Parks and Gardens in Central Tokyo

Central Tokyo has a surprising number of large parks and gardens – most easily accessible and either free or for a minimal charge. The must-sees are the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, the Hama-Rikyu Garden and the meticulously maintained Japanese garden of the Hotel New Otani.

Parks and Gardens in Central Tokyo

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by becks on December 16, 2001

The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are located next to the Imperial Palace and in contrast to the Palace itself the East Garden is open to the public. Well worth visiting is the Japanese garden as well as the foundations of the original Tokyo Castle.

The Hama-rikyu Gardens are the probably the best gardens in central Tokyo and it is well worth spending an hour or two here. It was the official hunting grounds of the Shoguns. Apart from the duck hunting ponds it also has a salt-water pond with three islands linked by wooden bridges. Green tea is served in a rest house on one of the islands.

Another delightful garden is at the Hotel New Otani complex. It is compact yet offers all that a proper Japanese garden should with several scenic locations for fantastic photos.${QuickSuggestions}
Entry to most of the parks in Tokyo is free or a nominal fee. In most you are only allowed to walk – no cycling, roller blading or jogging. Most allow picnicking although alcoholic beverages are often forbidden – not that stop most people from having a beer.

Maps are usually posted at the entrance and other strategic locations inside the parks. Even if the writing is in Japanese many of the symbols will be graphic enough to figure out more or less what is where.

Some parks, including the Hama-rikyu gardens have gravel paths, which make using a stroller and some types of wheel chairs difficult. However, most parks have at least some paved paths.

Vending machines selling a wide selection of drinks, from hot coffee to ice cold colas from the same machine, are as prevalent in the parks as in the rest of Tokyo. The selection of food and snacks can be limited though and it may be best to visit a convenience store before entering.

Walking and the excellent subway system are usually the best way to get around in Tokyo. Any establishment will list its address and state the closest subway station to its location. If you do not know the exact fare to your destination buy the cheapest ticket and adjust the fare on arrival. A good option is to buy a SF (subway fare) card – this card automatically deducts the fare after each journey and save a lot of time as you never have to queue to buy tickets. Unfortunately the SF card works only on the subway and you need a separate card for the railways.

Taxis are expensive but reliable and safe. Most drivers cannot speak English and some may even have trouble reading some addresses written in Western alphabet. It is common practice to ask the hotel reception to write an address in Japanese if you are planning to use a taxi. Taxis can be hailed in the street, at taxi ranks or by phone (additional fee). The left rear door of all Tokyo taxis are opened and closed electrically by the driver so make sure you get your feet in proper.

Hama-rikyu Gardens

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by becks on December 16, 2001

This is probably the best gardens in central Tokyo and it is well worth spending an hour or two here. It is located next to the Tsukiji Fish Market and within walking distance from Shinbashi Station (Ginza subway line and JR Yamanote line). Entrance is yen 300 and you will receive an English map with some description of the sights.

The garden was the official hunting ground for the Tokugawa Shogunate in the 17th century and the upper classes hunted ducks here until the Second World War. There are some description and photographs of how this was done with nets rather than other kinds of lethal weapons. There is also a salt-water pond with three islands linked by wooden bridges. Green tea is served in a rest house on one of the islands. The pond is swarmed with ducks and other birds if you visit late afternoon.

The park offers fantastic views of Rainbow Bridge as well as interesting vistas of very modern high-rise buildings in the background. Many new buildings in the vicinity are currently under construction.

Vending machines are available at the kiosks and picnicking is allowed in several areas. All paths are gravel, which is not convenient for strollers.

The park can also be reach by waterbus from the Sumida River Line from Asakusa.

A bonus if you drive in Tokyo is a rare free parking area - although the 40 odd spaces tend to fill up fast.

Hama Rikyu Garden
1-1 Hama Rikyu Teien
Tokyo, Japan, 104-0045
+81 (0) 3 3541 0200

Hibiya Park

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by becks on January 27, 2002

Hibiya Park was the first Western style park in Tokyo and opened in 1903. It is across the road from the luxurious Imperial Hotel (Hibiya Subway station exit A14). The park has several sections including at least three Japanese style and two Western style sections with fountains and water features. The Japanese sections are, however, not of the high standard of the Hamarikyu Gardens. Nonetheless, they offer convenient opportunities for photographs far exceeding the actual quality of the park.

There are also several open-air concert areas and concerts are often held, especially on summer weekends. There are a few tennis courts, but the waiting lists and process to actually play there are daunting. Short-term visitors will have little luck in getting an open court.

Maps are available at most entrances and most have English descriptions – a 1.3 km walking route is mapped to see the best of the park. An eclectic selection of displays are scattered through the park – most with English explanations. These include huge stones donated to the Tokyo city government, e.g., a stone brought back from Antarctica, one from Scandinavia to commemorate the search for a polar route to Japan and a 1.3 diameter stone with a hole which was used as currency on some Micronesian island. Other displays include a fountain used by horses and old street lamps.

There are several coffee shops/restaurants offering food of indifferent quality and a picnic lunch may be a better option. However, the settings of some of the restaurants are picturesque and you can hardly go wrong anywhere with a Japanese beer on a summer afternoon. A great alternative is a coffee and sandwich at La Café Actress across the road from the park at the Imperial Hotel entrance. It serves a great cappuccino and panninis at bargain prices for this area. Head for anywhere in the Imperial Hotel for great service if someone else is paying!

Hibiya Park is pleasant enough to stroll in but in contrast to Hamarikyu and the East Gardens of the Imperial Palace it is hardly worth the effort to travel there just to see this park. Entrance is free.
Hibiya Park
1-6 Hibiya Koen
Tokyo, Japan, 100-0012
+81 (0)3 3501 6428

Japanese garden of the Hotel New Otani

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by becks on February 10, 2002

One of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in Tokyo is in the grounds of the mammoth Hotel New Otani complex. This ten-acre Japanese garden has a history of over 400 years and surely must be the most expensive privately owned piece of greenbelt in all of Tokyo.

This garden has all the elements you would expect in a traditional Japanese garden: water features, stone lanterns, narrow walkways, steep stairs, bamboo fencing, carefully pruned trees, vermilion bridges, several ponds and streams, a famous horseshoe shaped waterfall, khoi and several places to sit down and relax. Narrow walkways lead to dead ends with surprising views – often of the same pond but offering a totally different perspective from the previous stop.

The garden is meticulously maintained, as befits a hotel of the New Otani’s prestigious image, and is a pleasure to stroll in during any season. It is always picturesque, even in the midst of winter (when some of the accompanying photos were taken). Somehow they always manage to have at least some flowers in bloom whatever the season.

There are a few small restaurants inside the garden but they are somewhat pricey and reservations are recommended. The teppanyaki restaurant has the best view and serves fixed dinner sets for yen 13,000 ($ 100 at current exchange rates), which is reasonable for this kind of meal in Tokyo.

Several restaurants inside the hotel offer fine views of the garden should you manage to secure a window seat. In fact it is difficult to see the raked gravel and rock garden from the garden itself unless you are fairly tall – the best views of this part of the garden is from restaurants in the Tower Building of the hotel complex.

The hotel does surprisingly little to guide people to the garden – it is marked on the maps but with little information where to enter it. However, any of the ample hotel personnel could point the way. The easiest way is through the Garden Court, the office and shopping part of the complex – the entrance is on the second level next to the modern wedding amphitheater. With a little bit of luck you can see a modern Japanese hotel wedding ceremony in progress (weekends are a good time to see this important money spinner for Japanese hotels!). The other entrance is from the banquet floor in the Main building.

Most of the garden is inaccessible to wheel chairs or stroller of any kind. Many of the stairs are even without handrails and not recommended for the infirm. However, the entrance from the Main building is level and would allow at least a limited view of some parts of the garden.

Entrance is free and the garden is open during daytime and partly at night.

The Hotel New Otani is a few minutes walk from either Akasaka-Mitsuke station (Ginza & Marunouchi lines) or Yotsuya station (Marunouchi, Namboku & JR Chuo lines).

Japanese garden of the Hotel New Otani
4-1 Kioicho, Chiyodaku, 102-8578
Tokyo, Japan

Wadakura Fountain Park

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by becks on February 10, 2002

This small "park" is not worth going out of your way for but is an interesting brief stop if you exit the East Gardens through the Otemon Gate. It is located next to the Palace Hotel just inside the outer moat of the Imperial Palace. In fact it can be reached by crossing the outer moat on the pedestrian only Wadakura Bridge. This bridge was of some importance in Edo times as it was part of the elaborate security arrangements leading up to entering Edo Castle (now the Imperial Palace) through the Otemon Gate. Nowadays the bridge is neglected and seldom used.

This thoroughly modern park was constructed to commemorate the wedding of the Crown Prince in 1993. It consists mainly of paving and some fountains that automatically change in strength and shape as if dancing to music. It is a calm place to relax for a few minutes with good views towards the Imperial Castle and a clear view down Miyuki Avenue towards Tokyo station. The latter originally resembled Amsterdam station but the post-World War II reconstruction is less elaborate and much smaller than the original.

There are several places to sit down for a few minutes. The granite seats are surprisingly comfortable at first but granite remains rock and does get hard after a while. Tokyo’s ubiquitous vending machines can supply hot or cold drinks depending on the season to enjoy while looking at the fountains and flower beds.

A coffee shop with huge panoramic windows is located towards the Marunouchi side of the park. The fare (rather unimaginative) and the prices (pricey) are standard Japanese hotel coffee shop, but you do sit serenely – cool during the hot and humid summer and snug on a cold winter’s day.

The closest subway station is Otemachi (six lines) – use exit D3 to enter the park via Wadakura Bridge or D2 to enter via Miyuki Avenue.

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Wadakura Fountain Park
Otemachi, Chiyodaku
Tokyo, Japan

East Garden of the Imperial Palace (Higashi Gyoen)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by becks on February 16, 2002

The East Gardens of the Imperial Palace are located next to the Imperial Palace and in contrast to the Palace itself the East Garden has been open to the public since 1968 – a full century after the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate! This part of the Palace grounds is the historical and geological center of Tokyo as the original Edo Castle of the Tokugawa Shogunate was in this area. Entry is free but you will receive a plastic token that must be returned upon exit at any of the three gates.

The Otemon Gate, a 1967 exact copy of the original destroyed in 1945, was historically the most important gate and was used by noblemen presenting themselves with retainers twice a month to the Shogun. Credentials were inspected at several stations and three guardhouses survived from the Edo period. One was staffed by 100 members of the four families related by blood to the Tokugawa rulers.

Just past the Otemon Gate is a small exhibition hall with rotating exhibits from the Imperial collection. Entry is free so it is worth a few minutes as there usually are some English descriptions.

There are several maps posted inside the gardens and most places of interest have some English descriptions as well. Well worth visiting is the Japanese garden with sculpted bushes, water features and a stone lantern. This part was the area where the retirement palace of the Shoguns was situated.

Going up the steep slope from here you enter the Hon Maru, or main fortress. Close to the Kitanomon gate is the foundation of the original Edo Castle, which burned down in the seventeenth century and was never rebuilt. It is worth walking to the top for great views of the park and surrounding buildings. The shogun’s residence in the two centuries after the castle was destroyed was situated where the two large lawns currently are.

In the Hon Maru rest house are photos taken of the area directly after the fall of the Shogunate in 1868. For comparison modern photos taken at the exact same spots hang next to the old ones. The old photos show how dilapidated the Tokugawa residence was as the Shogunate crumbled and the Shogun became too powerless to maintain the gardens and restore areas destroyed by fire. There are only about 12 sets of photos so visiting the rest house won’t change the atmosphere from a stroll in the park to a history lesson!

From here you could either stroll back to the Otemon Gate or exit through the Kita Hanebashi gate if you plan to visit Kitanomaru-koen or Yasukuni Shrine. However, the Hirakawamon Gate has probably the prettiest location of the three gates with beautiful walls, moats and plants and is worth the detour even if you plan to exit elsewhere.

The gardens are closed on Mondays and Fridays, but open other days from 9:30 to 16:00 (last entry 15:00).

Imperial Palace
Kokyo Gaien
Tokyo, Japan, 100-0002
+81 (3) 3213 1111

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