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The best 10 places to experience Tokyo in peace
Where to chill in the Big Mikan
Hypertasking in crowded Tokyo can get out of hand. When you really need some R&R, in a city where even the letter "r" gets stressed, try one of these spots, all for under ¥1,000.
1. Deep breathing
Shinjuku Gyoen, with 58 hectares (144 acres) of green and 20,000 trees, is big enough to put a damper on the din, and wide enough to restore your sense of perspective.
You have to fork out ¥200 to enter, but even with the fee, the park gets overrun with lovers and businessmen on breaks near the Shinjuku entrance.
So head to the less populated grounds near the Sendagaya Gate for serene expanses of grass and open sky.
Spread out a picnic on the yawning lawn area, or grab a book and a bench near the French formal garden, and let the leaves do their soothing thing. Beware cherry blossom season, when the park's 1,500 bloomers draw massive crowds.
To get there: Five minutes' walk from JR Sobu Line's Sendagaya Station
2. Pooch 'n' beach
Dog tired? You and your furry friend can pant at the beachside vibe of canine-friendly Bondi Café. Comfy designer sofas, wooden floors, and blankets if you prefer the patio, give the place the feeling of home, without the clutter.
Baristas create frothy pastorals in their larger-than-usual lattes (¥630) and sliding glass doors open to the outside as soon as the weather allows.
The food menu is Asian fusion, but slouches toward the west in dessert selections.
Laze through the early mornings (from 9 a.m.), and skip the midday hours when the lunch crowd comes and local pre-schools let out.
To get there: 5-15-9 Barbizon70 1F, Minami Azabu. Tel: +81 (0) 3 5422 9449
3. Take a seat
It's maddeningly packed and insanely noisy inside Tokyo's electronics emporiums, but sometimes you just have to go there. The cacophony just makes the relief of this place seem even sweeter.
On the third floor of Yurakucho's Bic Camera, one minute's walk from the JR station, an oasis of bliss awaits in the displays of over-sized massage chairs, reflexology foot rollers, and back thumpers.
You have to stick to the 15 minutes per gizmo rule, but you can test and rest with different massagers for an hour or so, free of charge. Weary shoppers routinely drift off to dreamland here.
Once verging on brutal, the newest massage chairs hit every knot and stretch muscles your didn't know you had.
We take no responsibility if, tenderized and well-pummeled, you find yourself buying one.
4. Swan-ee, how I love ya!
Forget that you might look ridiculous inside one of the giant swan boats as you pump your way out to the center of Shinobazu Pond, in Ueno.
The point is you'll find relative quiet when you get there.
Choose a pastel bird boat, pay your ¥700 for 30 minutes -- cheaper for the rowboats which lack the hilarity and UV protection -- and paddle out to where real birds soar overhead, the sounds of the city drift into a fuzz, and you've got relative anonymity in the shadows.
Arrive at the pond early enough in the morning, and as the sun comes up, you can hear the huge water lilies "pop" when they open.
5. Call me crazy
There's some bad news here, but it must be told.
One of the prettiest stretches of Tokyo, a forest of pines and bamboo that used to run along the Tamagawa River, southeast of Futako Tamagawa Station on the Tokyu Denentoshi and Oimachi Lines, has been chopped down.
Residents are still furious and protest banners fly at nearly every home. It's not exactly calming to walk alongside chain-link fences and sandbags stacked up for the projected, sanitized promenade, but there is a reward at the end of this desolate road.
Tokio Plage Lunatique is a café-style restaurant that looks like it was plucked from a tiny seaside French town and plonked down by the Tamagawa.
The food is European good, but for our purposes, taking a glass of wine on the roof is all that is required.
From a sling-back chair under a resort umbrella, watching the sun set behind Mt. Fuji, with no sounds other than herons, gusts of wind in the remaining few pines, and the very distant white hum of traffic, is as close to a mini vacation as Tokyoites can score for ¥700.
To get there: 1-1-4 Tamagawa, Setagaya-ku. Tel +81 (0) 3 3708 1118
6. Poetic pick
You could walk along the brick wall exterior of Rikugien, minutes from Komagome Station on both the Nanboku subway and JR Yamanote Lines, and never guess at the beauty inside.
Similarly, once inside, the outside world all but disappears.
Feudal lord Yoshiyasu Yanagisawa oversaw the garden's completion in 1702, and had it designed to evoke classical Japanese poetry.
You don't need a literature degree to get in, though, just the ¥300 entrance fee.
Winding paths, focused on the central pond with its muscular carp, varied bridges and islands, form a mental mandala in greens.
And it's impossible to miss Fukiage-chaya's fire red umbrella, marking the pond-side teahouse that offers a cup of the green stuff and a sweet for ¥500.
7. Carving out time
Traveling out to Shibamata, on the eastern edge of Tokyo, accessed by one of Tokyo's briefest train lines, the 2.5 kilometer-long Keisei Kanamachi, you'll find an atmosphere that harks back to a calmer, quieter world, of, say, the 1970s.
A bustling commercial main road, or "sando," thrives on Japanese nostalgia for the "Tora-san" movies which starred the late Kiyoshi Atsumi and were filmed in the area from 1968-1995.
But all this leads to an even greater attraction: the quiet grounds of Daikyoji Temple (1629), also known as Taishakuten.
A ¥400 fee allows you to sidle in your socks up to the temple's treasures, intricately-carved, massive zelkova panels depicting the Hokekyo, or Lotus Sutra.
On any given day, you're likely to be alone with the artwork, and can wander the temple's rear gardens in absolute peace.
8. Time travel
Not willing to go all the way out to Shibamata (see above) for cinema nostalgia and exquisite wood carvings? Okay, let's throw in one of Japan's most highly-rated, yet rarely visited traditional gardens.
Yamamoto-tei, a five-minute walk from Taishakuten, was the estate of wealthy Einosuke Yamamoto, inventor of the camera shutter spring.
The home, built during the late years of the Taisho Era (1912-1926), is in the sukiya (refined, teahouse-inspired) style, and is well worth the ¥100 entrance fee.
Its spare, elegant tatami rooms seem to exist merely to frame the garden, routinely ranked among the country's top five, up there with Katsura Rikkyu in Kyoto.
Strategic planting makes the greens, in varying textures and shades, appear to continue endlessly out to the horizon. Weekdays, all you'll hear is awed whispers and camera shutters.
Various tea and sweets sets are optional, and on occasional Sundays, local musicians hold koto (13-stringed Japanese zither) concerts.
9. Wheel emotion
Head out to the sprawling surrounds of Kasai Rinkai Koen, a bay-side park accessed by the Keiyo Line from Tokyo Station, and you won't miss Japan's tallest operational Ferris Wheel (now that Sky Dream Fukuoka has closed).
Named for its dazzling night-time light shows, the Diamond and Flowers Ferris Wheel has 68 fully enclosed isolation pods. Yes, the pods can seat six, but are you reading the wrong article?
At 117 meters tall, one full rotation takes 17 minutes and provides what the operator's brochure boasts as "maximum kissing time."
Peaceful smooching ain't cheap (¥700, unless you're under 3 or over 70) but the views of Disneyland, Rainbow Bridge, Tokyo Tower and Sky Tree from the silence of your pod makes it all worthwhile.
Afterwards, enjoy Kasai Rinkai's winding paths. One leads to a lonesome stretch of artificial beach, another to the "Seabreeze Field" often full of poppies or cosmos flowers, and yet another circles a bird sanctuary.
There is a zoo, too, but it's usually, well, a zoo.
10. Roku Nana
The designer bar Roku Nana (Six Seven in Japanese) does not exist. Well it does, but it's a secret.
And it's wicked hard to find. Plus, if you find it before spring, the open-air setting is "on the rocks" cold. All this adds up to one result -- it's usually a slice of peaceful heaven.
Head of design firm Glamorous, Yasumichi Morita, created a stunning effect with almost non-existent furniture (plexiglass tables with chandeliers inside, Plexiglas chairs) and toned the lighting down so that Tokyo's skyline is the dominant visual feature.
Blankets and sofas anchor one end, and if you snag them, you will be less likely to notice the nearby lights of Roppongi Hills, but regardless, the effect is like being in a safe little space ship, with the dark side all around.
To find Roku Nana's nondescript three-story white building, you have to call the bar and beg for directions. We did:
Roku Nana, Verde Roppongi 3/F, 7-16-11 Roppongi, Minato-ku, +81 (0) 3 6438 9915