At least insomuch as my own personal outings have been concerned, the 2023 cherry blossom season has largely been a wet one. I guess that is part and parcel of being what the Japanese call an ame-otoko (lit. “rainy guy”). Not wanting to let the spring downpours cancel my chance to see the cherry blossoms though, I recently decided to make an excursion to Asukayama Park up in Kita-ku on the northern edges of Tokyo. Unlike with the extremely popular Meguro River, I’d be far less likely to lose an eye to a stray umbrella spoke at a hidden gem like this.
If you’ve never heard of Asukayama Park before, know that you’re likely not alone in this regards. While public parks like Yoyogi Park and the aforementioned Meguro River are well known these days (even by foreign tourists), Asukayama Park has largely yet to pop up on the radar. Home to nearly 700 cherry trees, this hilltop space hosts an annual festival when the cherry blossoms bloom in late March. At least when not during a global pandemic, this event also attracts a number of food trucks that sell a succulent variety of grub to savor.
Though its history is certainly not the reason that one ought to visit Asukayama Park, there is a bit of a historical legacy here should that be your shtick. For starters, the hundreds of cherry blossom trees were planted nearly three centuries ago during the Edo period (1603–1868) by the eighth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune. Thereafter, Asukayama Park went on to win the honor of being one of the first public parks in Japan, an official title that is shared with Ueno Park, Shiba Park and Fukagawa Park.
Finally, in addition to its impressive collection of cherry blossoms, Asukayama Park is also home to three museums. I’ll detail each of these down in the “What to See & Do” section of this article so be sure to stick around. There’s also a chic cafe on the park’s grounds though you’ll likely not want to wait in line for a seat if you’re visiting during the main cherry blossom season. Rather than kill time waiting, I suggest you bring your own food to munch on “hanami style” and do as many Japanese do during this time of the year.
How to Get There
Let’s pause for a quick second and cover some key logistics before moving onto what is on offer in Asukayama Park. For starters, you’re going to need to make your way up to Oji Station in Tokyo’s Kita-ku where Asukayama Park is located. While I’ll encourage you to refer to a service like Jorudan whenever you need to calculate any train departures in Japan, know that this part of the journey can be done via either JR’s Keihin Tohoku Line or Tokyo Metro’s Namboku Line. From there, you’ll need to trek up the small hill that sits beside the JR Oji Station.
For most visitors, the previously-suggested pair of train lines will be the most convenient. That said, should you want a nostalgic experience of Japan’s capital, you can elect to make use of the Tokyo Sakura Tram (a.k.a. the Toden Arakawa Line). This is one of only two tram lines left in Tokyo and runs from Minowabashi Station to Waseda Station. While I’d only suggest that you do this if the connections work in your favor, you’ll want to take the Tokyo Sakura Tram to Asukayama Station on the west side of the park if you’re coming via this alternative.
In terms of timing, you’ll want to note that Asukayama Park tends to reach peak bloom in sync with the rest of the Kanto Region. Thus, you’ll want to time your visit somewhere between late March and early April. Should you go there any later, there is a solid chance that the cherry blossoms will mostly no longer be around for you to enjoy. Though this does indeed mean that there might be an opportunity cost in terms of a visit to the standard spots, Asukayama Park will at least be a little less crowded.
The Asukayama Park Monorail
As mentioned previously, Asukayama Park is located atop a small hill. While people of most fitness levels can make it to the top in a matter of minutes, the powers that be have gone and made an easy alternative for those with children as well as those with mobility impairments. Seen above, this means of making your way up to the cherry blossoms is known as the Asukayama Park Monorail. You’ll find the Asukayama Park Monorail located just north of the park.
All things considered, I really don’t think that you need to make use of the Asukayama Park Monorail unless you’re traveling with an infant or something. That said, the option is there and a ride is rather adorable. While it might make for good Gram footage, just don’t take a spot from an elderly Japanese person who also wants to see the pink pretties atop the small bluff. Note that the fare to access the Asukayama Park Monorail is a few hundred yen.
What to See & Do
Here, I’d like to start by reiterating that the primary reason one would come up to this part of north Tokyo would be to see the beautiful cherry blossoms. Thus, the following three museums that I’ll introduce are more of an added bonus than anything else. In fact, unless it’s a rainy spring day like when I went, I doubt many of those visiting Asukayama Park even bother to enter any of the trio.
At the same time though, the museums do have a bit of a niche appeal and are conveniently all located in the southern part of Asukayama Park. Below, I’ll leave a short description of each museum as well as a link to a Google Map. That said, be sure to double check the opening hours as I think they change with the season…
- Kita-ku Asukayama Historical Museum
Definitely the biggest of the three, this facility curates a number of works by local artists. What’s intriguing about the artifacts and masterpieces on display here though is that they range from the Edo period (1603–1868) to as far back as prehistory. Should you fancy traditional Japanese art, you definitely should spend a few minutes inside.
- The Paper Museum
This museum was created in 1950 by Narita Kiyufusa, a man who once worked at the biggest paper manufacturer in this part of the city. Though the producer was originally founded in 1875, much of their creations were lost to the fire bombings of Tokyo. Narita Kiyufusa salvaged whatever he could from the ashes and overtime, the collection grew to be one of the most comprehensive in the world. Visitors to The Paper Museum today can also experience making parchment with recycled paper.
- Shibusawa Memorial Museum
Built directly onto the residence of Shibusawa Eiichi, this museum is dedicated to the legendary life and achievements of the so-called father of Japanese capitalism. Inside, you can learn all about this important businessman and industrialist. While the Shibusawa Memorial Museum doesn’t really cater to most people, it might have some niche appeal for some of you. Personally, I skipped this one so I can’t comment on if there’s English signage inside or not.
In addition to these three facilities, there is also a small playground within the confines of Asukayama Park. Here, you’ll find an old steam locomotive that was used between 1943 and 1972 that is still in great condition. Directly next to it, there is also an old Tokyo Sakura Tram train car that was formerly in use between the years 1949 and 1978. Should you be visiting with kids, these are great relics of a time gone by to explore together!
Other Nearby Attractions
In comparison to other parts of Japan’s capital, Kita-ku does not boast as many allures. That said, there are a few other places near Asukayama Park that are worth visiting. For example, nearby you’ll also encounter the likes of Oji Shrine, an ancient Shinto sanctuary that is allegedly older than we have any historical records for. You’ll find it just to the north of Otonashi Water Park (pictured above), a tranquil space that can be thought of as something like an extension of Asukayama Park. Oji Shrine’s main claim to fame is its 600-year-old ginko tree but that is something for autumn.
Seeing as you’ll likely be spending most of the day enjoying your time outside during cherry blossom season (a magnificent time of year if I do say so myself), I suggest you simply head back towards central Tokyo via the Keihin Tohoku Line or the Namboku Line when you’re done with Asukayama Park. There is simply too much else to do to warrant trying to eke out more from your time in Kita-ku. Heck, if you’re craving more pink blossoms, you could even head to one of the more well known parks in the metropolis on your way back.
Until next time travelers…