Kasai Rinkai Park is one of my very favourite places in Tokyo. Out in the east of the city, on the way to Disneyland and Chiba commuter city, planes whine and wobble overhead as they make their final approaches to Haneda Airport, and big ships wait out in the bay for favourable tides to dock.
More specifically, what I like is Kasai Kaihin Park, two sandy little islands by the sea which are accessible by bridge from the adjoining Rinkai Park (also very pleasant, if a little artificial for my liking). The east island is off-limits to people – one would have to swim to get there anyway – and the western island is pretty basic, with a stone toilet block, small cafe-cum-shop, and a few covered areas for when it rains.
Thanks to the hard work of a local non-profit organisation, it is now possible to paddle, if not full-out swim, in a controlled part of the sea close the shore, under the watch of two red-shorted lifeguards. If swimming is not your thing, Kaihin Park is a lovely place to sit and have lunch or a coffee whilst looking out to sea or across the bay to the skyscrapers in the middle of the city.
Of more interest to me, however, is that Kaihin Park stands as a fine example of how we can still learn plenty about environmental and natural processes within the confines of the city. Following on from Aldo Leopold’s famous quote about the weeds in the city lot conveying the same lessons as the redwoods, Andrew Light was one of the first to really take seriously this idea of urban environmental ethics – that is, the idea that we don’t have to climb mountains or trek to the deepest darkest forests to think about the effects our lifestyles can have on the natural environments around us.
Tokyo University of Marine Science and Technology’s Edo-Mae Education for Sustainable Development programme is based on exactly this idea, using Tokyo Bay as a basis for understanding the relationship between human and ecological processes. Kaihin Park is twenty-five minutes and two trains away from the Yamanote Line, but one could learn so much here – about the energy required to restore and preserve polluted land, about governing different pressures on the environment whilst of course protecting the environment itself, and about the psychological value and significance of nature. The tranquility of the beach here, in comparison to the city centre, I think really illustrates the importance of parks like this as spaces for quiet reflection.
On a lighter note, thanks to the effects of Typhoon Eleven the beach was ridiculously windy. My bento got blasted with sand, turning the rice rather crunchy, and I very nearly lost my hat. Although the wind alone did not deter a few hardy swimmers and fishers, who dabbled about close to shore under the watch of the lifeguards in their little hut, a sudden and massive downpour eventually sent everyone sprinting for shelter. Some natural processes we just cannot stop.