The Grand Nature of Tokyo's "Citizens' Forests"
The Lush Forests Covering Western Tokyo
Tokyo has a strong reputation as an urban metropolis, but in fact, about 40% of its total area is covered in forest. In an attempt to bring its people closer to this wealth of nature, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government designated two particular areas of the prefecture as Tomin no Mori ("Citizens' Forests") about 30 years ago.
They are known as Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens, located in Hinohara Village, and Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens, located in Okutama Town. Both are found in the mountains of western Tokyo in Nishitama District, situated within Chichibu-Tama-Kai National Park straddling Saitama, Yamanashi, and Nagano prefectures. Each is set up with facilities that serve as a base for activities in the area. Here, we will introduce some of the forests' unique characteristics and ways to enjoy them.
Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens is Popular for its Easily Accessible Programs
The Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens, is a 197-hectare tract of land encompassing Mt. Mito (1,531 meters above sea level) and its foothills, the highest of the three mountains in Okutama. The area is so vast, it could hold 42 Tokyo Domes—the largest baseball stadium in Japan, with a seating capacity of 55,000. A rare beech forest lies near the summit, and a variety of wild birds can be seen during each of the different seasons. It is popular among mountain climbers, cyclists, and motorcycle tourists, with the number of visitors topping seven million in May 2022.
The "Forest Hall," standing at an elevation of 1,043 meters, serves as a hub for a number of different events, including guided wilderness classes, enjoyed by adults and children alike. In the summer, catch a glimpse of the brightly colored migratory blue-and-white flycatchers, and observe salamanders inhabiting the mountain streams. In the winter, make a Christmas wreath out of fir leaves from the forest and track animals across the snowy mountains.
Woodworking classes teach participants how to make actual tables, chairs, and other pieces of furniture. There are also wooden keychain-making and log-cutting workshops that do not require a reservation and have proven to be a big hit. A new climbing wall has been installed as well. The restaurant "Tochinomi," meanwhile, offers a variety of dishes that feature maitake mushrooms and other Hinohara Village specialties, making it a great spur-of-the-moment visit any time of day.
Morikawa Mamoru, manager of the Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens Management Office, specifically recommends a walk down Otaki Path. The trail leads you from the Forest Hall to Mito Waterfall, one of the must-see spots in the area. In 2007, the path was designated a "Therapy Road" by the NPO Forest Therapy Society for its demonstrated healing effects. The path is laid with wood chips, making it easy to walk on. "A stroll through the forest will really soothe and energize you. Even in the middle of summer, the daytime temperature usually stays in the 20s around here, so it's a comfortable place to be," says Manager Morikawa.
An Overnight Wilderness Experience Unique to Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens
The Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens stretches across an 82.4-hectare area encompassing Mt. Gozen (1,405 meters above sea level) and its foothills. Covered with Japanese larch, cedar, and Hinoki cypress groves, it is known for the beautiful Asian fawn lilies that bloom in spring. The "Forest of Experiences" zone offers hands-on programs that let visitors experience forestry and mountain climbing. Moreover, a two-day, one-night program is held almost every weekend at the Tochiyori Forest House, a lodging facility in Tochiyori Village, drawing wildlife lovers from not only Tokyo but the entire Kanto region.
The "Wild Work Experience" forestry program is extensive, with instructors teaching visitors how to plant trees, clear underbrush to promote growth, and prune branches throughout the year. It aims to share the fun and importance of the forestry industry through hands-on activities. Some past participants are even said to be employing the skills they learned here in the woodlands in similar areas near to where they live.
The mountain climbing program offers a variety of climbs, with a number of routes traversing the mountains around Okutama alongside the classic Mt. Gozen hike. In addition, the "Gather Up, Mountain Girls" program is geared toward women and is beginner friendly. It teaches the basics of climbing, setting up tents, cooking in the mountains, and other essential know-how on day one, before setting off on an actual climb on day two. Other popular programs let visitors enjoy cycling, river activities like canyoning and packrafting, and stream fishing.
Sugita Haruhiko, manager of the Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens Management Office, says, "I hope that these hands-on forestry experiences and hikes will help people feel more connected to the forest. Trying your hand at forestry work in particular really changes the way you view trees when you step foot into the woods."
Bask in nature on a casual day trip to Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens, or stay overnight at Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens and take your time enjoying the mountains and trees. Either way, both experiences are precious gems that offer a crucial source of wellbeing to countless people.
Photos courtesy of the Hinohara Forest of Tokyo Citizens, the Okutama Forest of Tokyo Citizens
Translation by Amitt