Shinjuku. Best known for its bustling train station (Tokyo’s largest and busiest), shopping, dining, and cutting-edge architecture business districts, it was the last place we expected to find an island of Zen calm like Shinjuku Gyoen.
This large park is one of Tokyo’s most popular parks, a favorite place to hold hanami (cherry blossom viewing parties) in spring, though it’s beautiful at all times of year. The grounds are divided into three parts, a Japanese garden with three ponds, a French garden and an English garden. Momiji (maple) trees that turn a fiery orange in autumn are planted in the east and west ends of the garden. There is also a greenhouse with tropical flowers, but we didn’t get to visit this anymore as we got so engrossed taking photos around the ponds.
The current incarnation of Shinjuku Gyoen dates from 1949, but it began as a samurai lord’s villa in the Edo Period. After the Meiji Restoration it was converted into a botanical garden, then passed into the Imperial Family who used it as a pleasure garden. The fire-bombing of Tokyo in World War II razed the park, but it was reconstructed and opened to the public after the war.
Walking among the trees and elegant landscaping, it was easy to forget we were in one of the world’s most densely packed and frenetically busy cities. But this garden is only minutes’ walk from Shinjuku Station, and you can see modern Shinjuku’s skyscrapers peeking over the tops of the trees.
Shinjuku Gyoen lies south-east of Shinjuku Station, and directly south of the even closer Shinjukugyoenmae Station of the Marunouchi subway. The entrance fee is an amazingly cheap 200 yen.