Hibiya Park & The Outer Palace Gardens
For such a congested city, Tokyo has a surprising amount of green space. Take, for example, the area directly outside the Imperial Palace. The Kyoko Gaien (Outer Garden) once held the houses of Japan’s provincial lords, but today offers people a place to stretch out on the grass. We visited it and the nearby Hibiya Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
This was the first day of spring warm enough to make a jacket strictly optional, and we weren’t surprised to find the parks exceptionally busy. Allowing ourselves to be carried along with the general flow of the crowd, we ended up in front of the Nijubashi Bridge, which leads into the Imperial Palace. With its stone arches reflected in the water of the moat and a storybook castle keep, called the Fushimi Yagura on the bluff behind it, this is one of Tokyo’s most popular photo opportunities.
Continuing through the Outer Gardens, we made our way along the paths, dodging toddlers, joggers and cyclists. The park is flat, crowded, and not necessarily beautiful, but it’s fun to stroll through. Marunouchi’s skyscrapers form a wall around the garden’s eastern and northern borders, and provide an inescapable reminder that, despite the lovebirds and picnickers, you’re in the middle of a massive city.
At the northern end of the garden, we sat for awhile in the Wakadura Fountain Park, commemorated to honor the 1993 marriage of Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito to Princess Masako. The fountains are pleasant, and soon we had recuperated enough energy to tackle nearby Hibiya Park. Found across the Palace’s moat, Hibiya was Japan’s first Western-style park, and today offers tennis courts, picnic areas, flower gardens and an open-air music venue. We poked around a spring festival, listened to a band, and then sat down outside near the pond for a drink, before deciding that it was time to escape the sun.
We finished the day at the Idemitsu Art Museum, found on the ninth floors of the Kokusai Building, above the Imperial Theater. In a lounge with huge windows, tea is provided free of charge, along with comfortable seats that allow patrons to look out over the Outer Palace Gardens. It was air-conditioned in here and quiet, and after a long time spent relaxing, we stood up and were about to return home… before remembering that there was art at this museum, too!