Top 5 Parks in Tokyo - Global Storybook

The Top 5 Parks to Visit in Tokyo

Valerie Taylor

Valerie Taylor

Valerie Taylor is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Japan).

Valerie (also known as “Eri”) is a modern day nomad based in Tokyo, Japan. She makes her living dancing contemporary, teaching yoga, writing about her adventures, and making other people smile. When life hands her lemons, she brews up tea to sip with pinkie raised.
Valerie Taylor

Whenever I travel to a new place, I try to do as the locals.  For instance, if I see them spending their free time lounging out in the middle of a green public space – I go there too, to try it out.  Although Tokyo might not seem like an ideal location to go sunbathing amongst the green, you’d be surprised by the number of parks, both large and small, to be found in this sprawling city.  Many of them are calm and serene – something that you might not expect to find in a busy metropolitan area like this one.

To this day, parks play an integral role in the Japanese society, so be sure to check out at least one of these top 5 on your visit to Tokyo!

Yoyogi Park

  • Access: a 5 minute walk from Harajuku station on the JR Yamanote Line.  Also accessible via the Meiji-jingumae station on the Fukutoshin and Chiyoda metro lines.
  • Hours: 24/7.
  • Admission: Free.

One of my favorite parks in Tokyo also happens to be one of the largest, bustling parks on the list.  A number of beautiful lawns, cherry trees, ponds with water fountains, rose gardens, and plenty of picnicking spaces can be found here.  The colors of Yoyogi Koen park change with the season, making it a perfect spot to see Japan’s Summer, Spring, Fall and Winter without straying too far from the main roads.  Besides, it is the perfect place to chill out after spending your entire day exploring Omotesando, Harajuku, or Shibuya.

Yoyogi Park is also close to Meiji Shrine, so you’ll see a lot of foreigners wandering around.  But that doesn’t mean that the Japanese don’t frequent this place either.  Night or day – you will encounter numerous groups here like balloon animal makers, artists, buskers, dancers, cosplayers, Elvis impersonators, and many more.

Oh, and you can sleep here as well.

Yoyogi Park, Tokyo, Japan - Global Storybook

Just some Japanese dudes dressed up like Elvis while dancing around Yoyogi Park. The usual. Source: Author

Ueno Park

  • Access: Keisei line – Ueno station, JR Yamanote line – Ueno or Uguisudani station.  About a 5-10 minute walk from each.
  • Hours: 24/7.
  • Admission: Free. A number of attractions and cultural buildings inside the park do require a ticket.

When people hear the word “park” in Tokyo, this is the place they usually think of.  Ueno Park is a vibrant green zone that has around 8,500 trees and over 24,000 square meters of shrubbery.  Add the extensive Shinobazu Pond which is famous for its huge lotus leaves that cover it throughout Spring and Summer, and you get an immense garden of nature unfolding right in the heart of the city.  For this reason, Ueno Park is a popular place for hanami (cherry blossom viewing), tsukimi (moon viewing), festivals, parties, picnics, naps, and even sports and yoga.

Another reason why you should visit this park are its spectacular museums: the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum of Nature and Science, as well as the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden

  • Access: Take the Marunouchi line to Shinjuku-gyoenmae station.  You are within 2-5 minutes from the entrance.  Otherwise, you can enjoy a 20-30 minute walk from Shinjuku station, or Shinjuku sanchome station.  If using the latter, take exit C1.  It’s only 4 minutes away then.
  • Hours: 9:00am – 4:30pm, last admission is at 4:00pm.
  • Admission: 200 yen.

Not to be confused with the Shinjuku Central Park, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a dream place.  Those who come here are often awed by the serenity of the space, despite the peeking skyscrapers from Shinjuku.

The garden has quite a fascinating history.  The land used to belong to the Naito family, during the Edo period.  The original construction was completed in 1772.  After the Meiji Restoration, the grounds were converted from a traditional Japanese garden to an agricultural center, followed by a botanical garden and then an imperial garden in 1879.  Most of that area was destroyed in 1945, during the World War 2 air raids.  It has since been rebuilt and finally re-opened to the public on May 21, 1949.

Nowadays the park is considered to be a prized location for the cherry blossom viewings.  Interestingly, it has a French Formal and English Landscapes on the north side.  You can also enjoy some traditional Japanese tea at the Southern tea house.

Inokashira Park

  • Access: Kichioji Station on the Chuo Line.  Or the Keio Inokashira Line to Inokashira-Koen station, and you literally arrive within the park.
  • Hours: 24/7.
  • Admission: Free.

My first experience of the Inokashira Park went something like this: descend a couple of stairs, turn right then run into a wall of stretching joggers, dodge to the left and run into a line of couples, awaiting their turn at the swan boats.  Spin around, find a sign that says “Inokashira Park Zoo this way” and follow that to a fork, where at last I was able to witness the glory of a jam-packed lake filled with swan peddle boats.  There were too many, and no one could actually maneuver correctly, so you would often hear girls screaming as their dates crashed them into the low-lying branches filled with, you guess it… spiders!

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Now I think that it was just a really busy day.

When Inokashira Park is less crowded – though it’s small, it is pleasant to walk around.  I liked how there were plenty of seatings, dozens of paths, and a lot of children activities.  On the day I went, there were also craft vendors selling some really cool things, like carved wooden boxes and some old-style Japanese toys.  In Spring, the Kanda River is also lined with scenic cherry blossoms, transforming Inokashira Park into a very romantic place.

Oh, and you’re also close to the famous Studio Ghibli museum.  If you’re lucky – you might even spot the real-life cat bus rolling around.

Hikarigaoka Park

  • Access: Narimasu Station on the Oedo Line.
  • Hours: 24/7.
  • Admission: Free.

When I lived in Nerima-ku, I would often take the train up to Hikarigaoka Park once the weather was cooler, since I liked the park’s lay out.  Though it might be a bit far from where you are staying, I recommend it for two reasons: it is spacious, and there are a lot of events that happen here during the Summer.  Around August, for example, you can enjoy several days of yosakoi soran (a Japanese street dance) performances while taking a walk around the paths lined with a number of delicious food stalls.  I tried some of the best takoyaki here.  Super fresh, hot and for about 500 yen.

On the days when there are no street festivals, Hikarigaoka Park is still quite lively.  Children are playing, people are biking.  The fields and the athletic zones are usually hosting games or some kind of sport practices.  For those who want to go shopping in a decent-size mall, then grab something to eat and relax in a pleasant green zone, while doing some people watching – I’d recommend this park.

Final Thoughts

Tokyo’s parks are the places where you can walk alone, with friends, or with the loved ones.  You can look up to see cherry blossoms, blue skies, as well as the silhouettes of skyscrapers against the sun.  To the Japanese – a park is indeed a special place.  Whether you go for the zoo, museums, parties, festivals, or just for a moment of reprieve during your travels, I strongly urge you to check out these top 5 parks in Tokyo.  More than just greenery awaits!

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