Tokyo is famous for a lot of things, and beautiful nature is definitely not one of them. When we get different quality of life rankings from (mostly) American expat consultancy groups we tend to hear how many square meters of parks there are per inhabitant in all major cities around the world and usually Chinese and Japanese cities rank at the rock bottom of those. In fact, the only Japanese city that I can think of that even comes close to having a reasonable amount of park space would be Nara, but even Nara can’t compete to European or North American cities.
But park space per inhabitant is not all that counts my friends! One thing many of these rankings fail to consider is the travel distance from park to home, and if you consider that, there are major parks within 15 minutes on the bus or train from almost all Tokyo homes. I have one major park within walking distance (15 minutes on foot) and two other huge parks within 15 minutes on the train or subway. Not bad!
So, if you are in Tokyo and interested in experiencing a little bit of greenery, the place where you get most bang for your bucks is without doubt the Shinjuku Gyoen (新宿御苑). It is huge, and just walking through all of it will take qute some time. It is one of Tokyo’s imperial gardens but it was completely destroyed in May 1945 during the intense fire bombing of Tokyo at the end of the war. When it reopened in 1949 it was as a public park and it is now open most days of the year, during daytime hours only. One of the main attractions of the park is that it is actually not free to enter, you’ll have to pay 200 yen for the privilege. 200 yen is about half a Starbucks latte. In return, you get 58.3 acres of French, Japanese, English and Nature gardens divided in two Tokyo wards, Shibuya ward and Shinjuku ward. The Shinjuku Gyoen is easily one of the most well managed larger public parks in the world. As a photographer I often meet people interested in using the park as place for photo shoots, and although photography is allowed in the park, light stands and bouncers are not, unless you can find a way to do it undetected, which is not that hard if you are a little sneaky.
As I have stated many times on this blog, nature photography is absolutely not my thing and I think these pictures prove it. I shot these with my trusty old Nikkor 20mm f2.8 and put a POL-C filter on to get the sky properly. Interestingly, the large building in the last photo is the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building which also happens to be the tallest clock tower in the world (right until the rather amazing Abraj Al Bait Towers in Mecca or completed). It is the third tallest building in Tokyo (at 240m) and despite the prime location it is closed to the public and used primarily as a technical installation for cell phone services in the greater Tokyo area. You can tell that it is modeled on the Empire State building in New York, following a grand tradition of building and places inspired by landmarks in the Big Apple.
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