Shinjuku: glamorous, filtered Tokyo. But before the lights come up and people swarm out from the underground, cafe and restaurant owners are readying the tables, heating up the kitchens, and updating the daily special. A veritable selection of western cuisine right outside the Okidomon entrance of Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. Alas! They open at 11:30am.
Now picture this: while restaurant staff do their prep, you mirror their movement with a balmy summer morning walk...
Garden of Words
You may know of Shinjuku Gyoen from Makoto Shinkai's stunning anime film "The Garden of Words" (言の葉の庭). The film speaks of loneliness, adult awkwardness and cautious hope that blooms amidst the rainy season; the park takes this charm and transforms with every passing season.
A good 3-point-something kilometers of walkways, greenery and summer bugs, Shinjuku Gyoen is easily accessible from three-and-counting train stations. It's the perfect morning exploration spot when waiting for shops to open.
There's a small entrance fee - 200 yen for adults and cheaper for kids/students. A cheap price to pay for some zen and isolation! There are ticket machines right by the entrance gates; English instructions included, no worries.
Three in One Garden
Shinjuku Gyoen is divided in three major sections: a Japanese traditional garden, an English Landscape and French Formal garden with ponds in both North and South areas.
If you start from the Shinjuku entrance, the "Mother and Child Forest" (HaHa To Ko No Mori) is a great place to start.
It is so aptly named: those smaller spikes of bark definitely look like little kids in their mom’s shadow.
Warning: BRING MOSQUITO REPELLENT OR INSECT BITE CREAM.
Rounding the circumference, you'll come across Kami no Ike. Bisected with wooden bridges and tiny islands from which you can take long-shots across the pond, the only zen-disrupting thing in the area would be the sun. Be sure to bring an umbrella or sunglasses if you're visiting in the summer, and hydrate!
There are also two tea houses for the thirsty/tired visitor.
The English Landscape Garden might be romantic during cherry blossoms season:
and the French Formal Garden an impressive presentation…
but the Japanese Traditional Garden really steals the cake.
I'll readily admit that the combination of water, stone motifs and pavilions wrought with leaves hit me straight in the feels. Double that with the iconic "conversation under the rain" shelter spots and I'll gladly sacrifice half my camera memory space for the perfect shot.
Recognize these images, fellow Shinkai appreciators? Yup, “The Garden of Words” bonding happened right at these spots.
If at this point you haven't gotten enough of the green and it's still too early for your eating/shopping/hustling plans, why not check out the greenhouses right before Okidomon gate? Walk into the lush hush, see-through dome and... I don't know. I haven't been in there yet.
A lot of guidebooks tote Shinjuku Gyoen as to-visit - which might put you off. There certainly are smaller, more intimate parks and gardens for those of you who prefer hidden away gems, but don't write Shinjuku Gyoen off just 'cause it's "an overdone, too many times mentioned landmark"! There's something equally magical about meandering through sprawling grounds with rare sightings of other humans. If you're looking for a place to feel vulnerable, looking up beyond the tree border and seeing sky scrapers loom over you really emulate being in a greenhouse.
Where: 11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo 160-0014
When: Mondays CLOSED (If Monday is a public holiday, then closed the following day)
General Opening Hours; 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Look up more information @ the official website