While few could say that they’ve travelled across the sea for a chance to see a bit of manicured greenery in a major metropolitan area, a great park can give a city distinction and character. Not including temples and their gardens or amusement parks, the following is a list of some of the best municipal parks within Japan’s biggest cities.
Tsurumai Park – Nagoya
Tsurumai Park, first established in 1909, is one of Japan’s oldest. Emblematic of the Meiji era’s love of all things European, the park features a fountain and a gazebo in the Art Nouveau style among rolling lawns and English style rose gardens. Right next to two of Nagoya’s largest universities, Tsurumai Park is a fantastic place to find a place to sit and people watch over a drink.
Odori Park – Sapporo
Sapporo’s Odori Park is very much the center of the city, dividing the north and south ends. Betraying Sapporo’s origins as a relatively new, planned city, Odori Park was originally built as an open space to prevent fires from spreading across districts. Not just Sapporo’s geographic center, this park is very much the city’s heart. Spreading 1.5 kilometers from east to west, the park is host to Sapporo’s massive beer gardens in the summer, and also to the legendary Sapporo Snow festival in February.
Maizuru and Ohori Parks – Fukuoka
Spread across the ruins of a castle and its moat, wandering through these conjoined parks can feel almost magical on the right day. The crumbling walls and stone steps of the now ruined Fukuoka castle, overgrown with grass and cherry trees, signify Maizuru Park, with old canals and chambers converted to ponds for koi and turtles.
Ohori Park, meanwhile, has claimed the moat, remodeling it in the image of China’s West Lake with vermillion bridges and green roofed gazebos snaking through the water. The water is home to a great variety of water fowl, while the surrounds attracts joggers and athletes. In the summer months, locals can be seen feeding the hawks that congregate at the entrance, performing amazing aerial acrobatics for food thrown in the air.
Ueno Park – Tokyo
Of course, no list of the city parks of Japan is complete without its most famous, Tokyo’s Ueno Park. After the massive destruction of the Boshin Wars left Ueno’s Kaneiji Temple ruined, the land was claimed by the city of Tokyo, and Ueno Park was born in 1873—one of Japan’s first five modern parks. Sprawling over 133 acres, the grounds contain among others, the Tokyo National Museum, the National Science Museum, and Ueno Zoo—all destinations in their own right. Many traces of Kaneiji temple can also be found around the park, including an octagonal pagoda and a temple to Kannon.
Nara Park – Nara
Nara Park can probably be counted among the greatest city parks on Earth. Formerly a collection of private gardens, Nara Park is surrounded by some of Japan’s most ancient and historically important temples. The sprawling greens and stone paths are most famously inhabited by thousands of semi-tame deer, who will happily (and sometimes aggressively) accept hand feeding—some have even learned to bow for their dinner!