Nature in Japan: Plants, Trees, and All Things Green

This post was originally featured on one of Temple University’s Study Abroad Blogs, which document the journeys of students studying at Temple affiliated universities around the world. My post appeared on the “Temple U Japan” student blog on January 26th, 2015.

At Temple University back in America, I took a few classes focused on the environment and sustainability mainly to fulfill my Science Gen Ed requirements. I chose the classes because the subject—studying human impact on the planet—really interested me, but last semester my studies turned into new goals and soon actions, and I began to feel passionate about taking care of the environment around me. I started to become aware of how humans handle the earth: how we incorporate nature into new projects, how we control and shape land for various purposes, and how we have, sadly, come to create many irreversible changes.

Last semester I took a course titled Green vs. Gray: Improving and Sustaining Urban Ecosystems and the projects we were required to follow through with encouraged us to reach out to the community and play with the earth; we toured a small urban garden near campus, helped unearth an overgrown and abandoned cemetery, learned how to properly plant trees, attended environmentally-focused events and celebrations, and brainstormed new ideas for “greening” urban spaces in America. This class did it for me: it was the driving force that pushed me to volunteer and get involved with something I came to believe deeply in.

Now I view spaces around me with a new kind of lens, so naturally I was eager to discover how Japan and some of Tokyo’s hot spots approach urban greening and how non-urban areas exhibit nature. I got the chance to explore a popular area in the center of Tokyo, the Imperial Palace Gardens: a burst of green color enclosed by the silvery blue buildings of the city…

A view of a traditional building and the moat that surrounds the palace.

The architecture, the walls, the water—all so beautiful. Each scene was worthy of a painting, the way the light highlighted groups of trees and cast deep shady colors over others.

Trees around the Imperial Palace Gardens.

A nearby concrete park also caught my attention…

The layout of the park left a lot of room to walk around, sit, and get close to nature. It carried through concrete elements of the city and meshed it with the soft bright colors of plants and trees.
The little stream going through the park shuddered and glistened under the stones.
Another view of the gorgeous field of trees in the gardens — they look so healthy!

After we explored this area we found another park place that had a very different design; it showcased commanding rocks, twisted trees and playground space for kids!

The archway and landscaping was beautiful, even though the day was shady and chilly. Notice the wrappings on the trees.
There were growing Pinus densiflora, aka Japanese red pine trees or “akamatsu,” in this area. This one, I believe, was multi-trunked and thus labeled “タギョウショウ.”
If you ever get the chance, visit this area! Even in winter it has much to offer.

And on our way back near a bridge, we spotted a swan and some ducklings! Although many people pass through this area—the gardens and parks—animals still find places to settle down in, but this made me even more aware of the encroachment of humans in this city on animal habitats.

Swan and DucklingsI also noticed plant life in other areas of the city, besides the gardens we visited. Driving into Tokyo after my flight and night’s stay at Narita Airport, out of the bus window I kept an eye out for green spaces peeking out amongst the city buildings.

What looks like raised beds or trees planted on this building can be seen from the highway, as well as a large park near office buildings.
I also noticed plants placed on top of this shopping area in Harajuku; this might be a great spot for the trees here to get sunlight and avoid the shade that all of the buildings in the area cast over the streets.

I was so excited to explore nature in the middle of Tokyo via the gardens and I was surprised by some of the innovative techniques of managing plant life in such a crowded city—techniques I noticed right  from the moment I left the airport! Like in Philadelphia, habitats for animals from small to large are not easy to find in the middle of the city. Even in a lesser-crowded area like Itabashi-ku where the women’s dorm stands, almost every night I see a stray cat dash across the street. But, I was happy to see that wealthier and more touristy areas of Tokyo do pay attention to nature, and large zones like the parks I visited are well maintained and do provide spaces for animals to take up residence or pass through safely. Japanese cities, just like American cities, seem to be finding ways to preserve nature in order to build up “greener” and healthier areas, but I hope I can catch a few more unique designs while in Japan that successfully highlight nature in a way that allows both plants and animals to flourish urban environments—I’m always on the lookout!

Check out the “Temple U Japan” student study abroad blog, where this post first debuted, at:


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