Grass. Simple green grass under my bare feet is something I really enjoy in the summer. In the park with the kids I have the occasional old person come up and say how healthy it is for the kids to be playing in bare feet, yet mine seem to be the only kids around who have discarded their shoes. The younger parents seem to be more wary about the ill effects of dirt and grass stains on the soul. But where, you may ask, is the grass within the Yamanote line to be found? Grass patches spacious enough to walk on?
Well, the obvious places that everyone knows and loves are Shinjuku Gyoen, Yoyogi Park and Meiji-Jingu. Huge open spaces to just chill out and enjoy the spring or summer. Other than these parks, the best place I personally used to go to is Hibiya Park directly in front of that famous post card view of the Palace (bridge and willows in foreground). It is quite nice to chill out there under the bonsai style fir trees and read the paper or a book. Just nearby is the spectacular Higashi Gyoen, the East Garden of the Imperial Palace, which is actually part of the palace grounds. While being open to the public 6 days a week, the Emperor’s gardens remain one of the best keep secrets in Tokyo, due to their reclusive and unspectacular entrance, which is guarded by police at all times. Just try wandering in, you will be pleasantly surprised. (All of the pictures on this page are taken in and around Hibiya Park and Higashi Gyoen)
Grass is actually becoming a part of the Tokyo Metropolitan Governments environmental planning. If you take a look on their web site you can see a graph showing that the average temperature in Tokyo has risen from 13.5 degrees Celsius in 1900 to 16.6 degrees in 1999. Global warming is having its effect? Or is this just a part of nature’s cycle? Well, it seems we are at a tipping point where most are starting to agree that humanity’s influence has been strong and we are to blame for a lot of this. At lunch a week or two ago, the only guy at the table who didn’t believe global warming is for real was the guy who sells cars for a living.
Hibiya Park – no need to obey the “keep off the grass” signs
The Tokyo Government is taking steps to “grassify” the city so the asphalt or sand that makes up 85% of the city’s school fields will start to make way for grass. Great news for the kiddies and good news for the locals as it is proven that grass reduces the surrounding temperature considerably. A no-brainer really is it. Sit on grass or asphalt in August and you’ll know which is cooler. Other actions to be taken include more rooftop gardens on Government buildings, which will hopefully translate into more rooftop beer gardens with actual vegetation. Last summer it was tough work to find a half decent beer garden downtown that didn’t have a 1-2 hour waiting list on a Friday night.
By the way, as hanami season is just coming to an end, and it is the start of the perfect season to be about and about in the greenery, here is a list of parks in Tokyo that could be worth a look.
There are plenty of nice gardens to walk around and enjoy some incredibly Japanese views; a favourite of mine being Rikugien up near Tabata in Bunkyo-ku. As you can’t actually sit down on the grass in Japanese gardens, you can enjoy the macha houses with a green tea and cake. The first time in Rikugien with my girlfriend (now wife), the hostess of the day was actually a middle aged man dressed in Kimono drag. Only in Japan: Tranquil bonsai setting where an Okama serves tea.
Here are a few ‘how to get there’s of some of the parks (with bit of green grass for you to relax on) that we have mentioned.
Nearest Station: Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station on the Marunouchi Subway Line or Sendagaya Station on the JR Sobu (local) Line.
Take the JR Yamanote Line to Harajuku Station. Leave the station via the main exit, walk towards the pedestrian footbridge and then veer round to the right. Keep walking and when you reach the next pedestrian footbridge you’ll see the entrance.
Hibiya Park and Higashi Gyoen:
Leave JR Tokyo Station via the Marunouchi Exit. Alternatively from the Sukiyabashi Exit of Ginza Station, walk in a westerly direction towards Hibiya. Or, the park is a 2-minute walk from Kasumigaseki station (Marunouchi Subway Line, Chiyoda Subway Line) or an 8-minute walk from Yurakucho (JR) station. Entrance is free and open year round.
Take the JR Yamanote Line to JR Komagome Station. Leave the station via the south exit. Walk down Hongo Dori Avenue in the direction of “Bunkyo Ku” (as indicated by the road signs). You’ll then see a signpost indicating the garden. (About a 7 minute walk).
Anyway, more important with summer round the corner, where are all those beer gardens? Well, that will be another Stippy report. Perhaps one for the whole Stippy crew to work on. Any recommendations for the best place to start?