Just outside the bustling station of Shinjuku is Shinjuku Gyoen – an imperial garden once a residence to a feudal family in the Edo period. According to some website and guidebooks, it is a 10 minute* walk from Shinjuku’s South Exit.
And worth checking out.
*10 minutes here means the “Japanese walk” which could mean more than 10 minutes if you’re a non-Japanese!
I wanted to keep my promise to the kids, to take them to green places, something we lack in Dubai. Sure there are parks in Dubai but they aren’t as natural and as vast.
It had been raining the day before so we had to check the weather before we left. This is Japan, the land of hourly weather forecasts! Fortunately, the day promised full sunshine and heat. I used to laugh at my friend whom I asked what is the weather like in Japan right now and she replied with, “it’s hot at 28C!”
When we were walking from Shinjuku station to the park at midday, I wanted to apologize to her. It was searing hot to be walking outside with high humidity. And I realized that is the difference between living in Japan and Dubai: living in Japan requires a lot of walking while in Dubai, we hardly roam outside when summer sets in.
Pristine was already complaining and said if we could buy shaved ice cream called Kakigori.
Couldn’t blame her, I, myself was already sweating and wanted something really cold! But instead of stopping by for a cold treat, we thought it would be better to just walk fast and seek shade.
Here’s what Kakigori looks like for those who are curious. Yep, Pristine gave me a face why we have to skip it!
Kakigori is a Japanese type of shaved ice dessert. The simple version is flavored with syrup and sometimes condensed milk and more creative varieties include adding ice cream, slices of fruits and green tea with red beans. The ice in Kakigori is fluffier and smoother, much like newly-fallen snow, and is best enjoyed eaten with a spoon.
We arrived at the entrance of the park so sweaty with a cold bottle of tea, ready to find our respite from the heat. The outside looks nondescript with a simple sign board only.
The gardens were originally meant for royalty and completed in 1906, and destroyed during World War II. On May 21, 1949 the gardens became open to the public as, “National Park Shinjuku Imperial Gardens”, on May 21 1949. Later they came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment in January 2001 and named, “Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden.”
You can see why this is called an urban oasis – it is located in the middle of metropolitan Tokyo. Outside of the park walls is a forest of buildings, the most distinct is the NTT building, as seen from inside the park.
The gardens are 58.3 hectares in area with a circumference of 3.5 km, and have three distinct styles: French Formal, English Landscape and Japanese traditional. A traditional Japanese tea house is also within the gardens.
We walked to the Japanese garden first because it seems everyone was going there…I didn’t want to get lost with the kids (shameless confession: I am bad at directions, even with a map!), at this midday heat!
I think it was a good decision as beautiful landscape appeared before us with ample amount of trees to escape the heat. We found “our” tree.
The park was almost empty with only a few people spending their lunch breaks there with a bento box for lunch. We had our lunch along the way to the park, right outside the station so the kids weren’t hungry. I wish they’d stay put for a while but no, they were very eager to run around immediately, like saying, “what heat?”.
Benjamin was unstoppable, like a horse who just got out of the stable for the first time. Big sister Pristine had a hard time chasing him around, as he keeps on going to that direction of the pond!
What to do? Boys do not have the word “danger” in their vocabularies!
Pristine and I had to take turns watching him. When he finally sat down, he wanted the tea and the iPad. He’s probably checking the weather too!
It was Pristine’s turn to explore the park grounds, with an umbrella!
She has been a bit obsessed with the UV-cut umbrella since we arrived!
Shinjuku Gyoen was a wonderful oasis that provided us with a break from the intensity of Tokyo. A perfect interlude in the middle of the day…until we packed our things and took a deep breath as we entered the maze that is Shinjuku station, not your child friendliest places in Japan (but that is another story for another day).
Admission times and costs
Shinjuku Gyoen is open from 9 am to 4:30 pm (with last admission at 4 pm). It is closed on Monday except during the cherry blossom season (usually March 25 to April 24) and during the Chrysantheum exhibition (November 1st to 15th). Admission is 200 yen for adults and 50 yen for children.
Click the link to view the way From Shinjuku Station (South Exit) to Shinjuku Gyoen in a larger map.