaku Rakan (500 followers of Buddha) are arrayed on the hill behind a large Buddha sculpture. Daienji is not a large temple, so touring it takes only a few moments. The new building in the back is used for funeral services.

To reach Meguro station, turn right as you leave the temple and make a steep but brief ascent up Gyoninzaka. The station is on your left as you reach the large intersection. And home is not far away!

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