The National Imperial Garden of Tokyo
A few minutes after boarding the subway on the Yamanote Line from Harajuku, here I am in the heart of Shinjuku, specifically in its huge train station! It is the main connection point between central Tokyo and the western suburbs of the city and it connects the metro, regional and JR East trains. It is not less than 3.67 million passengers who are travelling here every day, slightly less than half of the Swiss population! I know, it’s not interesting to compare what is not comparable, but isn’t Japan the land of superlatives? Besides, it gives you an idea of the size of some places like this train station for instance ! Including the subway, the complex has more than 200 exits, so pay attention not to take the wrong one; it can happen quickly and you may get completly lost! I remember my first trip to Japan with a friend of mine; we were reaching Ikebukuro Station, near which our accommodation was, and we had quite a hard time finding the right exit! However, signposts in English are everywhere and like in every other stations in the city, you can always count on the famous yellow signposts indicating important monuments nearby.
Anyway, I would love to hang around within Shinjuku station to discover all its little shops, stores and restaurants, but I think I have better things to see outside. And I have a pretty full day of sightseeing waiting for me, so let’s not waiste any more time! First of all, I have to find the right exit; “New South Exit” is the one I am looking for and as it is a major exit, it is not too difficult to find. Each station has at least four of them, one for each quarter. Well, I won’t go into details as I am sure you got the idea; exits are everywhere! Right outside of the station, I open my bag and take out a small map that will help me to easily reach my destination. Remember to seek the help of locals if you are lost! Again, most will be happy to help assuming they understand where you want to go. Personally, this is without any issue that I arrive a few minutes later in front of the entrance gate of Shinjuku Gyoen, the National Imperial Garden of Tokyo!
Before entering in the heart of this vast green area, all visitors must wait a few minutes, just the time to go through a quick security check where the contents of my bag if verified. It must be said that right now, the season of cherry blossoms (sakura in Japanese) is in full swing and the park will surely be be crowded with tourists! Therefore, it is normal to make sure that nothing dangerous gets inside and the same goes for alcohol, totally forbidden in the park. As you can imagine, it is so me to have a bottle of Japanese whiskey in my bag… Just kidding, I don’t usually drink alcool (even if Japanese whisky is delicious), so I get quickly through Shinjuku Gate, one of the three access to the park. Then, I grab a Japanese map of the area and start my visit! Well, I don’t understand a word of what is written, but the map will just help me to situate myself as the park is very big! And it’s not my fault if all English maps were already gone… Based on the map above, I will start my visit to the northwest and will walk clockwise round the park. In doing so, I will admire the English garden, the French garden and finally the Japanese garden! Pink flowers shaped symbols obviously symbolize cherry trees and if the number present on the map doesn’t seems that big to you, maybe some of my picture will make you change your mind! I will also take the opportunity to write a few words about the park and its history because I am not seeing myself commenting on each and every flowering tree that can be seen in Shinjuku Gyoen!
With an area of 58.3 hectares and a circumference of 3.5 km, Shinjuku Gyoen is one of Tokyo’s largest parks with the gardens of the Imperial Palace and Yoyogi. With more than 20,000 trees, the park is particularly famous for its 1,500 cherry trees that come in three kinds; shidare (crying cherry tree) somei (Tokyo cherry tree) and Kanzan cherry tree, offering a varied bloom in early spring, between late March and late April. Earlier, it is the Japanese plum which can be admired, allowing visitors from early March to enjoy a very pretty sight. Personally, I’m very lucky because the weather is perfect and we are in the middle of the flowering peak, undoubtedly the best time to visit Shinjuku Gyoen. Moreover, there are not as many local or tourists that I had imagined so I take the opportunity to smell the cherry tree flowers through the various gardens. The beauty of the place is breathtaking and although I have spent part of the morning admiring other cherry trees, I remain in awe before their number and color of the petals swaying in the wind. Just as I reach the heart of the park, I can see in the distance some of the skyscrapers of the business district of Shinjuku. It’s amazing to think that we are still at the heart of a city that never sleeps, especially in one of these most vibrant neighborhoods. Yet the place is full of quietness and serenity that I enjoy with great pleasure, as do a few tens of Japanese who seems as happy as I am!
All right, what about a few lines on the history of the park? Come one, it’ll be quick, I promise! The garden was the residence of the Naito family in the Edo period (1603-1867), and the site was redeveloped after the Second World War and opened to the public shortly after. Quickly, people of Tokyo and tourists made it a privileged walking spot and when spring came, the charm of the cherry blossoms of Shinjuku Gyoen was transforming the gardens into a real attraction. I am still amazed by the admiration of Japanese for this time of year. I even remember quite a funny scene I’ve seen: a group of ten people, all equipped with brand new cameras with high-end lens mounted of the latest tripods, all grouped around a single tree and all hoping to get the best possible shot. I forgot to take a picture of this moment, but I remember it very well and I found the situation quite amusing, although maybe a bit exaggerated. In any case, if it is cherry blossoms you want to admire from a distance or even up close, you’re in the right place, for sure!