Zama City feels utterly provincial after a fast day in Tokyo, but that’s the key to its charm. If what your after is bird songs, blossoms and mountain views then spend a day in Zama Yatoyama Park (an ecology reserve). The park is a hidden gem and easily accessed in an hour or less, from Tokyo or Yokohama, via the Odakyu line.
Zama Yatoyama Park
Tucked away, just a short 10-minute walk from Zama Station, is Zama Yatoyama Park. One could walk by the walls of the park and never know what lies within. Opened in 1993, it then spanned 76 acres; I estimate additional sections of the park have been developed over the years.
On a nice day, plan for a picnic and don’t forget your camera. Pick up fresh snacks and pastries right outside the train station at Odakyu OX or the pastry shop next door before heading to the park. Once stocked and ready; proceed north (directly behind Odayku OX) along a narrow road with the train tracks to your left. Halfway there, the gates of the park will emerge to your right, carry on until you reach the entrance. As you enter the grounds, the enchantingly peaceful park will melt away all thoughts of the outside world.
Just inside the main entrance is a demonstration rice field in varying stages of growth. This is the beginning of your ZY Park education. Though the information is solely in Japanese, picture maps and signs throughout the park will help you identify the varying eco-systems and the plants and critters associated. As I am not a botanist or particularly scientifically inclined, I will not fake expertise, but encourage you to visit the park and geek out to your hearts content. Whether it’s a Great Titmouse (the city bird), Olive Trees or native plants you’re after, this park has something for everyone.
I’ve been to the park mid-day, mid-week when it is mostly a retired group out walking, sitting contemplatively or birding. This is a great time for people watching, which I enjoy almost as much as searching for butterflies, frogs and dragonflies.
Birding is a huge attraction at the park; you can rent binoculars at the community center. At the duck pond, it seems on most days, there are half dozen or more birders with their spotting scopes ready.
On the weekend you will encounter families and couples splayed out on blankets or tossing a ball in one of the grassy fields. For good hiking trails, head into the wooded-Eastern corner of the park.
Personal highlight: On the northwest side of the park find a bench or grassy spot to sit and take in the view of the mountains and the valley of homes below (see picture attached). If you find yourself there at sunset, enjoy! You'll leave the park amazed by the beauty of Zama.
Facilities: vending machine for drinks, restrooms, binoculars for rent, picnic tables and community center (the maps and pamphlets are in Japanese). Dogs on leash are welcome.