Kiyosumi Gardens: my oasis during my first few days in Tokyo

Gorgeous isowatari stepping stones in Kiyosumi Gardens
Gorgeous isowatari stepping stones in Kiyosumi Gardens

Three weeks ago today, on my second full day in Tokyo, I was jet-lagged, dislocated and very, very anxious.

I had been for a meeting with my work the previous day and I knew I had a lot to do to get set up in Japan – a bank account, a phone contract, health insurance, registration with my local district office – and that I needed to do these things to allow me to be able to work, which I needed to start doing quickly as funds were very low. The problem was that I couldn’t start any of this until we had a place to live. My boyfriend had found a flat that we really wanted but we were waiting for the agonisingly large amount of paperwork to clear. Have you ever been in a hotel on the other side of the world where you barely speak the language, waiting for an estate agent to process the paperwork which will allow your life to start, terrified that they are going to refuse you and you will have to start the process again? I don’t recommend it (who am I kidding – of course I do if it gets you where you want to go). Every day I would go to the hotel reception and say ippaku tomaritain desu ga… refusing to  what would happen if they said no and I was turfed out onto the street with my huge suitcases.
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Unable to take sitting waiting for news about the flat any longer, I went for a walk, hoping to find a green space to clear my head. I wandered in almost a random direction in the August heat and humidity, found a park and experienced the sound of Japanese cicadas. They are loud. I can understand why so many haiku poets write about the noise – it’s intense.

I wandered through the park, came to some gates and realised I had accidentally come across one of the most beautiful traditional gardens in Tokyo. Kiyosumi Gardens most likely originally belonged to wealthy merchant Kinokukiya Bunzaemon during the Edo period. They were then owned by a feudal lord and the founder of Mitsubishi before being donated to the city of Tokyo and opened to the public in 1932. Today they are a beautifully kept oasis for anyone who needs to escape the intensity of Tokyo – and my frenzied mind certainly needed some calming.
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After paying a mere ¥150 to enter, you will come to an exquisite view of the pool and its three small islands. I loved walking across the isowatari – stepping stones set into the water. The wildlife is very tame so koi carp and adorable little turtles will come and say hello to your feet. A traditional resthouse appears to hover from the water, juxtaposed by the urban Tokyo skyline looming in the background which I think only enhances the view.

My first few days in Tokyo were intense – periods of overwhelming activity and anxiety-ridden waiting combined with moments filled with a sheer love of Japan. Walking around Kiyosumi Gardens I experienced the latter and I’ll always have a soft spot for the gardens as an elegant oasis in my frantic first days.


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