Exploring Tokyo’s green spaces
“Park! Park! Park!” Round-the-clock demands to immediately decamp to the nearest park (be it day or night) is a common refrain in our Tokyo household. Perhaps it’s a consequence of living in one of the world’s most densely packed cities in the world, a place renowned for its concrete, skyscrapers and salarymen crowds. However, as many residents soon discover, Tokyo is also a city that – perhaps contrary to expectations – has a surprising number of green spaces. And my two daughters – aged three and five – love nothing more than running riot among the trees and flowers at one of a number of small but impeccably kept parks near our home.
A favourite is Saigoyama Park in Daikanyama, just minutes from the area’s famed shops (Caramel included). It’s by no means big – it consists of a simple circular hump of grass with a scattering of trees, rainbow-bright flower beds, hidden rock gardens, two solitary orange vintage-looking bouncy dog rides for children and, due to its hilltop position, views across a sprawling city skyline (sunsets are a highlight). The icing on the cake is the fact there is a very laid-back local café – serving everything from coffees and beers to soba noodles and pizza plus, of course, that park essential: ice cream. It’s a popular spot among local mothers, couples and dog owners alike (Daikanyama is home to the city’s most fashionable pooches).
As is often the case with local parks, Saigoyama a place that’s entrenched with personal memories. I first came here for post-work sunset picnics with my now-husband, drinking wine out of plastic cups as we watched the sky darken across the city’s jagged skyline. Weekend strolls while pregnant with our first daughter soon followed, before I eventually joined the brigades of mothers bringing their babies on weekday visits to the café and park. It was here that my elder daughter – then a plump rosy-cheeked nine-month-old – was ceremoniously photographed in a red strawberry hat sitting under her first flowering cherry blossom tree (an auspicious moment in Japan – particularly as her middle name is Blossom). Since then, my daughters have crawled, walked, jumped, skipped, scooted and cycled around the park on countless occasions. And it’s fair to say that the total number of ice creams they have consumed here must be as high as a skyscraper – which may well have something to do with why they are always demanding to go to the park.
SOME OTHER FAVOURITE GREEN SPACES IN TOKYO
Saigoyama Park – A small local park in Daikanyama, also home to the laid-back Green Café. https://www.city.meguro.tokyo.jp/shisetsu/shisetsu/koen/saigo.
Shinjuku Gyouen – Perhaps one of Tokyo’s best kept parks, this is a perfectly-maintained haven with expanses of green lawns, cherry blossom trees and manicured gardens. https://www.env.go.jp/garden/shinjukugyoen/english/
Nezu Museum – This Kengo Kuma designed museum in upmarket Aoyama has a hidden gem at the back: an exquisite Japanese garden, complete with teahouses, ponds – and distant skyscraper views. http://www.nezu-muse.or.jp/en/
Yoyogi Park – A sprawling green space not far from Harajuku and Shibuya and a popular spot for young Tokyoites and families (also home to the serene forested Meiji Shrine). http://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/park/format/index039.html
Ueno Park – One of Japan’s oldest parks is in the eastern Ueno area , packed with shrines, national museums, galleries, ponds – and even a zoo with resident pandas.