Hibiya Park, Japan’s Oldest Western Style Park
Centrally located next to the imperial palace and a stone throw’s away from Tokyo’s financial district Marunouchi and the Ginza shopping district lays Hibiya Park, the first Western-style urban park that Japan opened in 1903. It is one of the oldest parks in Japan, having started first as the estate of feudal families in the Edo period (which lasted from 1603-1868, when Japan was under the rule of the last feudal military government known as the Tokugawa Shogunate), and thereafter being utilized as a military drilling and exercise ground before opening as a public park in 1903.
It is a wonderful park to visit with its greenery and ponds, while offering a wide variety of facilities and activities. During your stroll through the park, you will also stumble upon a range of interesting artifacts from all over the globe – many which were gifts from foreign governments throughout the years.
Start in the spacious tulip and rose gardens in the north side of the park, which have been modeled after those found in German parks. There are numerous benches around and this area makes a great location for people watching.
Tucked away on the side of the gardens near the Italian style pillars, you’ll find a statue of Romulus and Remus, a gift from the Italian government to Japan in the 1930s. Along the northern side of the park one also finds the Liberty Bell, donated by the US Government, while spotting many other historic artifacts such as a drinking fountain for horses and even a ‘500’- year old gingko tree. The tree, planted next to Hibiya’s famous Matsumotoro Restaurant, is called ‘risky Ginkgo tree’ due to its controversial and expensive relocation at the time of park expansion and the park designer putting his job at risk of doing so.
In the park, you’ll also find two outdoor spaces intended for music events, while the larger flower park is regularly used as venue for festivals. Hibiya Park for instance hosts the Oktoberfest each year.
Other facilities include a park museum, a library, a children’s playground, tennis courts, and the historic Gothic building Shisei Kaikan, which housed Japan’s State News Agency during WWII, and which is one of the few Western style buildings in this size left in Japan.
Hibiya Park is a place for any occasion or any mood you are in – whether you’ve come to admire the colorful flowers of which different varieties bloom in different seasons, enjoy a nice lunch at one of the restaurants offering outdoor seating in the park (of which there are so few in Tokyo!), just peacefully want to gaze over the beautiful ponds, or to quietly hang out in-between the trees to read a book, the park offers plenty of room for all of that. Even if the drums of people visiting Hibiya for its festivals or music events make you claustrophobic to venture into those areas of the park, you’ll find that if you only walk a little further towards the gardens and ponds that there is plenty of space left for some tranquility.