Tokyo is one of the great modern megacities — a boundless field of energy, vertical and horizontal, scrolling out in every direction. The downside of all its odd angles and bright lights is an excess of concrete and a lack of open space. Or is it?
Amid the network of underground malls, pedestrian arcades and public transit platforms, a visitor could travel for days without seeing evidence of the natural world.
There are, however, any number of parks, gardens and urban oases, some half-hidden behind office towers or between apartment blocks, others huge and sprawling, where you can still take refuge in greenery if you know where to look, even in winter. Fortunately, we do …
Here’s are some of the best Tokyo parks:
Probably the closest thing in Tokyo to New York’s Central Park — a sudden break in the skyscrapers reveals an expanse of wide lawns, landscape gardens, and tree-lined footpaths. One of the best Tokyo parks is only a 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station, the most crowded public transport hub in Asia.
The gardens are home to over 1,500 cherry trees and are open seven days a week.
Getting there: Shinjuku Station, park admission ¥200.
2. Yoyogi Park
The eye-popping daily fashion parade of the nearby Harajuku district spills over into this park at the weekends, where tribes of young Japanese dress like American high-school girls from the 1950s, or Elvis in his black leather comeback phase, and dance to antiquated rock ’n’ roll around their boomboxes.
Deeper into one of the best Tokyo parks, under big, leafy trees, gifted music students practice on their harps or violins, and dogs of the same pedigree gather like street gangs with their owners.
All of Tokyo life is in here, but at more relaxed pace.
Getting there: Harajuku Station, admission free.
3. Imperial Palace East Gardens
Removed from the high-rise commercial district around Tokyo Central by a ring of bridges and moats, the palace gardens continue to exist in their own hushed bubble, the atmosphere slightly rarefied by proximity to the Imperial family.
The gardens in one of the best Tokyo parks are also given a hint of exclusivity by memories of the shogun and their samurai who used to rule Japan from this spot for over two and a half centuries, when the palace was called Edo Castle.
Getting there: Tokyo Station, admission free.
4. Nogawa Park
But the Kokubunji cliffs, newly abutted by waves of rolling grass and a new forest called Musashino, were standing at the edge of the Nogawa river long before the modern sub-cities — Chofu, Mitaka and Koganei — that now surround them on three sides.
Families from each of these areas pour into one of the best Tokyo parks through the summer and fill the air with sizzle from their barbecues.
Getting there: Shin-Koganei Station, admission free.
Designed according to poetic principles, and modeled on the words and images of 17th century haiku master Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, this impeccably manicured Japanese garden could elevate even the busiest and shallowest minds to a state of Zen tranquility.
While in that state, it might be fruitful to ponder the fact that the name Rikugien comes from the six elements of ancient waka poetry — not that widely known and, hence, one reason one of the best Tokyo parks often gets mistakenly called Rokugien.
Getting there: Komagome Station, admission ¥300.
6. Rinshi No Mori Park
Tokyo in summer is a superheated ring of hell. A mere 10 seconds away from air-conditioning are long enough for the humidity to melt your face down the front of your shirt.
Open spaces provide no relief — what you need is shade, which is provided in abundance at this former forest nursery and research station, where the trees have been growing to giants for more than 100 years.
It’s lush, cool and quiet inside one of the best Tokyo parks, the greatest haven in the city throughout the month of August.
Getting there: Musashi Koyama Station, admission free.
7. Shirokanedai National Park
Shirokanedai is Tokyo’s biggest and best-kept secret — 200,000 square meters of wild wood, grass and marshland concealed in the middle of the city and one of the best Tokyo parks.
A nature reserve set aside for scientific study, it’s home to various rare birds, whose habitat remains relatively undisturbed as only 300 visitors are permitted inside at any one time. The early bird rules in many ways here.
Getting there: Meguro Station, admission ¥300.