Attention, all green-minded travelers: If you're wondering where you can experience a rich culture and vibrant, colorful nightlife but also honor your eco-standards, look no further than Tokyo.
Tokyo, just like California, has enacted laws and provided incentives to curb emissions, create green spaces and reward eco-friendly businesses. In fact, Tokyo's aim is to become the most eco-friendly city in the world.
The people and government respect their limited natural resources and have become leaders in clean energy and technology.
Here are some eco-friendly sites to enjoy on your visit to Tokyo.
The food choices we make each day affect our planet. We know the lower we eat on the food chain, the less impact we make. For example, meat production has more impact than vegetable, grain and fruit production.
In the last several years, Tokyo has been enjoying a locavore movement (chisan-chishou), which promotes eating locally produced, fresh, in-season food. The more eco-friendly restaurants choose locally grown vegetables and grains, locally produced meat and sustainably caught fish and seafood.
In fact, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government has begun issuing certificates to restaurants that purchase and use local Tokyo produce. Over 250 restaurants have this certification.
Here is one chisan-chishou certified restaurant as well as other green options you can enjoy while in Tokyo.
Certified chisan-chisou, Mikuni Marunouchi is a French-inspired restaurant that incorporates traditional Japanese cuisine and local ingredients. The star attraction is the fresh Edo-Tokyo vegetables: native, heirloom varieties originally grown during the Edo period (1603-1868) offering especially rich, vibrant flavors. The restaurant serves Edo-Tokyo vegetables right after harvest so diners can enjoy the best of fresh in-season food.
Winner of the first ever Sustainable Restaurant Award by Restaurant Magazine, Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa's namesake restaurant in Minato-ku uses locally and ethically sourced ingredients to create healthful, seasonal cuisine. "We must cherish with our true heart the environment that produces ingredients," the restaurant declares on its website.
Rainbow Raw Food
This vegan café in Shibuya-ku is all about eating "living" enzymes and offers completely raw as well as food prepared below 118 degrees F (48 degrees C). Be sure to try the Raw Pad Thai Salad, raw puddings and organic wine.
Deva Deva Café
This vegetarian fast-food café is a great option for a picnic, since it is close to Inokashira Park. The prices are reasonable and the food is so good even your non-vegetarian travelers will be pleased. Try the Yogi veggie burger, which comes in original, veggie chicken, tofish, teriyaki chicken or cutlet, and top it off with a pumpkin (or other seasonal) sundae.
It's right in the name! Locavore is a French bistro-style restaurant that focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients.
Nouka no Daikokoro (Farmer's Kitchen)
This popular farm-to-table restaurant in Shinjuku is known for its incredibly fresh vegetables, great salad bar, and bins of produce sold right at the restaurant entrance. Some of the vegetables are grown hydroponically on the premises. Nouka no Daikokoro serves meat and fish, but vegetables are the focus.
Tokyo offers green hotels ranging from luxurious eco-resorts to inexpensive micro-accommodations that aren't much more than a capsule, roughly 6-feet by 4-feet by 3-feet. Slightly larger than a coffin, these popular capsules contribute less to sprawl and pollution and are perfect for those who prefer a unique, uncomplicated, minimalist aesthetic and yearn to see what low-impact living is really like. However, avoid them if you get claustrophobic.
Here are two of many options on the eco-friendly hotel spectrum.
Shinjuku Kuyakusho-mae Capsule Hotel
Located in Shinjuku, this hotel is a seven-minute walk from the Shinjuku metro station and 15-minute walk to the Shinjuku Gyoen Park. Each capsule includes a bed, TV and alarm clock. Wonder how it works? You store items in a locker, climb in your capsule and sleep. This hotel has a bathhouse but it is for men only; women have a shower room. Though the halls are patrolled, women travelers may want to select the women-only floor, since the capsules do not lock per legal requirements. This hotel concept is not only ecological, it is economical, with prices starting at around $26 per night.
Hotel New Otani Tokyo
This is a luxury hotel that underwent a major renovation, adding many green features, such as a Japanese garden, water recycling plant and composting plant. The hotel composts all its food waste as well as flowers left over from weddings and uses it to grow organic produce for its restaurants.
To embrace the eco-lifestyle, a great place to start is Mottainai Station & Shop on the first floor of the Palaceside Building in Takebashi. This shop was opened to promote a self-sustaining society. Not only does the shop sell eco-friendly products such as colorful bags made from recycled materials, the facility holds workshops on eco-friendly topics and organizes charity sales.
Interested in organic products? Visit the Yoyogi Village, an environmentally friendly shopping mall where you can find fair trade and organic cotton clothing and accessories and organic food.
Another way to shop eco-friendly is to purchase locally made products. Items made from local materials require less transportation, which translates to less pollution. And items made by local artisans not only reduce environmental impact, they strengthen the community.
A perfect natural souvenir of Tokyo is locally made Ginza Honey. Sold by confectioners, hotels and department stores, this honey is harvested right in the city.
Though sprawling Tokyo is replete with skyscrapers and busy streets, don't miss out on the lovely green spaces and gardens in the city and outskirts, just a short train ride away. Here are some places to consider.
This park near the Shinjuku station includes a wide lawn, pond and Japanese landscape garden. In the spring, it is the perfect space to enjoy the color and fragrance of cherry blossoms. Small admission fee.
About a 10-minute walk from the Myogadani Station, this garden is run by the University of Tokyo and showcases many plant and tree species and Japanese landscape gardens and a herbarium. Also great for cherry blossoms in the spring. Small entrance fee.
Next to Ueno Station, Ueno Koen boasts not only a park and pond but also attractions such as a zoo, shrine and several museums. Free admission to the park.
Imperial Palace East Gardens
About a 10-minute walk from Tokyo Station, this park is part of the Imperial Palace. It includes a moat, castle towers and a Japanese landscape garden. Free admission.
Outside central Tokyo but still within the metro area, Mount Takao offers beautiful scenery and hiking opportunities. It's considered a sacred mountain and a place for prayer, quiet contemplation and rejuvenation. The trip takes about 50 minutes by train from Shinjuku. Be sure to take a cable car to the top for a great view of Mount Fuji on a clear day.
What used to be a garbage heap is now a beautiful green space. The island, known as Yumenoshima or Dream Island, was a landing-strip-turned-landfill before its transformation into a tranquil green space with trees, gardens, greenhouses, a museum, gymnasium, playground and marina. Be sure to go and show your support for this ecological accomplishment. The island is a short walk from Shin-Kiba Station.
Other things you can do to act green:
- Use public transportation rather than taxis, or take an environmentally friendly velotaxi.
- Rent a bike (mamachari).
- Sample new, fresh foods at a local farmers market.
- Carry your own reusable chopsticks.
- Bring your own reusable shopping bag.
- Skip bottled water and use your own refillable bottle (Tokyo’s tap water is safe to drink).
- Recycle your trash by seeking recycling bins around the city and in your hotel.
- Refuse extra packaging at department stores.
- Eat low on the food chain, including sustainably caught fish and seafood.
- Buy and wear clothes that don’t need to be dry cleaned.
- Head over to the Eco-Plaza in Minato Ward and take a green lifestyle class (in English).
- Visit the Pasona Group Urban Farm to see rice, fruit and vegetables growing outside and underneath an office block in the city.
- Take a waterways tour in an exhaust-free electric boat.