Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a 144-acre park with one of the most popular of the many traditional gardens for which Japan is famous. This is a gleaming modern metropolis with skyscrapers, heavy traffic, and a large urban population, and is not known for its green space. However, there are some lovely gardens in Tokyo that are among the finest in this country where the art of garden design has been an important art form for centuries.
Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden and park is built on the site of an imperial mansion of the Edo Period, the time during the history of the city and country from the beginning of the seventeenth century until the end of the nineteenth century. This period was the height of the feudal shogunates and saw Japan grow into a modern nation. After World War II, the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden was opened to the public. It consists of a traditional Japanese garden, a formal garden from France, and an English landscape garden. This is one of the most popular places in Tokyo for viewing the annual cherry blossoms as they come out in glorious shades of white and pink; there are more than 1,000 cherry trees representing numerous species. Other trees in the park and gardens include splendid cedars from the Himalayas, tulip trees, plane trees, and cypresses. Many of these trees, in their dwarf form, are sculpted into another Japanese art form, bonsai. The best time to go to Tokyo for hanami (blossom viewing) is from about late March through April. The park is only a short walk from the lively nightlife area of Shinjuku.
Hama Rikyu Garden is one of the more beautiful gardens in Tokyo in spite of being surrounded by skyscrapers. It also dates to the feudal shogun period and was once a royal duck hunting refuge. It is located at the mouth of the Sumida River and boasts a tidal lake. Three graceful bridges covered in wisteria span the lake; fields of cosmos bloom during every season; smaller ponds provide habitat for ducks, herons, and birds. You can walk along Tokyo Bay at Hama Rikyu Garden under a seafront promenade sheltered by pine trees (one of which is 300 years old). Because of its river location near the bay, Hama Rikyu Garden is a popular stop on river cruises, and some of the large ocean cruise lines offer these as shore excursions. Many of the city hotels will also help you book these cruises as well as other tours. From the park, you can also board a ferry to Asakusa, the district famous for some of loveliest shrines and temples in the city. Special events held here over the New Year include falconry and aikido demonstrations.
Ueno Park is one of the largest and most popular parks in Tokyo, and is located in the center of the city just to the northeast of Akihabara. It has more than 1,000 cherry trees, and local residents and visitors alike flock to see the cherry blossoms during the month of April. It has been open to the public since 1873, and only a few years later in 1882 the Ueno Zoo was established here. Part of Ueno Park includes Shinobazu Pond, which is actually three ponds—Lotus Pond, named for its aquatic flowers; Cormorant Pond, located in the zoo and named for its aquatic birds; and Boat Pond, where you can enjoy cruises. You will also find shrines and temples here. Ueno Park is well known for its museums, including the National Museum of Science, the National Museum of Western Art, and the Tokyo National Museum.
Higashi Gyoen consists of 52 acres of formal Japanese gardens and parkland, and is where the Edo Castle ruins and Imperial Palace are located. The Honmaru section is the highest part of the park and consists of a vast lawn. The Ninomaru section is the only remaining example of a formal garden from the Edo Period. Again, like many gardens in Tokyo, this park is most crowded during the cherry blossom viewing time. Lunchtime is also fairly crowded, as many office workers come here to enjoy their break.