Early Spring Stroll at Hamarikyu Gardens

Date Visited: March 12, 2017

Nestled in the urban jungle of Shimbashi is the curious world of Hamarikyu Gardens. I say curious because big public parks in Tokyo are usually enclosed in such a way that stepping into them takes you into a different world altogether; Hamarikyu, on the other hand, makes you rediscover the vastness of the sky.

This is in itself a good thing, but it also makes for a peculiar experience. At Hamarikyu, nature and traditional structures abound, but the presence of tall, proud buildings standing in the distance also cannot be ignored. The result, at least for me, is a discord in time and space; a conflation of relaxation and stress, as if reminding the visitor that one cannot exist without the other.

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A pond and an arch bridge, with tall buildings in the distance

What lead me to Hamarikyu was actually the fact that a portion of it used to be the site for hunting ducks. Hamarikyu has preserved two of such hunting grounds, each dating back to the Edo Period.

Back then, duck hunting was enjoyed as a leisurely activity. People built narrow waterways to trap wild ducks and capture them. At the end of these waterways were wooden structures with peepholes, behind which people stood quietly to check whether the wild ducks are close enough for capture.

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People stood behind these wooden structures to check whether wild ducks are close by.

The process was intriguing. Locals trained domestic ducks to fly and swim to the narrow waterways at the sound of a mallet. These attracted wild ducks to follow them. While the ducks swam, the birdwatcher watched quietly from behind the wooden structure. His job is to give a signal as soon as the ducks are close enough for capture. Once the signal is given, duck captors who had hid themselves by the waterways hurled nets into the water, thus capturing the wild ducks.

Patiently keeping an eye for wild ducks.

Perhaps because hunting ducks was more of a sport than a necessity, a stone tablet commemorating the lives of wild ducks lost to people’s whims was erected much later in 1935.

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Grave of Ducks

This was what actually drew me to Hamarikyu. I found it quite fascinating that people would build a grave for wild ducks. Some people may find it silly, but I find the respect for life, regardless of size, rather endearing.

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Ducks at Hamarikyu, some swimming and some sleeping

Other than the duck hunting grounds, Hamarikyu is also loved for its flowers. Since I visited the park earlier in March, the trees were mostly bare, save for some plum blossoms that bloomed to greet adoring passers-by.

Plum blossoms signaling the coming of spring

Despite the absence of cherry blossoms, I found  that  people flocked to Hamarikyu in early spring for another reason: the nanohana fields.

Called “rape blossoms” in English, these yellow flowers can grow to a considerable height. Along with plum blossoms, they serve as nature’s messengers, telling people that spring is on its way.

Overall, Hamarikyu provides its visitors a place to relax, gaze at flowers and learn about ways of life once upon a time. If you want some quiet time, this place is one good option.

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Side Trip! 

Just across from Hamarikyu lies the Shiba Italy Park, a small park with a Roman theme. The park is a good place to take pictures of the Tokyo Monorail passing by.

The Tokyo Monorail as seen from Shiba Italy Park

Hamarikyu Gardens (Hamarikyu Teien)
Location: Tokyo
Entrance Fee: Regular – JPY 300; Senior – JPY 150
Access:
1-1, Hama Rikyu-teien, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0046
Toei Oedo Line
Shiodome Sta./Tsukiji-shijo Sta./Yurikamome Shiodome Sta
7 minutes on foot
JR or Tokyo Metro Ginza Line/Toei Asakusa Line
Shimbashi Sta.
Water Bus (Asakusa—Hama-rikyu—Hinode-Sambashi)
Google Maps
Official Website

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