Tokyo has a multitude of parks, but not all parks attract the same kind of visitors. For instance, Shinjuku Gyoen doesn’t allow alcohol, so it’s recommended for families, or garden/parks like Koishikawa Korakuen are more for those who want to appreciate nature quietly—no picnics or anything, just strolling and taking photos. So where do you go if you’re looking for a hip, fun park? Yoyogi Park—that’s where!
Located near the JR Line’s Harajuku or Yoyogi Station, or Tokyo Metro’s Meiji-Jingumae Station, Yoyogi Park is one of Tokyo’s largest parks at 54.1 hectares. Although it was officially created as a park in 1967, it’s had quite some history. It was previously a military parade ground, and it was the site of military barracks when the US occupied Japan. It was also significant to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics: the Yoyogi National Gymnasium was created for that event, and the main athletes’ village was also in the park. In recent history, the park was also closed for some time in 2014 due to a dengue outbreak having started in that area.
Around the Park
Today, Yoyogi Park is divided into 2 parts, separated by a road. One part is the forest park area, and another, which is a longer walk away, has an outdoor stage and stadium. The former is the larger area, and is usually where people have barbeques and picnics, while the latter’s facilities make it suitable for events—it’s virtually unheard of for a weekend to go by without an event in that part of Yoyogi Park!
The forest park area is what most people think of when you mention “Yoyogi Park.” It’s suitable not only for picnics, but also for other outdoor activities like skating and jogging. Its fields are large and sprawling, so if you just want to sit down and relax, that’s fine, too. It’s also got cycling plazas for adults and children; a pond with some fountains; a bird sanctuary; a sample garden which was formed thanks to the contributions of 22 participant countries during the Tokyo Olympics; rose, cherry, and plum gardens; and an observation deck from which you can see the entirety of the forest area.
As for flora, Yoyogi Park’s is honestly not that special or scenic compared to that of other parks. It’s not so much known for the beauty of its trees and blossoms; it’s better known for being a park that’s bustling with activity. However, Yoyogi Park does have some cherry blossoms—it has around 500 Somei-Yoshino cherry trees, and also some kawazu sakura—early-blooming sakura—trees. While it’s not exactly known as a hanami spot (other parks easily beat Yoyogi Park in that regard) it’s not unheard of to have hanami picnics there. The Japanese zelkova, though, is the tree that’s in most abundance in the park.
The other side doesn’t really have much flora; again, it’s better known as an event venue. Usually, you’ll see cultural events and/or flea markets there, as well as food stalls. That side also has an athletic field, soccer and hockey field, and basketball court. It’s also quite close to the NHK Broadcast Center.
Humans of Yoyogi Park
Part of Yoyogi’s charm is that it attracts all sorts of fascinating people, who usually hang out at and around the forest park. Yoyogi Park being quite close to Harajuku, a trendy place for both mainstream and alternative fashionistas, you’ll occasionally see those fashionistas in and around the park. There aren’t as many of them nowadays, especially since the number of people dressed in Lolita and visual kei fashion hanging out on Jingubashi (the bridge near Meiji Shrine) have dwindled, but you’ll still see a few here and there. You can also see street performers, and be entertained by people practicing their singing and/or dancing skills. I’ve seen people playing bongo drums and ukuleles, and women in maid costumes practicing a cutesy dance. While the photography enthusiast in you might think that these people make for great photo ops, keep in mind that not everyone is there to perform for a crowd, despite Yoyogi Park being a public park. Some people just really want to practice, and Yoyogi Park provides them that space, so don’t be surprised if some people may stop you from taking photos. Remember, asking goes a long way, and if they don’t want to be photographed, don’t take things personally!
But perhaps the most interesting people you’ll see in Yoyogi Park are the rockabilly dancers, who gather there on Sundays. Looking like they stepped out of the 1950s, these dancers sport leather jackets and slicked-back hair, and they dance to jukebox hits. Sometimes, they’re also accompanied by women, also in 1950s attire. They put on an energetic, entertaining performance, but they’re apparently just doing it for the enjoyment of it, and not for money. Taking photos and videos of them is very much welcome. There’s no fixed time for their performances, so seeing them is partly a matter of chance.
A Taste of Other Cultures at Yoyogi Park
There’s almost always something happening in Yoyogi Park. The park has had celebrations such as Outdoor Day, which, as the name implies, encourages people to spend more time outdoors; Earth Day; and, just recently, Tokyo Rainbow Pride, which even featured a pride parade.
Many Yoyogi Park events are about getting a glimpse of other cultures, though. And we’re not just talking about international cultures—many of Japan’s other areas have their own distinct culture and traditions, too! Without leaving Tokyo, you can sample some regional and international cuisines and maybe even try some cultural activities at such events.
Just some of Yoyogi Park’s cultural events held in recent years are St. Patrick’s Day in March; Songkran Festival (a general celebration of Thai culture—though, it doesn’t really resemble the actual Songkran event) and Cambodian Festival in April; Cinco de Mayo, Okinawan Festival, and One Love Jamaica Festival in May; an ASEAN Festival in June; a Brazilian Day and Indonesian Festival in July; a Latin American/Caribbean Festival in August; Vietnam, Indian, and Sri Lankan festivals in September, and more! In fact, some countries like Thailand even hold multiple events throughout the year. These events are usually a huge hit with visitors, and the lines at the food booths can get rather long.
If you ever want to become more open-minded, perhaps you can start by attending more events at Yoyogi Park! Just last weekend, I was at Yoyogi Park, and I managed to eat Brazilian food for a snack, Thai food for dinner, and Turkish ice cream for dessert. How’s that for international?
Super Powered Drinking Fountains
As with many parks in Tokyo, the water fountains have sufficient pressure to a flour mill, try them out! Bonus points if you can locate the last fountain in this video below:
Be sure to visit Meiji Shrine, Tokyo’s major shrine, since it’s already quite close to Yoyogi Park. If you like fashion and shopping, then shop your heart away in Harajuku. Takeshita-dori is the narrow, often-crowded (at least on weekends) street with more reasonably priced clothes, and it’s also the place to go if alternative fashion is your thing. Not all shops in Takeshita-dori carry the kind of clothes that Harajuku is stereotypically known for, though—in fact, many shops just sell typical Japanese fashion. But if you’re into more expensive brands, go to Omotesando on the other side.
The “Secret” Park
In between Yoyogi Park and Meiji Shrine is a small pocket of greenery, which fellow author Chris calls a “secret” park. It’s actually technically part of the large forest surrounding Meiji Shrine, and is the more roundabout path leading to the shrine (and, subsequently, to Yoyogi Park). If Yoyogi Park is too rowdy or mainstream for you, perhaps this area might be a quieter alternative. Occasionally, there will also be food booths there, but otherwise, that part never gets as bustling as Yoyogi Park, and it’s got a lot more greenery and shade.