By Megan Waters
Five of our favourite picnic spots
Now one of Tokyo’s most popular destinations, Yoyogi Park has a colourful history. It was the site of the first successful powered aircraft flight in Japan and a former army parade ground, as well as the location of the main athletics village during the 1964 Olympics. These days it’s also a hangout spot for some of the city’s joyful eccentrics, who practice anything from juggling to cosplay among the greenery.
About a 20-minute walk from the park is casual eatery Bondi Coffee Sandwiches. Inspired by Sydney’s hippest neighbourhood, complete with laidback atmosphere and easy-going staff, the spot will soon have you dreaming of Down Under. The Instagrammable speciality coffees, smoothies, sandwiches and freshly made breads are perfect picnic fodder. Closer to the Yoyogi-Hachiman entrance of the park, and away from the madding crowds, is Arms. Inspired by the classic hamburger joints of the US, this parkside café serves a wide selection of homemade burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs, salads and cakes.
To start your outing in the Meguro area, pick up a sandwich, salad or wrap from gourmet food company Kiwi Kitchen. Both a café and a delivery service, they even do school meals for a few schools in the area. For dessert, try the generously sized banana bread for a nutritious yet sweet snack. Coffee aficionados should grab a drop of the drip from Jubilee Coffee and Roaster, located just across from the entrance to the Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum. Roasted on site, their speciality coffee is selected from around the world and served with typically Japanese attention to detail (prepare for a wait, in other words).
Once satisfied, find a bench or an inviting piece of grass at one of the three parks nearby: the small but pretty Ikedayama Park, the spacious Institute for Nature Study (admission ¥310), or the immaculately landscaped grounds of the Teien museum (¥100 for entry to the garden), a former imperial home built in 1933 as the residence of Prince Asaka (1887–1981).
Japan’s oldest park is built around the celebrated Zojoji, the main temple of the Jodo sect of Japanese Buddhism in the Kanto region. With lush greenery and beautiful cherry trees, the spacious park is an oasis of peace in the concrete jungle. Catch a glimpse of nearby Tokyo Tower from the many footpaths or sit under the ancient gingko tree, a listed National Treasure, near the entrance.
The park is at its best during hanami season, when it really gets into full swing with families and intoxicated salarymen alike enjoying the fine weather and quintessential Japanese festivities. Just around the corner, about a five-minute walk away, is Belgian bakery and restaurant Le Pain Quotidien. First opened in Brussels in 1990, it has 200 locations around the world, all offering a dependable combination of rich coffee and freshly baked pastries, bread and sandwiches – the crunchy prosciutto sarnie with rucola is a particular favourite.
A park like no other, Arisugawa once belonged to feudal lord Minonokami Nambu who used it as an urban villa. Just a two-minute walk from Hiroo Station and across from the National Azabu import supermarket, this tranquil retreat is built into a small hill and incorporates different tiers, streams, ponds and wooded areas, crisscrossed with stone and dirt walkways. A great bird-spotting spot, it’s especially beautiful in spring with blossoming plum trees and water lilies.
En route stop by Luke’s Lobster for their famous crab and shrimp rolls, as well as craft beer. Established in New York’s East Village in 2009 by Maine lobsterman Luke Holden, the seafood shack serves simple and affordable dishes with superior ingredients sourced from sustainable fisheries. Since its opening in spring 2015, Japan’s first branch in Harajuku’s Cat Street still attracts extraordinarily long queues. Avoid the crowds at the less conspicuous Hiroo shop, and treat yourself to grilled or fried lobster exclusive to the Hiroo menu. Just across the road is And the Friet, where the humble french fry has been given a facelift. Choose from six varieties of potato, some of them imported from Belgium, as well as different cuts, homemade salts and dips for a potato experience like no other.
A haven for kids and parents alike, Setagaya Park houses an outdoor swimming pool, tennis courts, playgrounds and plenty of wide open space for children and dogs to run riot in. There’s even a mini steam train that offers rides around the park and a full-size, albeit stationary, steam locomotive to explore.
Need a pick-me-up before letting loose? Get your caffeine fix at one of Tokyo’s best independent coffee roasters: Nozy Coffee. Better known for a collaboration with restauranteering impresarios Tysons & Company at The Roastery in Harajuku, Nozy’s main shop is in a quiet residential neighbourhood just a block away from the park. Here they only sell single origin coffee brewed with beans from specific regions. Choose from lattes, espressos or a simple french press, and don’t forget to pick up a bag of their freshly roasted beans to enjoy at home.