The world’s largest urban area is an unlikely place to find an abundance of incredible parks and gardens, but by using the apps developed at GPSmyCity.com, visitors to Tokyo will be able to discover an amazing range of green spaces hidden among the city’s neon canyons. Whether you want to join the throngs at one of the marquee spots or be let in on one of the best kept secrets, the app’s detailed city maps and navigation features allow you to be your own guide to the city and to navigate your way to the best places in town, where world class temples and museums await.
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One of the main draws of the this central park is the Nippon Budokan, the grand venue for many a rock concert but also the scene for traditional martial arts contests. If you happen to be around for the latter, you’ll see the contestants outside the entrance, decked out in traditional garb, warming up for the contest.
Despite being sandwiched between the Imperial Palace grounds and the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, the park manages to keep things reasonably lighthearted and is a popular choice for picnics and drinking parties during the cherry blossom season (late March/early April).
There are some fine walking trails through the park’s forested areas and plenty of secluded benches for those looking to leave the city behind.
Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens
The grounds of 17th Century Koishikawa Korakuen have the feel a secret garden children might discover in movie. It’s full of twists and turns and narrows paths that lead to ancient buildings, stone ruins and fairy tale bridges. To add to the excitement, it’s seldom visited by foreigners, who are perhaps distracted by the glamour of the Tokyo Dome right next door, which makes for a bizarre backdrop to the garden.
Typical of formal Japanese gardens, ‘Koishikawa’ has the requisite pond, but the main attraction here is exploring the paths that lead away from the water to discover what lies in wait.
Hibiya Park delights visitors with it’s European style gardens and it’s sculptures and features donated from around the world. It’s not a huge park but it packs a lot in and has an enviable location, surrounded as it is by the grounds of the Emperor’s Palace, numerous government ministries and one of Tokyo’s most important financial districts. It’s also close to Ginza and is a great place to take a break from shopping/sightseeing (along with plenty of exhausted business types).
It hasn’t always been so rosy, though. This former Edo Era army stomping ground was converted to a park in 1903 but as early as 1905 became the center for fierce rioting following the signing of the Portsmouth Treaty that same year, ending the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Brokered by America, the Japanese felt hard done to by the treaty and some 30,000 rioters gathered in the park to demonstrate their displeasure.
Things got worse before they got better. During World War Two many of the park’s trees were cut down for timber and the fences melted down for parts. Restoration work was completed in 1961.
These impressive gardens are wedged in between the city and the sea, with Shiodome’s metallic towers looming on one side and the waters of Tokyo Bay snapping away at the other. In such trying circumstances it’s remarkable then that ‘Hama-rikyu’ does such a good job at making you feel like you’re out for a day in the country. Perhaps it’s because part of the grounds were originally a wild-duck hunting area for Edo Era feudal lords, in which you can get lost among the towering trees and hunting hide-outs. The city is never far away though, and depending on which way you look, you can take in the jarring spectacle of a beautiful garden framed by a dramatic urban skyline.
Located just ten minutes on the train from Shibuya, Kinuta Park is a great place to breathe some fresh air and get back to earth after Shibuya’s technicolor mayhem. Interestingly, the park used to be a golf course and as such there is plenty of space here to spread out, with many people coming to enjoy improvised games of soccer, softball and cricket. For those who are more serious about their sport, ‘Kinuta’ has a range of facilities including a baseball ground, soccer pitch and running field. However, even with all the athletic action going on, the park is large enough to accommodate those who like their solitude. And it’s easy to find, with plenty of wide expanses of (sometimes) untamed grass flanked by ancient looking trees making it feel like you’ve stumbled onto an English meadow.
There are 32 pretty stunning reasons to visit this serene garden in the north of Tokyo, which boasts 32 stunning views indicated by 32 stone markers. Originally there were 88, but who’s counting anyway? As you stroll the delightful paths that amble around the large pond, through lush forest and carefully crafted hills, you won’t need markers to realize just how beautiful these gardens are.
Literary enthusiasts will be interested to know that the garden’s design was inspired by early Japanese poetry (Waka). It was created in 1702, eventually falling into the hands of the founder of the Mitsubishi Company (Iwasaki Yataro) whose family donated it to the city in 1936.
There are many interesting features in the garden including islands, bridges and hills. Highlights for many are Tsutsuji-no-chaya, a rare tea house that managed to survive the war, and Fujishiro-toge, the tallest hill in the grounds, from which you can enjoy a stellar view.
Odaiba Kaihin Park
Make no mistake, the primary reason to visit Odaiba Kaihin Park is for jaw dropping city views. This waterside space has a front row seat for some of the finest in the city, with Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo’s skyline showing off for the cameras. Add to this massive cargo ships coming in and out of one of the world’s busiest ports and jumbo jets from Haneda Airport, and it’s understandable that people forget they’re standing in a park.
Actually there are three parks here, lined-up next to one another along the waterfront. To the south is Shiokaze Park with it’s decks, terraces, plazas and promenades. To the north, Daiba Park. Originally built as a battery to fend off foreign vessels it now welcomes a steady stream foreign tourists as well as locals. Kaihin Park is the link between the two. It has a beach but swimming is not allowed (and you wouldn’t want to anyway). However, it makes for a great stroll between the two.
Imperial Palace East Gardens
These gardens are the closest most of us will get to the Imperial Family. Befitting of one of the world’s ‘power family’s’, they boast big spaces surrounded by big walls made of big stones.
Actually the Imperial Palace sits on the site of what was once one of the largest castles in the world. However, the gardens manage to combine grand scale with the stark simplicity and moments of intricacy typical of Japanese style.
This is definitely not the place to break out bat and ball or spread out for a picnic. However, there are some interesting buildings/structures to keep visitors engaged, from mighty buttresses to guard houses and imposing gates.
For more information on this app for Tokyo’s parks and gardens, head over to GPSmyCity.com. The app covers 20 of Tokyo’s finest green spaces with pics and background information for each location, maps, turn-by-turn walking directions and GPS tracking.