Steadfast, tenacious and resilient, bamboo is the archetypal Eastern plant. No trip to Japan is complete without some time spent in, around or just gazing at a bamboo forest. The Japanese capital is chock-full of bamboo, some of it tucked away in places far off from the neon wonderlands of Shibuya and Harajuku. But you never have to go too far to see it.
Along with plum blossom, orchids and chrysanthemums, bamboo is considered one of the ‘Four Gentlemen’, according to Chinese, Korean and Japanese tradition. And with pine and plum, bamboo is one of the ‘Three Friends of Winter’.
Every traditional Japanese garden has a bamboo shishi-odoshi, its rhythmic knock on stone keeping deer and boar from rifling through the plants. Bamboo symbolizes the Lunar New Year. It’s what kendo swords are made from. The bows and arrows of traditional kyudo archery are bamboo, as are shakuhachi and ryuteki flutes. Bamboo chutes deliver cold nagashi somen, a quintessential food of the Japanese summer. It’s edible. And if it wasn’t already established as the MVP of Asian botany, bamboo is used in Japanese interior design simply because it looks good.
But it looks even better growing in groves, and this article takes you on a quick tour of some of Tokyo’s most idyllic bamboo forests, found in formal gardens, temple groves, palace grounds, day trips, and public parks.
1. Imperial Palace Gardens/Fukiage Gardens
Japan’s royal family has been on the throne for over a thousand years: the Yamato Dynasty dates back to 660 BC. That’s more than enough time to establish some truly impressive gardens (wartime bombing notwithstanding), and the East Garden and Fukiage Garden of the Imperial Palace (formerly Edo Castle) are no exception. Ponds, moats, bridges and bamboo forests are all available to please the traveler’s eye.
Address: 1-1 Chiyoda, Tokyo, 100-8111
2. Rikugien Gardens
This is one for the creative types: Rikugien, or Rikugi-en, means “Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry.” It was built several centuries ago, and incorporates a pond, a hill and trees as well as a perfect formal Japanese garden with a gorgeous bamboo grove. (If you time your trip right, you can also get your sakura fix.)
Address: 6-16-3 Honkomagome, Bunkyo, Tokyo, 113-0021
3. Tonogayato Garden
The Tonogayato Garden has a pedigree: it used to be the grounds of the villa of Eguchi Teijo, a railway magnate who became chair of Mitsubishi. At 21,000 square meters, the early 20th century garden was designed as an oasis that fit perfectly into the Musashino region’s cliffs and valleys. It features a shrine, a park, a spring, lawns, a waterfall pond and a teahouse, in addition to a plethora of lovely landscaped bamboo forests.
Address: 2-16 Minami-machi, Kokubunji, Tokyo
4. Suzume-no Oyado Ryokuchi Park
In addition to hip and zeitgeisty Nakameguro, Meguro is home to Suzume-no Oyado Ryokuchi Park, where you’ll find a 200-year-old bamboo grove and a refurbished classic Japanese home. Both of these are open to tourists, and this is widely agreed to be one of Tokyo’s most impressive bamboo forests. The park is small and quiet, so head in that direction if you want a bit of a rest from the constant Tokyo go.
Address: 3-11-22 Himonya, Meguro, Tokyo
5. Higashiteragata Ryokuchi Park
If you can say it, you should go there: this little-known gem of a park in suburban west Tokyo is a slice of the wild, home to one of the city’s few au naturelle bamboo forests, with plants scattered throughout the park.
Address: Higashiteragata, Tama, Tokyo, 206-0003 (15 minutes from Seiseki-Sakuragaoka Station on the Keio Line)
6. Jidayubori Park
Even if you’ve seen enough bamboo by now to last you for some time, there’s a reason to go to Jidayubori Park, especially if you’re a history buff. As well as its bamboo grove, the park is home to a refurbished Edo-era village, thatched roofs and all, where visitors can experience what 18th-century life was like (and then go get coffee).
Address: 5 Chome-27-14 Kitami, Setagaya, Tokyo, 157-0067
7. Towa Ryokuchi Park
Formally known as the Towa Green Space, this park right on the banks of the Kanda River features a bamboo forest that seems to soak all the stress out of your body in one go. In the space of a short 80m walk through the towering stems, you can just about feel your cells regenerate themselves.
Address: 4 Chome-39-22 Shimotakaido, Suginami, Tokyo
8. Roka Koshun-en Garden
Cherry, ginkgo and bamboo are the Tokyo triumvirate and you’ll find all of them in this urban oasis. The garden is also home to the former residence of Japanese author Roka Tokutomi (aka Kenjiro Tokutomi), so while some of you check out the bamboo forest, the rest can pick up some culture.
Address: 1 Chome-20-1 Kasuya, Setagaya, Tokyo, 157-0063
9. Todoroki Valley
A short train ride from the bustle and crush of central Tokyo is Todoroki Valley, a tucked-away area complete with a waterfall, shrine, hanami area, teahouses and, of course, bamboo groves. If you want a rest among more breathing green things than you could shake a stick at, make plans for some train tickets, stop at a local supermarket for snacks, and set off into the gorge.
10. Hokokuji Temple
This is the list’s big hitter. In Japan, Shinto and Buddhist shrines alike are often surrounded by bamboo, because it’s considered a barrier to evil. Hokokuji Temple in Kamakura has one of the Kanto region’s premier bamboo forests. If your itinerary doesn’t allow for a jaunt down south to Arashiyama in Kyoto, make a plan to get to Kamakura instead. The bamboo forest at Hokokuji features thousands of moso bamboo trees, making it the biggest and most extensive on this list. Kamakura is an easy day trip from Tokyo.
Address: 2 Chome-7-4 Jomyoji, Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, 248-0003
Not into making firm plans? Prefer to go with each day’s flow? That’s just fine as far as bamboo forests are concerned. The ubiquity of bamboo in Japanese culture means that you’ll find stands of this supergrass pretty much anywhere but the densest urban areas (and even there you might be surprised). Keep an eye open for bamboo at shrines and temples, parks and playgrounds, and, of course, the fringes of fields, hiking trails and open areas.
While we do our best to ensure it’s correct, information is subject to change.
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