As the world’s most populous city, the Japanese capital of Tokyo is home to massive office towers, subway stations where thousands of people come and go every minute, and intersections jam-packed with passersby around the clock. Nonetheless, Tokyo still has many quiet green spaces that entice people to slow down and enjoy some moments of relaxation.
SHINJUKU-GYOEN: THE GARDEN OF WORDS
Shinjuku Gyoen National Park covers an area of 58.3 hectares and boasts more than 20,000 ancient trees, including about 1,500 flowering cherry trees. Over 400 years ago, this was part of the estate allotted to the Naito clan during the Edo period. After World War II, it became a National Park and was divided into three gardens inspired by the styles of Japan, England, and France. Located in the heart of Shinjuku District, Shinjuku Gyoen is a top destination in Tokyo.
Movie director Makoto Shinkai, the mind behind the hit anime film Your Name, also made an animated short film set here called The Garden of Words. Released in 2013, this short film became popular with young people, leading the park to become known as “The Garden of Words”.
Shinjuku Gyoen has many large lakes dotted around its three areas. The grounds are surrounded by some of Tokyo’s iconic skyscrapers. Throughout the year, residents and tourists alike come here to admire nature’s beauty in the midst of the flourishing metropolis. Late afternoon is the loveliest time to visit, as warm golden sunlight shines down on the lawns and illuminates each leaf. The park encourages people to forget all the chaos of urban life. Stepping into the “garden of words”, they can lie down and read, paint, or simply listen to the birds chirping in the treetops to ease their fatigue.
On rainy days, the wooden hut by one of the lakes becomes a favorite rendezvous spot for young lovers. It inspired the romantic first meeting in the rain of the two main characters of “The Garden of Words”.
MEIJI-JINGU SHRINE NEAR THE FASHION DISTRICT
With various shops lining Takeshita Street, the bustling Harajuku District is known for its street art and trendy and quirky fashion. Visitors come here to admire this giant outdoor “catwalk” and view all of the manga character cosplay costumes and the contemporary fashions favored by young people in Tokyo. However, right next to this noisy and vibrant place is Meiji-Jingu Shrine, one of the most sacred locations in the Japanese capital.
Built in 1915, the shrine is dedicated to Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, the first imperial couple of modern Japan. This great Shinto shrine is surrounded by a forest. It’s hard to believe that a forest of 120,000 trees of 365 different species lies in the middle of crowded Tokyo. The winding path along the edge of the forest will take you to the main temple grounds.
The largest wooden Torii gate in Japan stands outside Meiji-Jingu Shrine, measuring 12m high, 17m wide, and weighing 13 tons. The gate is symbolic in Japanese shrines, denoting the boundary between humans and gods. As is customary, Japanese people passing these gates will bow to show their respect to the gods’ sacred dwelling place.
With their central location and rich history, the grounds of Meiji-Jingu Shrine host many major festivals throughout the year. Many weddings also take place here, and parents bring their children here on their third, fifth, and seventh birthdays to pray for good health on the occasion of Shichi-Go-San (a festival for boys aged three or five, and girls aged three or seven).
YOYOGI CHERRY BLOSSOM PARK
With a total area of about 540,000m2, Yoyogi Park was where the first airplane made in Japan took flight in 1910. In 1967, Yoyogi Park was officially born, becoming one of the most famous “forests” in Tokyo.
Thanks to its spacious grounds and many beautiful lakes, Yoyogi Park is Tokyo’s most popular springtime destination. Whenever cherry blossoms bloom, thousands of people flock to Yoyogi to enjoy the flowers, making it the center of Hanami (traditional cherry blossom viewing) parties. Tourists and locals alike come here to picnic, sit all day under the cherry trees, enjoy bento boxes, chat, and participate in cultural performances.
With each passing season, Yoyogi Park dons a new outfit. In the autumn, it’s dyed in the yellow and red of falling leaves, creating a romantic scene. In winter, snow coats the trees’ branches and turns the park into a wonderland.
As a large natural space, Yoyogi Park is also a favorite destination for artists. Sometimes, the strains of a violin in the hands of a young street musician may drift out from the trees, or an artist may be seen intently painting the vivid hues of plant life as the seasons turn.
Nestled between bustling Harajuku and the sacred Meiji-Jingu Shrine, Yoyogi Park is the epitome of a green space hidden in the heart of one of the world’s most populous metropolises. It serves as a reminder that amidst the restless cycles of urban life, it’s sometimes worth slowing down to find inner peace in green and peaceful nature.