With a population exceeding 13 million, and an average of 6000 people per square kilometer, Tokyo isn’t often a city associated with peace and quiet. It may come as a surprise then, to find that there are in fact over 200 parks and gardens to explore, often a stone’s throw away from the hustle and bustle of city life. With so many to choose from, here are a few that rank highly among tourists and locals alike.
8. Koishikawa Korakuen
As a cultural heritage site, this park is often raved about in guide books. Established in the 1600s, there are aspects of both Japanese and Chinese landscaping. A relaxed wander along the various paths and the Engetsu-kyo bridge to admire the fish makes for a nice break at lunchtime. It’s quite small, and not the quietest out of the top 8, as the Tokyo Dome can be seen (and heard) from within the park. There is an entrance fee of 300 yen, and it’s about a 10 minute walk from Iidabashi station.
7. Rikugien Garden
If you’re lucky enough to be in Tokyo during spring or autumn, this garden is a must. In the evening the pond and trees are lit up, highlighting the range of colours in the garden. Built circa 1700, the literal translation of Rikugien is ‘six poems garden’, and throughout the park there are 88 miniature versions of scenes from famous poems. Entry is free during the day (but there is a 300 yen charge during the light-up period between 5pm and 9pm) and the entrance is right next to Komagome station.
6. Koganei Park
While this is a bit further out of central Tokyo, it’s still only 25 minutes from Shinjuku, and makes for a great day trip if combined with a visit to the Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum. With 2000 cherry trees, spring is arguably the best time of year to visit. If you’re around for hanami (flower-viewing party), be sure to get there early to find a good picnic spot. Entry is free, and it’s a short walk or bus ride from Musashi-Koganei Station.
If you’re heading out to Koganei park, Inokashira is a few stops before on the Chuo line, and makes for a great afternoon (especially if you’re also heading to the Ghibli museum). Leaving the south exit of Kichijoji station, there is a gorgeous row of eateries, shops and cafes on the way to the park. Once within the park itself, there are various paths to explore around the main pond, and the chance to do some rowing in spring/summer. There’s also a zoo in the centre, suitable for families and the like.
Another park with a zoo within (Japan’s first zoological garden, no less), Ueno offers something for everyone: from museums, temples and shrines to coffee and buskers, there’s something to enjoy even on the shortest of lunch breaks. Conveniently located just opposite the JR Ueno station, the grounds were initially part of Kaneiji Temple during the Edo period. After the destruction during the Boshin Civil War, the area was converted into a Western style park and opened to the public in 1873. Entry to the park is free, but there are fees for the zoo and museums.
3. Imperial Palace East Gardens
Although tours around the Imperial Palace grounds must be reserved in advance, the East gardens are free to enter and open year round except for Mondays, Fridays and special occasions. Originally the site of Edo’s castle’s circles of defence, the Palace was the residence of Tokugawa shogun between 1603 and 1867. Now, it makes for a peaceful afternoon, with numerous paths to explore and flowers to discover. It’s particularly beautiful on a sunny day in spring, and is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of nearby Tokyo station.
2. Shinjuku Gyoen
Were it not for the 200 yen entrance fee and the slightly longer than short walk from Shinjuku station, Shinjuku Gyoen would be at the top of this list. From English, French and Japanese gardens to large open spaces ideal for playing Frisbee, there really is something for everyone. Exceedingly popular in spring, it’s a haven for cherry blossom lovers and flower fanatics. As one of Tokyo’s largest parks, it provides a tranquility that can be hard to find in nearby Shinjuku and Shibuya.
1. Yoyogi Park
At number one is Yoyogi park. Ironically situated next to Harajuku station (and not Yoyogi), it’s also right next to the Meiji Shrine which is well worth a visit. In autumn the trees are bursting with colour (in particular, the ginkgo forest is a sea of golden leaves), and in spring the cherry trees, water features and buskers ornament the perfect place for a picnic. If you’re lucky, you might get to witness a group of men in black leather dancing in a circle to rock music, or maybe a student practising the trumpet hidden in the trees. Whether it’s a break from shopping in Harajuku, or a day long picnic, this is a beautiful green space with something for everyone to enjoy.