Kokubunji Guide Tokyo
Kokubunji Guide: Kokubunji is a city of about 123,000 inhabitants on the western outskirts of metropolitan Tokyo. Kokubunji is largely a residential city from which people can easily commute to Tokyo for work. The city features a large number of parks and is popular with young families.
- Name and History
- Kokubunji Cliffline
- Tonogayato Gardens
- Nogawa River
- O-Taka no Michi
- O-Taka no Michi Spring Garden
- Musashino Kobubunji Temple remains
- Kokubunji Temple
- Musashi Kokubunji Nun Temple remains
- Shinkansen Museum
Kokubunji, Tokyo 国分寺 東京
by Johannes Schonherr
Kokubunji is a city of about 123,000 inhabitants on the western outskirts of metropolitan Tokyo. It is largely a residential city from which people can easily commute to Tokyo for work. The city features a large number of parks and is popular with young families.
Kokubunji Station is a very busy commuter railway crossroads, it connects the JR Chuo Line to the Seibu Kokubunji Line running towards Tokorozawa and western Saitama Prefecture. With the Seibu Tamako Line, the recreational areas around the Sayama and Tama Lakes are in easy reach from Tokyo via Kokubunji.
Two residential towers stick straight out of Kokubunji Station: the Cocobunji East and the Cocobunji West. They were opened to residents in 2018 and are with their 36 floors above ground the tallest buildings in town.
Downtown Kokubunji with the south side of Kokubunji Station in the background
Name and History
In the year 741 A.D., Nara Period Emperor Shomu (701 - 756) decreed that a large temple must be erected in every province he claimed to be under his reign.
Construction soon started and kokubunji (Provincial Temples) were built all over the country.
The kokubunji provincial temple for Musashino Province, covering today's Saitama Prefecture as well as western Tokyo, was erected below a steep slope in otherwise mostly flat Musashino, on the grounds of today's Kokubunji City.
The temple turned Kokubunji into a lively political, economic, cultural and religious center which lasted for centuries.
Its final days arrived with the Genko War (1331 - 1333), the war that led to the end of the Kamakura Period (1185 - 1333). In their March on Kamakura in 1333, warlord Yoshisada Nitta's troops moved along the Kamakura Kami no Michi, the main road towards Kamakura from the north which closely went by the Musashino Kokubunji Temple.
Fighting the Hojo clan ruling Kamakura, Nitta's troops engaged in the Battle of Bubaigawara (in today's Fuchu City, neighboring Kokubunji). During the battle, the temples and settlements of the Musashino Kokubunji Temple were burned to the ground. The name of the once grand temple however stuck to area - and does so today.
After the Genko War, Musashino Province was ruled by the Nitta clan. Kokubunji became a rural village.
A new municipality system introduced by the Meiji government in 1889 merged Kokubunji with 10 neighboring villages.
In 1893, the Kawagoe Railway (the current Seibu Railways) opened Kokubunji Station, connecting Kokubunji with the rail network of Tokyo and western Saitama Prefecture. This rail connection is known today as the Seibu Kokubunji Line, running from Kokubunji to Higashi Murayama and connecting there to the Seibu Shinjuku Line. Some trains travel through all the way from Kokubunji to Kawagoe.
Kokubunji was recognized as town in 1940 and was elevated to the status of Kokubunji City in 1964.
North side of Kokubunji Station with the Cocobunji Towers
A geological fault line running East to West and called the Kokubunji Cliffline divides the city into an upper and lower part in the otherwise perfectly flat landscape. The "cliff" is in fact a slope and in many parts it's not even particularly steep. Still, the cliffline is the dominating geographical feature of the city.
It's wooded for the most part, the old temple grounds and the traditional neighborhoods are right blow the cliffline while Kokubunji Station and the modern parts of the city are on the upper side.
Though Kokubunji is essentially a bed town for Tokyo commuters, it does have its attractions. Visiting the attractions in the order they are listed below would make for a scenic walk. Most of the walk is clearly labeled with English language signs.
The pond of the Tonogayato Gardens, Kokubunji, Tokyo
Stone Bridge Prayer Monument near Fudobashi Bridge, Kokubunji
Tonogayato Gardens 殿ケ谷戸庭園
The Tonogayato Gardens, located only about a 3 minute walk from the South Exit of Kokubunji Station are one of Kokubunji's most famous visitor spots.
The gardens were created on the slopes of the Kokubunji Cliffline by Teiji Eguchi, the then vice president of the Southern Manchuria Railway Company, between 1913 and 1915. They are a very fine example of a classic Japanese garden. They feature a small pond with a tiny island in its center, the assorted flowers and trees of the garden with their various blooming seasons provide a colorful scenery during almost the whole year. Flowing into the pond are several small waterfalls - the ground water gushes out easily on the slopes of the Kokubunji Cliffline.
An English-language flyer is available at the entrance to the park, spelling out the details about many of its tiny but intricate details.
Opening times: Open Daily from 9 am to 5 pm, closed during the New Year Holidays (December 29th - January 1st)
Admission: 150 yen
Phone: 042 324 7991
Address: 2-16 Minami-cho, Kokubunji, Tokyo
English-language website: teien.tokyo-park.or.jp
O-Taka no Michi (Hawk Road), Kokubunji, Tokyo
Nogawa River 野川
Below the Tonogayato Gardens and the Kokubunji Cliffline, you find the Momiji Promenade. Momiji trees, often called Japanese maples, line the road, in autumn their leaves will turn a bright red.
Cross the narrow Nogawa River via the small Momiji Bridge. An ancient wooden gate stands right in front of a modern apartment complex on the other side of the river.
Turn right and follow the Nogawa River. You soon arrive at the Fudobashi Bridge (Immovable Bridge), crossing the river towards to cliffline. The bridge itself, though certainly historic, is rather unremarkable but the Ishibashi Kuyoto (Stone Bridge Prayer Monument) right behind it is an interesting spot.
A set of stone markers / stone figures were erected there in 1832 to express gratitude to the convenient bridge (then made of stone) and to apologize for the many people who step on it with their feet day after day. At the same time, it's a monument erected to ask the gods to prevent the village from anything bad coming over the bridge - with a particular focus on keeping epidemics out.
The Nagayamon Gate of the O-Taka no Michi Spring Garden
O-Taka no Michi お鷹の道
Continuing on the smalls roads along the Nogawa River leads you through Kokubunji Motomachi, the old core town of the city. The residential single family buildings on either side of the road date back no further than the 1970's but still, the area has a very vintage feel. Sometimes, large gardens open up the view towards the upper side of the cliffline.
Buildings tower up there, the two Cocobunji Towers rising straight out of Kokubunji Station being by far the tallest.
The road turns into a narrow pedestrian walkway called O-Taka no Michi (Hawk Road) following the river. Signs point out that this part of the river is a habitat of fireflies. They are visible in the evenings of June.
Musashi Kokubunji Temple remains
O-Taka no Michi Spring Garden おたかの道湧水園
Through the Nagayamon Gate, dating back to the late Edo Period, you can enter the O-Taka no Michi Spring Garden (O-Taka no Michi Yusui-en) right from the O-Taka no Michi walkway.
Located right at and partly stretching up the Kokubunji Cliffline, the garden offers a natural bamboo forest as well as some wildly overgrown areas with vintage wooden gates sticking out among the vegetation.
Admission to the park is 100 yen. You have to buy a ticket at the Ota Café Historical Station right in front of the park's gate. The Ota Café serves as an information center covering the Musashino Kokubunji Temple remains and its environs.
Opening times: Open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, closed on Mondays (if the Monday is a public holiday, the park will be closed on the following Tuesday), closed on the New Year Holidays (December 29th - January 3rd)
Ota Café Historical Station
Address: 1-13-10 Nishimoto, Kokubunji, Tokyo
Tel: 042 312 2878
Musashino Kobubunji Temple remains 武蔵野国分寺跡
Not much is left of Emperor Shomu's Musashino Kokubunji Provincial Temple. Next to nothing in fact besides a few foundation stones. The temple remains site is therefore often called the "temple traces" site on local English language signs.
The former temple site is today a wide open park planted with cherry trees. The locations of the former temple buildings are clearly marked, signs feature drawings depicting how the various parts of the temple most likely looked like.
The central part of the Musashi Kokubunji Temple may have looked like this
Kokubunji Temple 国分寺
The ancient temple had a northern building a bit outside the main compound and right below the Kokubunji Cliffline. Today that's the site of the more recent Kokubunji Temple.
After Yoshisada Nitta's army destroyed the grand old Musashi Kokubunji Temple, Nitta needed to erect a new temple on the former temple grounds. He didn't have the funds to rebuild the old Musashi Kokubunji Temple but he did donate the money to have a new, smaller Kokubunji Temple constructed in 1335. The temple has been rebuilt many times since.
Today, the temple features the impressive Tower Gate (erected in 1895) at its entrance from the former Musashino Kokubunji Temple site.
The Niomon Gate, a different gate leading to the temple grounds, dates back to 1764.
The Manyo Botanical Gardens are part of the temple and offer a great variety of plants. Some of them are blooming at any given time of the year though spring is the most colorful time for a visit.
Tower Gate, Kokubunji Temple, Kokubunji, Tokyo
Musashi Kokubunji Nun Temple remains 武蔵国分尼寺跡
A few hundred meters west of the Musashi Kokubunji Temple remains you find the Musashi Kokubunji Nun Temple remains. They are located just behind an underpass under the JR Musashino Railway Line.
Emperor Shomu's kokubunji provincial temples were exclusively for monks. The Emperor made however sure to always have a nun temple (convent) constructed close to the monk temple.
The Musashi Kokubunji Nun Temple, located right next to the ancient Kamakura Kami no Michi Road, was destroyed by Yoshisada Nitta's forces along with the Musashino Kokubunji Temple.
Today, only foundation stones are on view. The area serves as public park.
Right behind the Nun Temple remains is a short stretch of the old Kamakura Kami no Michi Road still visible, leading up the Kokubunji Cliffline. Locally it is simply known as the Old Kamakura Road.
Shinkansen Museum, Kokubunji, Tokyo
About a 10 minute walk north of Kunitachi Station (JR Chuo Line) are the large facilities of the National Railway Technical Research Institute, operated by Japan Railways (JR). The neighborhood in front of it is called Hikari-cho, in honor of the Hikari Shinkansen.
Across the street from the main entrance of the research institute and next to the Hikari Plaza Community Center, the front car of the Class 951 experimental Shinkansen train is on display.
It was built in 1969 and used for railway testing for the Tokaido Shinkansen Line. On February 24th 1972, the train set with 286 km/h a new world speed record between Nishi Akashi and Himeji Stations in Hyogo Prefecture. The 951 train was in experimental use until 1980.
In 1994, the front car of the 951 train was donated to the newly opened Hikari Plaza Community Center. The train car is open to the public and contains, besides a set of original passenger seats, a model train setting which can be operated by visitors and a library.
Visitors can sit down in the driver seat. Sitting down in a Shinkansen driver seat is a rare treat. (That treat is, however, also offered at Ome Railway Park in Ome, Tokyo further out on the JR Chuo Line.)
Opening times: Daily 10 am to 4:30 pm, closed every 2nd and 4th Monday in the month (on Tuesday if the Monday is a public holiday)
Admission is free
Address: 1-46-8 Hikari-cho, Kokubunji, Tokyo
Old Kamakura Road, Kokubunji, Tokyo
The Seibu Kokubunji Line connects Kokubunji Station with Higashi Murayama (transfer to the Seibu Shinjuku Line), some trains run through all the way to Kawagoe.
The Seibu Tamako Line runs from Kokubunji Station to Seibu Yuenchi.
The JR Musashino Line stops at Nishi Kokubunji Station, connecting to the JR Chuo Line
Kokubunji City website: www.city.kokubunji.tokyo.jp/ (machine translation option available)