The parks and gardens of Tokyo are some of the most historical places in the city, and the perfect escape from busy streets. Rob Goss looks at some of the best. (Main image: Copyright: TCVB)
Tokyo is a city of many faces. In places, the capital can play up to its reputation for neon and gleaming skyscrapers, for high-tech and innovation, and for those contrasting moments where the old sits next to the new. In many others, it delivers a surprise. That’s most definitely true with Tokyo’s parks and gardens.
Although the city has been devastated numerous times over the years – in just the past century by the great quake of 1923 and the firebombing during World War Two – traditional Japanese gardens remain from the Edo era (1603-1868). In Kiyosumi-shirakawa in Koto-ku, Kiyosumi Gardens is a lovely example, with its central pond accented by pine-clad islets. It has an interesting history, too, having originally been part of the residence of an Edo-era merchant before being owned by the founder of Mitsubishi, who used the gardens as a place to entertain VIPs.
In a similar fashion is the Edo-era Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens in Bunkyo-ku, which like so many classic gardens employs ponds, bridges, rocks, man-made hills and decorative trees to create a succession of miniature landscapes. One quirk of Koishikawa Korakuen is the sight of the Tokyo Dome arena – home of the Tokyo Giants baseball team – looming in the background, but that’s not the most striking old-meets-new garden view in Tokyo. That honour goes to the splendid Hama-rikyu Gardens in Chuo-ku, which as the backdrop to its saltwater ponds and teahouse has the towering skyscrapers of the Shiodome district.
Away from traditional landscaping, places such as Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and Ueno Park are both gorgeous in cherry blossom season and year-round are ideal for a stroll or a picnic, while Yoyogi Park in fashionable Shibuya-ku has jogging routes and is always good for a spot of people watching, especially when the rockabilly dancers meet up on Sundays or cosplayers wander in from nearby Harajuku. Todoroki Valley is a different experience altogether – it’s a cool ravine with ancient burial mounds and a waterfall traditionally used for ascetic meditation. Very often, you find greenery in the most unexpected of places, such as the Meguro Sky Garden, which is built on top of a Metropolitan Expressway and on clear days offers views of Mount Fuji way off to the west.
All of the above help give the 23 special wards an unexpected amount of greenery, but go beyond the heart of Tokyo and the parks and gardens take on a whole new scale. You could easily spend a whole day in Tachikawa, exploring the more than 150 hectares of Showa Kinen Park, which is home to cycling trails, sports facilities, birdwatching areas and much more. Inokashira Park in trendy Kichijoji is another gem, with a large boating pond, swathes of greenery and, a short walk away, the Ghibli Museum – dedicated to the films of Japan’s most famous animation studios.