PARKS AND TREPIDATION (2016)
Described by Tokyo’s official travel guide as “an oasis in the city,” Inokashira Park has helped make Kichijoji one of Tokyo’s trendiest neighbourhoods. Picturesque all year round–especially during sakura season–the park boasts plenty of attractions that make it a popular destination for both locals and tourists. There’s a zoo, a handful of lively restaurants and coffee shops, sports fields, an outdoor theater, a shrine, a pond, and the recently renovated Ghibli Museum. Whether you’re planning a first date, a picnic, or just scouting for the perfect spot to take your next selfie, Inokashira Park is a pretty safe bet.
Well, safe to an extent. Inokashira is idyllic in the day, but at night it can get straight-up creepy. As late-summer temperatures begin their slow descent and thick autumnal fog starts to swirl through through the trees, the line between “unforgettable evening stroll” and “the ‘Upside-Down’ from Stranger Things" quickly slips from focus.
The park's many walking paths change their tone after sunset, too. Inokashira is smaller than other popular Tokyo parks, but it’s still easy to lose the crowd. Walk through the park late at night and it won’t take long before you find yourself alone. Meandering trails that were inviting in the sunlight seem like significantly worse ideas after dark, even under lamp light.
The same holds true for the park's architecture. Inokashira's is home to several tiny coffee shops–like hidden gem Blue Sky Coffee–that could be mistaken for enchanted cottages during the day. But flip the switch to midnight and it’s like a scene from ’70s Japanese horror film House. Storm-shuttered and pitch black save for a single light in an upstairs window, the cafes look like the kind of place where the price of a latte isn’t a few hundred yen but your mortal soul. Still want that cup of joe?
It’s not just the shadows that lend the park its darkness. Legend says Benzaiten, the goddess honoured by Inokashira’s blood-red Shinto shrine, has placed a curse upon the park. Any couple who heads out on Inokashira Pond—yes, even via those adorable swan-shaped boats—will provoke jealous Benzaiten to snuff their romance shortly after they’re back on shore.
Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, there's something to dread. Inokashira was the site of an infamous and unsolved dismemberment case that inspired Natsuo Kirino’s 2004 crime thriller Out. Looks like it's not just local goddesses that have a score to settle.
The bright side to this gloom is that even at its eeriest, Inokashira Park is stunningly beautiful. In the right light, its dark side might even increase it attraction. More than merely picturesque, Inokashira has plenty of secrets and can completely transform itself based on which story you choose to believe. Sure, some of them might make your blood run cold, but a little fright can be fun...can't it?
Tokyo is one of the safest cities in the world, so there's little to fear in Inokashira no matter what the time of day. Or is that just what we tell ourselves to quiet our nerves? Until you explore Inokashira at night, who can really say what’s hidden in the shadows?