4 best parks on the Western side of Tokyo
Yoyogi Park, Ueno Park and Shinjuku Gyoen may be convenient Tokyo parks, but sometimes you need a wide green expanse where skyscrapers aren't looming over you and a thousand people aren't battling you for territorial hegemony. For a hasty urban escape, try one of these four West Tokyo parks, all located within thirty minutes of Shinjuku by train.
1. Inokashira Park: When too much nature gets boring
Lay of the land: Forest canopy with a lake in the middle and open fields to the east and west. Not much in the way of sprawling greenery, but great for cherry blossoms in spring, shady picnics in the summer and autumn foliage later in the year.
Date activities: Rental swan boats (¥700 for 30 minutes) and paddle boats (¥600 for 30 minutes) for private joyrides on the lake.
Cultural attraction: Frequent live performers, including a pitch-perfect acoustic Dixieland jazz trio and the 'Manga Man,' who very passionately narrates comics to listeners for a small fee.
For the kids: Two small zoos within walking distance: one for land animals, one for water-based animals. The Ghibli Museum is also at the outer edge of the park.
General vibe: Inokashira Park is a very social place, great for hanging out, drinking beers or practicing an instrument. Not the best for avoiding other human beings.
Inokashira Park: nearest station is Kichijoji (JR Sobu, JR Chuo, or Keio Inokashira Line) or Inokashira Park (Keio Inokashira Line), admission free
2. Showa Kinen Park: When you want to get lost
Lay of the land: An enormous tract -- 120 hectares! -- with grass fields, dense forest and giant fields of wildflowers.
Date activities: Cycling around the bike on rented bikes (¥410 for three hours) or appreciating the thousands of Cosmos flowers in autumn.
Cultural attractions: Free concerts from big-name stars and fireworks in the summer.
For the kids: A wily water park with giant slides and wave pools is open in the warmer months. There are also these springy "clouds" that you can jump up and down upon, plus a giant field with an ancient tree in the middle for picnics.
General vibe: Showa Kinen Park is Tokyo's ultimate giant-park experience, but it's so big you sometimes have to bring your own fun.
Showa Kinen Park: nearest stations are Nishi Tachikawa (JR Ome Line) or Tachikawa (JR Chuo Line), admission ¥400
3. Koganei Park: When you want to bond with the family
Lay of the land: Big grass fields, lots of tennis and basketball courts, designated areas for barbecuing, a woody bike path and a bird sanctuary. The park is most famous for its 2,000 cherry trees, which explode into pink during spring.
Date activity: Buy a badminton set from the vendors and laugh at your athletic ineptitude.
Cultural attractions: The Edo Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum is housed on the park grounds. Visitors can tour a slew of historical and architecturally important buildings that Tokyo deemed 'too old and beautiful' and removed from the actual city to make room for more windowless concrete three-story boxes.
For the kids: Wanpaku Hiroba, a collection of obstacle courses, zip-lines and slides that will wear out any and all over-energetic offspring. There is also a special hill that kids can 'sled' with free plastic sleds provided by the park (or sold at vendors).
General vibe: Koganei Park is a destination for area families, friends and swarms of little kids. The park can also hold large-scale events so check the calender before heading in.
Koganei Park: take the Seibu bus from the JR Chuo Line station Musashi-Koganei and get off at the Koganei Park West Entrance stop. Admission free
4. Nogawa Park: When you want to get back to nature
Lay of the land: Two spacious grounds divided by a highway. (A raised-pedestrian bridge connects the halves.) One half is quiet and grassy, with a little creek passing through and deep forest at the edges. The other half is more developed, with athletic equipment and a snack stand.
Date activities: Picnic near the creek and then cross over to the other side to try your skills at the full-sized obstacle course.
Cultural attraction: Small passenger planes from nearby Chofu Airport soar over the park on their way to and from nearby islands.
For the kids: The (very cold) stream is a perfect place to splash around while hunting for fish and crayfish.
General vibe: Nogawa Park is one of the best places in the city to find natural green spaces with little evidence of human civilization.
Nogawa Park: a fifteen minute walk from either the Shin-koganei or Tama Stations (Seibu Tamagawa Line). Admission free