Central Park is a must-see on any New York City tourist’s itinerary and a trip to London wouldn’t be cricket without a stroll through Hyde Park. When I think of great city parks, Großer Tiergarten in Berlin and Vondelpark in Amsterdam also spring to mind. There’s something special about these urban oases. It’s the treasure of finding green open space amid skyscrapers and traffic jams; the opportunity they offer to watch native species in their natural habitats. Unburdened by the constraints of schedules and workloads, people in parks are free to let their hair down. In cities like Tokyo, where living space is scarce and backyards non-existent, city parks also fulfill the role of garage, dance studio, tanning salon, dining room and more.
For these reasons, hanging out in Yoyogi Park is one of my favorite Tokyo pastimes. This is especially true now that the weather is warm. In fact, I think I’ve spent 3 out of the 4 last weekends there – drinks with friends visiting from Australia one week, followed by an afternoon of reading in the sun the next. Last weekend, I was there again – this time for a picnic with fellow Tokyoites.
Every time I visit, the sheer number of people and diversity of activities blow me away. On the picnicking occasion, I witnessed J-pop dancers, a Gokkal-Sogo performer, a drummer (drum kit and all!), a folk music group and a game of hacky sack all in the short walk from our picnic blanket to the toilet and back. In the past, I’ve seen rockabilly revelers, Gothic Lolita human statues, drama clubs and tai chi grandmas. These colorful characters are interspersed among thousands of picnickers, dog walkers, sunbakers and passersby, of all ages, sub-cultures, and backgrounds. In this sense, Yoyogi Park is a microcosm of the city.
Yoyogi Park isn’t yet on the top of Tokyo tourism agendas, however, it’s always on my list of personal recommendations. So, next time you’re in Tokyo, especially if the sun is shining, put some time aside for a picnic in or stroll through Yoyogi Park. You’ll experience that rare feeling of being part of the city and the people watching is out of this world.
While you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to also check out the following:
- Meiji Shrine: 90-year-old Shinto shrine located in a 700,000 square-meter forest of towering evergreen trees.
- Yoyogi National Gymnasium: Sports arena designed by Kenzo Tange for the 1964 Summer Olympics.
- Takeshita-dori: THE street of Japanese pop culture; a haven for teenagers and a breeding ground for fashion trends.
What park in your city do you always recommend to out-of-towners?