Though it is located in Kawasaki and only a 20-minutes train ride from Shinjuku in Tokyo, the Ikuta Ryokuchi (Green Land) Park may be one of the spots least visited by non-Japanese tourists and residents. The 179.3-hectare park offers unique museums, walking trails, gardens, and even a golf course in the midst of the lush Tama Hills. It can be a wonderful weekend getaway.
The park’s major attraction is Nihon Minka-en, theJapan Open-air Folk House Museum. This is a folk village with a collection of over 20 houses, a watermill, and an amphitheater-like Kabuki stage from the 17th to 19th centuries replicated by the City of Kawasaki. The open-air museum is divided into five parts based on where in Japan the farmers’ and merchants’ houses were originally located (e.g., the Kanto or Tohoku region) during the Edo era. Each of the houses has explanatory guides displayed in English.
Halfway through the village trail, a house from Shirakawa-go Village, a designated World Heritage Site, made in the traditional Gassho-zukuri style with its characteristically steep thatched roof awaits hungry visitors. Here, you can enjoy soba (buckwheat noodles) or anmitsu (tasty agar jelly usually topped with fruit, red bean paste, or ice cream) and have a good look at this magnificent structure of the roof that looks like hands joined in prayer (gassho).
Another interesting experience at Ikuta Ryokuchi Park may be appreciating abstract art by a Paris-trained Japanese artist, just outside the folk village. The Taro Okamoto Museum of Art, built underground, exhibits works by this versatile avant-garde painter and sculptor. He is best known for the Tower of the Sun he designed for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka. Before you enter the building, deep-set in the ivy-clad walls, you are bound to notice a white tower with black human figures dancing on it, soaring across the large square. This is called the Tower of Mothers. Be sure to take a picture of it, as this huge object is incredibly photogenic. It will come out as a mystic looking image, even if all you photograph it with is a smartphone.
Although I visited this park on a Sunday during the school summer vacation season, it was not crammed with people the way other popular parks in Tokyo are. And with several walking trails to explore in the cherry blossom and autumn foliage seasons, one visit will not be enough to fully enjoy this vast green land. If you occasionally feel the need to get out of Tokyo but do not feel energetic enough to go far away, try this park. And if you are a first time visitor to Japan this park offers so many interesting cultural and artistic sights without the Tokyo crowds – make your own discoveries off the beaten path.
Tower of Mothers by Taro Okamoto – Flickr cc Kentaro Ohno