Tokyo’s Urban Oases: Where to Find Your Zen in the MetropolisBy Karen Gardiner
For the quieter side of Tokyo, head to Nezu Museum or Shinjuku Gyoen National Park. (Photo: Didier ZYLBERYNG / Alamy Stock Photo)
Trend-setting, adrenaline-fueled and awash with neon, a visit to the world’s largest city can feel like stepping into a bright, loud and breathtakingly tightly packed future. Pause for a moment, though, and you’ll find another side to Tokyo, one that is quieter, slower paced and, dare we say, Zen. Here’s where to seek out some of Tokyo’s most serene spots where your senses are more likely to be massaged than assaulted.
The wall-to-wall neon and skyscraper-filled streets of Shinjuku, the city’s premier nightlife district, are where your Blade Runner-inspired images of futuristic Tokyo come to life. Walk just 15 minutes east of the labyrinthine Shinjuku Station, however, and you’ll be swapping concrete and flickering lights for Shinjuku Gyoen’s meandering pathways, spacious lawns, manicured gardens and more slowly changing colors: from pink cherry blossoms in spring to golden leaves in fall.
Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park
A 15-minute walk from hectic Roppongi, — another of Tokyo’s famed nightlife districts, favored by expats, tourists and off-duty U.S. military — this densely wooded park is something of a hidden refuge. Local joggers visit Arisugawa-no-miya Memorial Park for the hilly terrain, nannies working for the nearby foreign embassies push strollers, while others simply enjoy the opportunity for a quiet place to wander or to contemplate life from a bench overlooking a shimmering pond.
An urban oasis in the upmarket shopping district of Aoyama, Nezu Museum exhibits carefully selected pieces of privately collected Japanese and East Asian artworks. The Kengo Kuma-designed building is an architectural marvel of glass and wood, but serenity seekers may be more interested in lingering in the lush 17,000-square-meter Zen garden, dotted with koi-filled ponds and stone lanterns.
Sometimes you need to travel to the end of the subway line to find peace. The final stop on the Tokyo Metro Hibiya Line, Nakameguro is a quiet, residential neighborhood with a village vibe and a lovely tree-lined canal — especially pretty when it blooms pink with cherry blossoms in spring. This is the kind of place where slow-paced wandering through backstreets is its own reward but can also unearth such treasures as laid-back bars and cool boutiques.
Odaiba Seaside Park
“Cross the Rainbow Bridge” sounds like poetic instruction for the journey to paradise, but is, in fact, your route to this chain of man-made islands in Tokyo Bay. On the eastern side of the suspension bridge, and only 30 minutes by train from Shinagawa, Odaiba Seaside Park feels very much farther away from the city. The cool bay breeze is sure to calm a busy mind and the quiet park with sandy beach offers views of Tokyo Bay and, weather permitting, Mount Fuji.