Tokyo's top 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, eccentric personalities, 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 coffee, 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.
In Meguro area, there are several noteworthy parks for you to take a stroll in lush nature. Here are the three parks we like: the small but pretty Ikedayama Park, the spacious Institute for Nature Study (admission ¥310), and 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).
To start your outing in the Meguro, pick up a sandwich, salad or wrap from the 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 sweet, filling 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 (in other words, be prepared to wait).
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 busy 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 premium ingredients sourced from sustainable fisheries. Since its opening, 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? 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 serve single origin coffee brewed with beans from specific regions. Choose from latte, espresso or simple french press coffee, and don’t forget to pick up a bag of their freshly roasted beans to enjoy at home.
This sprawling park is hidden from view by the highrise shopping mall, but you will see it after walking down to the riverside, past the movie theatre and the residential houses. It's popular amongst families as there are ample space for kids to run around freely. Look out for the Starbucks onsite as they sometimes hold outdoor fillm screenings in the evening.
Stop by Rise shopping mall, which houses Tokyu Food Show grocery store as well as some commendable cafés and bakeries. The renowned Pastelería Mallorca, in business since 1931, is particularly famous for its bocadillos (Spanish sandwich), extra-rich hot chocolate and pretty cakes. Good Meals Shop, on the other hand, offers classic picnic basket fillers such as sausage rolls, gourmet bread, chocolate spread and popsicles, all handmade on site. Their coffee and microbrew selection are also worth considering.
First-time visitors are often surprised to discover this verdant grassland in Setagaya. Kinuta Park actually used to be a municipal golf course, though you no longer need to worry about getting hit by flying balls while rolling around the open space. An especially popular place for family outings, attractions within the park include a cycling course, bird sanctuary and kids' playground, as well as the Setagaya Art Museum. It's also a draw for springtime sakura viewers, when the particular variety of species guarantees a longer bloom time.
Located along Kanpachi-dori (Number 8 Ring Road), Kinuta Park has a big parking lot, so it's accessible by car. Or, you can easily walk from Yoga Station on the Tokyu Den-en-toshi line. On the way to the park, stop by Bread and Butter Factory. This bakery and restaurant is popular with locals, and they offer all sorts of bread and baked goods. Order a hotdog with a cup of iced coffee to-go; it's the perfect combo to enjoy under the sun at the nearby Kinuta Park.
A municipal park located in the heart of Tokyo, not far from Kasumigaseki and the Imperial Palace Gardens, Hibiya Park houses a range of facilities, including Hibiya Public Hall, Hibiya Library and both small and large open-air concert halls. Around the perimeter of the park, you'll find the Imperial Palace Gardens, as well as the Imperial Hotel and various ministry and government offices.
Thanks to the new Tokyo Midtown Hibiya shopping complex, you'll never have a problem getting food (and toilets!). Nevertheless, this park usually hosts food and drink events on weekends, so you'll be spoilt for choice. We recommend you seek out The Peninsula Tokyo's stylish food truck on Naka-dori avenue and pick up one of their daily lunch boxes. Best get there early (just before 12noon) as there are only ten offered each day.
Completed in 1926, Meiji Jingu Gaien (Meiji Outer Garden) is an extensive complex consisting of Western gardens, sports fields and facilities, and a ball park. The garden includes the ginkgo tree-lined boulevard, which runs between Gaienmae Station and Aoyama-itchome Station on the Tokyo Metro Ginza line. Toward the end of November each year, the ginkgo trees shine with golden autumnal foliage. On the northern side, near Sendagaya Station, there is a park for family with little kids. There's an entry charge, but it's worth it for the well-equipped adventure playground.
On the Aoyama-dori side, there are several restaurants and cafés, such as the Royal Garden Café and Shake Shack, where you can sit back and take in the lush greenery. Or, get the burgers to go and munch on them as you walk down the ginkgo tree-lined boulevard.
This park in Setagaya served as the second stadium during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and is home to a distinctive, Kenzo Tange-designed tower that looks like a Jenga set. The facilities are still used for sporting events today, as well as less athletically challenging ones such as flea markets.
There is a branch of Mr Farmer inside the park. The restaurant is known for their healthy-eating menu (think salads, sandwiches and omelettes) and they also offer diet-specific food items, particularly vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free selections. Prefer something more... meaty and substantial? Go for the burgers at the nearby AS Classics Diner.