Feature: Hidden Gardens of Akasaka
Akasaka's largest garden – attached to the State Guest House, Akasaka Palace – is mostly off-limits to commoners; even on a tour of the palace you will be allowed to see only a tiny portion of the vast area of greenery. Never mind; there are other lovely traditional gardens in the area, but you need to know where to look.
Nonguests are welcome to visit the beautiful 400-year-old garden at Hotel New Ōtani, one of Tokyo's most enchanting outdoor spaces. Once part of the estate of a Tokugawa regent, this Japanese garden includes vermilion arched bridges, koi (carp) ponds and a mini waterfall. The garden is beautifully illuminated at night. Ask at the hotel reception whether it's possible to access the rooftop Rose Garden, which is planted with tens of thousands of the flowers.
Across the road from the New Ōtani are the landscaped grounds wrapping around part of Tokyo Garden Terrace Kioi-chōe. Dotted around the complex are large-scale sculptures, including White Deer by Nawa Kōhei and the giant metallic flowers of Ōmaki Shinji.
Sōgetsu Kaikan is one of Japan’s leading schools of avant-garde ikebana (traditional flower arranging). Inside the building's lobby is a giant, climbable piece of installation art – a stone garden by the revered Japanese-American sculptor Isamu Noguchi. There's a cafe here too, on the 2nd floor, with a panoramic view of the trees in the Akasaka Palace garden.
Nearby is the most intriguing garden of all. Bring photo ID, sign in and take the escalator up to the entrance to the Canadian embassy, which is fronted by the stark and brilliant stone sculpture garden. Designed by the Zen priest Shunmyō Masuno, natural and cut stones from the Hiroshima region are used to represent Canada's geology. Over the balcony, Akasaka Palace's garden and the distant skyscrapers provide shakkei, the 'borrowed scenery' that's a key principle of Japanese garden design.