5 Ways To Enjoy Nature In The City (That Aren’t Hiking)

Get Some Green While You're Waiting For The Pink Blossoms

By Kiri Falls
March 12, 2018

Before winter fully loosens its grip and while we’re waiting for the cherry blossoms to color the city in pink at the end of this month, it’s time to get some nature back in our lives — without traveling too far from the city.

The benefits of being among nature are well-documented, but city living can make the natural world seem distant, especially at the end of the cold season. Spring may officially be here, but there are still plenty of cold days here in Tokyo. The warm breezes and wildflowers are tantalizing close, yet the trees are still bare. If you’re tired of the chilly weather and longing for some greenery, never fear – there are ways to enjoy nature indoors, too.

1. Stop by your local florist

The quickest and easiest way to perk up your home or workspace – in any season – is a bunch of flowers. Thanks to Japan’s love of anything that blooms, Tokyo has a florist on every other corner. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive either; a simple arrangement can often be picked up for a few hundred yen. Currently, you can pick up a branch of delicate plum and cherry blossoms or some gentle sweet peas in pink or yellow, along with the usual suspects like lilies, chrysanthemums, ranunculus and roses.

Something about just looking at nature is good for the mind and soul.

And if you’re short on vases, never fear. Grab an empty wine bottle or a jug or even a teacup. With just a few minutes of creativity, it’s easy to add a spot of color to your bathroom, bedroom or kitchen, and you’ll thank yourself every time you walk into the room. 

2. Try your hand at ikebana

If you’re ready for the next level, why not try an ikebana class? The principle of finding beauty in any piece of nature is perfect for this time of year, when outdoors most flowers are still hibernating. There are a number of schools in Tokyo, some of which offer English lessons for all levels. Two of the major schools are the Ohara school, which offers a more traditional approach, and the Sogetsu school, which is more contemporary.

Ikebana doesn’t have to be formal, either. A florist friend started taking ikebana classes several years ago, but at home, she often whips up a miniature arrangement of just two or three blossoms in tiny cups and pieces of ceramic. They are modest but encapsulate the joy of celebrating flowers in simple ways. “They felt like an accessible way to practice what I’ve learned in my ikebana classes,” she says. “Living in the city, large-scale floral pieces aren’t reasonable, so making very small arrangements has been a fun way to bring precious, seasonally appropriate bits of nature inside.”

3. Take a break in a verdant tea house

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Another way to enjoy some gorgeous blooms indoors is to visit the Aoyama Flower Market Tea House. Entering the café behind the shopfront (where stems of gorgeous dahlias and delicate orchids are sold) is like walking into A Midsummer Night’s Dream, only with chairs. Drinking a cup of herbal tea or eating lunch among draping vines and bright blooms is sure to pick you up; plants fill the corners and hang from the ceiling, brilliant flowers adorn the tables, and the sound of running water calms the mind. Each week there is a “weekly flower” – it’s the anemone when I stop by – and they often run events too. Besides the original location, there are tea houses in Akasaka and Kichijoji too.

4. Visit Shibuya’s lush botanic garden

Not far from Aoyama, in the grey back streets of Shibuya, sits an assuming little building that belies its surprising interior. Inside, Fureai Botanical Garden is like a miniature rainforest or tropical garden. With over 500 varieties of plants, it’s a little haven of green that will make you think it’s already summer. The main atrium is filled with huge elephant-eared plants, tiny ferns, weirdly shaped flowers, dripping vines and even a piranha and a snapping turtle in their aquariums. We sit quietly and watch a soft mist water the plants from above. Something about just looking at nature is good for the mind and soul. There’s also an educational corner for kids in the upstairs mezzanine, which, on the day we visit, includes an inflatable pool filled with dry leaves that several kids are having a great time crunching around in. Entry is ¥100, a small price to pay for a piece of calm in hectic Tokyo.

5. Go strawberry picking

‘Tis the season for strawberry picking in Japan, the country that refuses to believe strawberries are not also a winter fruit. This one does involve leaving the city, but there are several locations convenient to Tokyo, and it’s worth the time.

Recently, we arrived at Naruto Station in Chiba Prefecture and popped into the tourist information center next door. We only intended to ask about where the nearby strawberry farms are, but five minutes and one phone call later we were in a van being trundled to one of many farms on what is called “Strawberry Road.” There was a nip in the air, which made it even more enjoyable when we stepped inside the warm summery greenhouse, containers in hand, and stared at the rows of bright green strawberry plants dotted with red. For ¥1,000 we could stay as long as we liked and ate as many strawberries as we could – which I was especially glad of because these were far and away the best strawberries I’ve ever tasted. We tried a few different varieties before settling on a favorite, and eventually, completely sated, it was time to leave.

Seeking out green places sheltered from cold breezes or bringing some flowers inside is a good way to tide you over while the season changes. There are ways to enjoy nature even out of season, and the relaxing effect it has is worth the time it can take to find.

For recommended gardens and quick urban escapes in Tokyo, see this and this article.