Tokyo can feel like a crazy, intense place. The streets are crowded, the lights are bright and everything can feel a bit, well, “lost in translation.” But Tokyo also has options for getting away from the crowds, with plenty of gardens and green spaces for those in need of some Zen. Here are five gardens that our local Tokyo tour guides say will make the chaos of downtown feel a million miles away.
Meguro Gajoen is a pretty spot for both business and entertainment purposes. The complex includes a hotel and restaurants, and is popular for wedding ceremonies. The lavish sculptures, vivid murals and ceiling paintings in this former bathhouse reflect the Edo style (1603~1868), which was an inspiration for the Oscar-winning animated film Spirited Away. The garden is beautiful, especially in autumn — there are maple trees, a pond filled with carp fish, and a pretty man-made waterfall.
Another popular place for wedding ceremonies is Meguro Happoen. This beautiful garden features excellent restaurants and a tea house where visitors can take a tea ceremony class (must be booked in advance), as well as several old trees dating back 150 years — and, in fact, the park is also home to a bonsai tree that’s more than 500 years old. Take a break in the rest house beside the pond and enjoy the view.
Located just a short walk from Shinjuku Station, Shinjuko Gyoen is a relaxing escape from the busy urban centre. Once an imperial garden, Shinjuko is now a public space that displays three blended garden styles: traditional Japanese, formal French and English landscape. The ultimate time to visit is in the spring, when it becomes one of the best places in Tokyo to see cherry blossoms.
Located alongside Tokyo Bay, Hamarikyu Garden features seawater ponds whose water levels change with the tides. The garden was originally a tidal duck hunting ground but is now a peaceful urban escape for city residents and visitors. Beside the pound is Nagajima Tea House, a perfect place to sip tea while appreciating the view. From the garden, it’s possible to take a water bus that goes to Asakusa, crossing the Sumida River. But before you leave, be sure to pay a visit to the 300-year-old pine tree close to the Otemon gate.
The Imperial Palace East Garden makes up part of the inner palace (which is the residence of the emperor of Japan), and is open to the public — and a great site for history buffs. The garden is the former site of Edo Castle’s innermost circles of defense, the honmaru (“main circle”) and ninomaru (“secondary circle”). The buildings no long exist, but the moats, walls, entrance gates and several guardhouses are still there.