As hard as it is to believe, 2021 is almost over. Holidays in Japan always mean crowds, but there are a few places in Tokyo where you can ring out the year in peace!
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, constant changes in travel regulations, and the exponential spread of the ZOOM world, 2021 has rocketed by. Major tourist destinations in Japan are likely to be majorly crowded, so if you don’t want to feel like a fish swimming against the current, try planning a visit to a park, an aquarium, a movie theater.
- Inokashira Park illumination
Inokashira Park Zoo 井の頭自然文化園
A hop and a skip away from Kichijoji Station is Inokashira Park, a large and well-maintained public park with facilities, park side restaurants, a pond with swan boats, a vibrant red shrine, and also on the premises, the Inokashira Park Zoo. You’ll get your day’s exercise here, visiting the different animals’ by area. Spend a day here with the whole family, and don’t forget to stop by the gift shop for a stuffed animal or other souvenirs from your trip.
Access: A 10-minute walk from the South Exit of Kichijoji Station on the Chuo, Sobu, or Keio Inokashira Lines
Fee: 400 yen
Closed January 29~31/Open from January 1
Tokyo Sea Life Park 葛西臨海公園
Right off of Tokyo Bay, not far from Tokyo Big Site–is Tokyo Sea Life Park. It was developed as part of an effort to revitalize the area on the themes of greenery, water, and people. Here, you can not only enjoy an aquarium, but also visit a bird-watching center, ride on the Diamond and Flower Ferris wheel (the tallest Ferris wheel in Japan, formerly the tallest in the world), take in the view from an observation deck, or take a stroll along the beach.
Note: You must buy your tickets ahead of time for weekends and holidays, as well as January 3rd and 4th of 2022.
Access: 1-minute walk from Tokyo Sea Life Park Station on the JR East Keiō Line
Fees: 700 yen
Jindaiji Temple 神代寺 / Jindaiji Botanical Gardens 神代植物公園
The second oldest temple after Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Jindaiji Temple is famous for its Daruma Festival between March 3rd and 4th, as well as for its hand-made, 100 percent buckwheat soba. Next to Jindaiji Temple are the Jindaiji Botanical Gardens (神代植物公園). This giant garden (105 acres) has a beautiful pond, azaleas, roses, plum, bush clover, woods, a lawn with giant pampas grass, a greenhouse, an aquatic plants garden, a Center for Plant Diversity, and the remains of Jindaiji Castle.
Jindaiji Botanical Gardens Access: Keiō Line, Chofu Station/South Exit, bus stop #6, bus 吉04 bound for Jindaiji (last stop) OR OR Central Exit, bus stop #14, 調 34
Jindaiji bound for Jindaiji (last stop)
Gardens Entry Fee: 500 yen
Closed January 29~31, reopens after January 1
Nabeshima Shōtō Park 鍋島松濤公園
While large parks like Ueno and Yoyogi Koen may attract end-of-the-year gatherings, smaller parks are a good bet for a quiet outing. The former residence of the Nabeshima household, and subsequently a tea house, Nabeshima Park is now a small public park. The main attractions are a beautiful pond with a water wheel, various playground equipment, and a sandbox for children. Not too far from Yoyogi Park and Shibuya Station, this is a nice out-of-the-way place in the middle of the big city to spend an hour or two with the family.
Access: 8-minute walk from Shinsen Station (Keio Inokashira Line) OR 12-minute walk from Shibuya Station (JR, Tokyo Metro)
Kyoto Vibes in Tokyo: Takebayashi Koen 竹林公園
Kyoto is the major hub for traditional Japanese arts and culture, thus, it tends to draw hordes of visitors at every holiday. One of the top destinations in Kyoto is Arashiyama Koen, where you can walk through a tranquil bamboo forest. If you were hoping for a Kyoto trip but don’t want to pay for a pricey bullet train (shinkansen) ticket or endure a sleepless night on yakō bus (overnight bus), try Takebayashi Koen. Takebayashi Koen is a beautiful bamboo grove similar to the one found in Arashiyama Koen–steeped in wa vibes. This quiet spot is located in Higashi Kurume and easily accessible by the Seibu Ikebukuro Line.
Access: 15-minute walk from Higashi Kurume Station (Seibu Ikebukuro Line)
Todoroki Valley 等々力渓谷
Located in Setagaya Ward, Todoroki Valley or Gorge is the only gorge in the greater Tokyo area. Here you can snap a picture of the beautiful Golf Bridge, take a 1km walk along the Yazawa River, enjoy a large green space and a Japanese garden, and taste a bowl of matcha and a wagashi at a traditional tea house.
Access: 20-minute walk from Shibuya Station on the Den-en-toshi Line or Toyoko Line/Oimachi Line
New Year’s Party
So far we have introduced outdoor activities and locations, but if you would rather spend your end-of-the-year in a warm place, how about enjoying popcorn and a movie at your local theater? There are several big titles already or soon to be released. Of note are The Matrix Resurrections (released December 17), The King’s Man (released December 24), and if you are lucky enough to still be off on January 7, Spiderman: No Way Home. Or, if you really want to go local, try watching a Japanese title! Of course, if you want to be ultra-cozy, you can always invite your friends for movie night and stream something on Netflix. Add to your Netflix party some holidays snacks from KALDI Coffee Farm or the National Azabu supermarket in Hirō. In any case, whether you go out or stay in, be sure to spend some time at the end of 2021 with the people you love, and step into a new year with great expectation!