If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that the summer in Tokyo is hot. Often too hot. The combination of humidity and heat-soaked concrete makes for days where the thought of going outside is too much to even consider.
However, tucked away in a quiet corner of Setagaya, you’ll find a place unlike any other in Tokyo. A spot that’s not only naturally beautiful but also renowned specifically for being cooler than surrounding areas.
This pristine pocket of nature is Todoroki Valley.
One of the more unique aspects of Todoroki Valley, and something that makes it a great choice for a summer outing, is the fact that it’s always approximately two or three degrees cooler in the valley than the streets above.
At the valley’s entrance, visitors are greeted by a large digital thermometer that keeps an up-to-the-minute record of the temperature on street level, versus that of the lush valley below. It’s like a scoreboard of sorts, inviting passers-by down the nearby staircase for a chance to escape the sweltering summer sun.
One of a Kind
Further setting the valley apart from other outdoor spots, is how truly natural the landscape is. Unlike the majority of parkland in Tokyo, which is often neatly manicured and organized, Todoroki Valley is brimming with untamed nature and foliage.
Overhead, a thick canopy of green provides shade throughout much of the valley and is also home to the area’s birdlife, which can be heard among the leaves as you wander along the boardwalk or relax on one of the nearby benches.
Calmly winding along the floor of the valley, the Yazawa River keeps visitors company as the clear water laps against the rocks and passes beneath footbridges along the way, providing an ambient soundtrack that perfectly pairs with the surroundings.
Todoroki Tunnel Tombs
Continuing along the valley, it’s not long before visitors encounter something a little unexpected: the site of ancient tunnel tombs.
Originally six tunnel tombs were discovered at the site, however, today only one, discovered in 1973, remains in good enough condition to be viewed in its entirety. Known as Tunnel Tomb No. 3, the interior of this tomb can be seen through a window positioned at the entrance.
Based on the extravagant burial accessories of those found within the tombs, it’s believed that the people entombed here were once prominent figures within the surrounding area, which later became what we know today as Todoroki.
Nearing the end of Todoroki Valley, visitors are greeted by a number of small shrines, one of which features a statue dedicated to Kukai (known posthumously as Kobo Daishi); the scholar and monk who founded the esoteric Shingon School of Buddhism in Japan.
Yet what makes this particular shrine unique is that the statue depicts Kobo Daishi as a young boy, when he was known as Chigo Daishi.
Todoroki Fudoson Temple
Passing through the serene collection of moss-laden shrines, to the left, visitors are soon met with a stone staircase leading up to a scenic viewpoint overlooking the valley. It’s here that you’ll also find the striking Todoroki Fudoson Temple.
While the current pavilion was constructed during Japan’s Edo Period (1603–1867), and today features an enormous lantern and various ornate designs, it’s believed that followers of Kobo Daishi were responsible for the original founding of Todoroki Fudosan some 1,000 years ago.
Walk Amongst the Nihon Teien
Heading back down from the temple to the valley floor, visitors can continue on to the end of Todoroki Valley, where in contrast to the previously wild nature of the ravine, a neatly manicured Japanese garden awaits.
Known as Nihon Teien, a type of garden specifically designed to highlight and accentuate the natural landscape, this area offers a scenic counterpart to the rest of Todoroki Valley. It’s the perfect place to take a break and relax in a quiet environment and perhaps spot a dragonfly or two among the dense greenery.
Through the garden, another stone staircase leads up to Todoroki Ravine Park. Here you can find information on the Todoroki area. It’s also the perfect spot for a picnic on those slightly cooler summer days.
A Quick Escape
Along with its reduced temperature and picturesque scenery, another of Todoroki Valley’s attractive traits is its accessibility.
Located only 20 minutes from Shibuya Station, a visit to the valley can be made at a moment’s notice. The perfect day trip during a season in which the temperature can call for a quick change of plans.
After arriving at Todoroki Station, the valley is just two minutes on foot, with plenty of signage leading you towards this cooler climate that’s been hiding right beneath your nose.
To reach Todoroki Valley from Shibuya Station, visitors can take the Toyoko Line and then transfer at Jiyugaoka Station to the Oimachi Line until Todoroki Station.
Photos by Ben Cooke