Japanese families love spending idyllic weekends at the nearby community parks, and it's not hard to see why if you visit Kanuma Park in Kanagawa. Just a two minute walk away from the nearby JR Fuchinobe station, Kanuma Park is an a unheralded sightseeing gem that is at once easily accessible and yet also mysteriously dislocated from the hustle and bustle of the town. I must confess that I previously thought little of this stop, and believed that I would leave quickly after a short 20 minute walk through the green.
How wrong I was.
The assuming Kanuma Park entrance quickly gives way to a beautiful emerald lake set in the premises. The 'Haku-cho Ike', or 'Swan Lake', is home to about five of these snow-white birds, and even more of their young cygnets nestled in two nurseries built atop the lake. A scenic wooden bridge spans the breadth of the lake, adding to the rustic atmosphere of the park. It is also on this bridge that many informed local photographers set-up shop, trying to capture the perfect shot of the majestic swans.
A well shaded plain on the other side of lake makes for a perfect picnic spot, and when I went on a Saturday afternoon, many families were already relaxing there, armed with homemade bento and sports equipment. I was told that sakura blooms on the trees in that area, so Kanuma Park also makes for a perfect 'hana-mi' or 'sakura viewing' spot during the early April season.
Amazingly, the main attraction of Kanuma Park is not 'Haku-cho Ike', but rather the traffic mini-themepark here.
Complete with working traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and a multitude of street signs, the mini-themepark is a careful recreation of actual traffic conditions in Japan, albeit on smaller scale. Children from 3 up to 12 can rent different types of mini-replica vehicles, depending on their ages. Toddlers from 3-5 may sit in model cars and be towed around by an adult, older kids may choose mini pedal-powered 4 wheelers or bicycles to traverse the themepark. Elderly guides serve as mentors, teaching the children about road safety; how to watch out for pedestrians, or how to stop at the red light, for example.
Rental is free and each session lasts 30 minutes, with no limit to the number of sessions a single child can enjoy. The traffic mini-themepark does not show up on any tourist attraction guide - although it should - but it certainly has no lack of fans in local children, many of them rushing to queue again for a second ride once their first session is up.
Traveling through Kanagawa with an afternoon to spare? Tired of traveling long distances to visit out-of-the-way-sights? Do consider taking some time off to relax and rejuvenate at Kanuma Park, and experience for yourself the understated charms of local community parks in Japan.