Think Tokyo is just a tangled mess of sidewalks and skyscrapers? For a breath of greenery in the middle of Japan’s largest metropolis, check out these five garden escapes (and no, unlike msot guidebooks, the Imperial Palace Gardens are NOT on this list):
- Koishikawa Korakuen – This is one of my favorite gardens in Tokyo. Right in the heart of the city, a stone’s throw from Tokyo Metro Dome (you can hear the Giants’ baseball games on summer afternoons), this 100 year old stroll garden has it all – cherry blossoms in spring, irises in summer and maple leaves in the fall. Taking pride of place in the garden’s center is a beautifully landscaped island.
- Kiyosumi Shirakawa – Not many travelers bother to explore the Fukugawa neighborhood just south of working-class sumo center Ryogoku on the city’s eastern edge. It’s a shame – one of my favorite museums is hidden in its backstreets and this traditional garden lies just steps from the metro. There’s a tea house serving matcha and snacks from which one can enjoy expansive views over the pond and sculpted bonsai trees.
- Ueno Toshogu Peony Garden – Most gardens in Japan hunker down for the winter, contentedly covered with dustings of snow. That’s what makes the splash of color at this uncoventional garden so appreciated in the middle of January. Fiery peonies are protected from the elements by delicate paper umbrellas, laid out in a maze around the grounds of Ueno’s famed Toshogu Shrine.
- Kyu Furukawa Garden – This garden combines the best of both worlds – a small, symmetrical terraced rose garden sits in the shadow of a Western-style villa while in the glen below, lanterns and flourescent koi brighten up a traditional Japanese garden. It’s a fair hike from the metro (and part of that is an incline) which means it’s never overcrowded with visitors.
- Institute for Nature Study – More of a primeval forest than a tradtional garden, this 200,000 square meter plot is mere steps from the JR Yamanote Loop line. Sure, I could hear the cars of the nearby expressway from some sections of the wooded trail but the majority of the park remains an oasis of calm. Best of all, visitors are limited to 300 at a time. You get a ribbon to pin on when you pay your entrance fee (¥300). Return it when you leave to free up a spot for another lucky soul in search of a bit of solitude.