Simple kids activities at my home town

making fire

My sister told me, “There are lots of new hip places in our hometown right now, go to this, that…” Truth of the matter is, I’ve been basically, mostly staying at home with the kids. We go out for groceries and the public market. Oh we went out to a natural spring pool but mostly, we are having a great time in the comfort of my parent’s new house.

Because, I am basically like this. I am a homebody. Let’s just say, if the husband wasn’t keen on getting married like proposing every year, I’d still probably be single until now. When I was studying in Japan and going back to my family every Christmas, some of our neighbors would tell my parents, “Oh, she is your child too?”..because they rarely ever see me out of the house.

So…back to this current vacation with my children. If you’ve been following my Instagram account (if not, check it out here), you can see that the children had been having fun mostly right in the comfort of home.

I realized again that there are many things that can be done if you can actually go outside, even at your own backyard – something these kids can’t do in Dubai right now due to the hot weather.

laundry with nanay

Every morning, Benjamin joins in to help my mom do the laundry and what happens after that? Water play!

bath tub in basin

The water is from tap so it’s cold but what could be a better accompaniment than that for the warm, tropical weather?

activities with nanay collage

My parent’s house was completed early this year so there are ‘things’ at the back of our house which Benjamin fixes things. He loves to do boy stuff. Pristine on the other hand, is interested in cooking local Philippine food (both kids love being involved in preparing our meals too). She was particularly interested in what is called “banana-cue” (caramelized bananas on a stick).

bananaq 1

From Wiki: Banana cue is made with deeply fried bananas coated in caramelized brown sugar. The bananas used for this recipe are Saba bananas, which are very commonly used for cooking in the Philippines. It is usually skewered on a bamboo stick, and sold on the streets.

bananaq 2

She learned to peel saba bananas. And with her grandmother’s help, made a fire. We have this back of the house kitchen where we use firewood to cook dishes that would take a long time to cook to save up on gas: stews, bone soups. We also fry our things outside so we won’t stink the whole house, especially if we fry fish.

bananaq 3

Brown sugar is thrown into the hot oil to caramelize. I know it’s a weird cooking process but that’s how it is here.

bananaq 4

Then you throw in the peeled, whole bananas.

bananaq Collage

At this point, the cooked bananas are skewered into bamboo sticks but since we didn’t have any, we’ll just serve and eat this as it is. Pristine is quite proud of her work.

pristine with bananaq

bananacue

When we’re not learning to cook at home, I take the kids to the public market where we buy native Filipino delicacies for breakfast. Yeah, the rumor is true: you don’t diet on your vacation!

kakanin

bibingka mandaue

My favorite has been Bibingka. Bibingka is a Filipino version of rice cake, which is made of basic ingredients consisting of rice flour, sugar, butter and coconut milk. Cooking bibingka involves placing burning coals on top of and under the bibingka mold while placed on a clay pot. There are several type but my favorite is bibingka Manduae (a city in Cebu island). This type uses manually pounded rice instead of the commercially available rice flour.

The Mandaue bibingka consists of pounded rice, coconut milk, white or brown sugar and either yeast or tuba. The tuba is the country’s local version of the coconut wine and is sometimes used in place of yeast. It adds to the fluffiness and flavor of the rice cake.

jeepney ride

Then we head home and take a jeepney ride. A jeepney is an open share shuttle type of transportation local to the Philippines. The kids never get tired of riding the jeepney despite the occasional traffic!

P and B in Colombo

Arriving in paradise that is The Maldives!

P and B in Colombo

The blog is not dead. Sorry for the long silence, my family and I were traveling and it was not easy to open the PC and sit down to write (especially with no mouse! God, I am half useless without a mouse). My last post was a little update about the kids. Well, the bored kids are out of the house right now. The top photo was taken at Colombo International Airport on our way to Maldives.

Before anything else, I’ve been lucky on this trip. I know I wrote about our love for traveling with children, no matter how small they are (still) but to be honest, I was nervous too. When we traveled last summer in 2013, Benjamin was still breastfeeding. But since he’s already weaned, I am not sure what’s in store for us inside the plane. Will he fuss? Will he make a scene – you know the ones you get dart eyes from people around…

On the contrary,

toddler in plane

toddler in plane

Our flight was only four hours but it was smooth – Benjamin either listened to music (he did not like any of the movies shown) or spent time coloring ALL the pages of the coloring book and slept until landing.

transit in Colombo

My worries sounded ridiculous. And I feel so lucky to have another trooper traveler under my wings! Now I have two who will take care of me when I get sick on the plane! LOL

Arrival in Male

Male is just an hour and a half from Colombo, much like Manila to my home town down south of the Philippines. But then our destination is still far ahead and we need to take another flight, this time, via sea plane for 45 minutes!

sea plane

It was raining in Male when we arrived but we didn’t mind. It was in fact, a refreshing welcome.

photo 4 (2)

We arrived at The Sun Siyam Iru Fushi Resort and Spa (review of this amazing resort coming up soon) just before noon and can’t believe what we saw. Paradise. Heaven. Perfection. No words, really. (and the weather was glorious)

Iru Fushi Maldives

I can’t write all the details in this one blog post because I would be busy soaking in all this beauty. For the meantime, I post updates on Twitter (follow @sandierpastures), Instagram for visuals and little more than 140 characters snippets on my blog’s Facebook page. See you there!

kids and ramadan

A little update on the kids

P and B

Small update on the kids. Ramadan, which started more than two weeks ago, has dramatically changed the way Benjamin rolls with regards to his nap time. He used to sleep at around 12 noon and wake up at 2:30 pm before he and his care taker go down to meet Pristine from the school bus.

Now that big sister is home for the school holidays, the tot just refuses to sleep. Because, duh, who wants to sleep when you have all the fun?

So by the time they finish playing and watching Harry Potter again and again (on some days it’s Alice in Wonderland – he has memorized all the characters!), Benjamin passes out in the sofa at around 5 pm and sleeps for 2 hours. When it’s our usual bed time at 9 pm, he’s so perky like he has drank a bottle of Red Bull!

The result? I’ve been sleeping late than I like lately. Around midnight and if you now how dysfunctional I am beyond 10 pm, this is big deal for me. I’ve been walking around like a zoombie in the living room in the morning in an attempt to do my daily workouts. I have skipped some but thankfully because our work time during Ramadan is only until 2 pm, I can be home earlier and do it. I hate skipping to mark and ‘x’ on my workout schedule because I am OC like that.

So, too many late nights has taken its toll on me and my daughter saw it. She told me, “mama, you can go ahead and sleep and I’ll take care of Benjamin until he runs out of batteries!”

And I did! And she did! At 1 am last night, she went into the bedroom with her little brother sleeping in her arms. I feel so, so blessed! (it’s just the three of us now because the husband is away on a biz trip)

Speaking of Pristine, her stitches, the one that resulted from a freak accident at school, has been removed and now she has this scar near her right eye. She used to be so conscious about it but then was told by my friend Sheila (who’s also close to Pristine) that she is the girl who lived! Pristine loves (is obsessed with everything) Harry Potter so that actually helped her cope up with her insecurities. Thanks, Sheila!

That said, today is my last day at work before we leave for vacation to the Maldives. I have not finished packing and have a lot of worries in my mind. I do not like myself like this. I want to be a warrior not a worrier! 

Kids and UAE summer don’t mix

summer

I heard a very familiar scream over the phone. One of my children having that annual tantrum fest. The one that happens at this time of the year where they just snap. It has been easier on the older one compared to the previous years – she can read books, entertain herself by talking to friends over the phone (at least friends who have stayed behind – they help each other out) but for Benjamin who’s just nearly 3 years old, very eager to explore the outside world, staying indoors most days of the week had become a torture.

This has been happening lately especially after weekend is over.  When my husband and I are both home on the weekend, we take them out and it’s all fun, fun, fun until we go back to work. If Benjamin remembers the water fun in Japan last year at the park, I bet he would want to do it every single day!

One of the things I am thankful for though is that during Ramadan, my work time is shortened to 6 hours instead of 8 and a half (starting today for the next 30 days). My work time is from 8 am to 2 pm this year (the previous years, it was 9 am to 3 pm). 

DIY teepe

I can utilize the time to be with my very bored child but sadly due to the weather, there is no way I can take them to the park even if I really want to. While we love living in the UAE, I dread the ruthless summer months. Summer in the UAE is tough for the kids – and tougher for children with working parents because they will be cooped up indoors for long hours. There is zero outdoor life. Should you choose to entertain your children outside the 4 walls of the house, it’s always the mall. And here’s another problem, we only have one car which is used by my husband for work. I cannot take them out to wait for the cab in this heat, at least not everyday.

Forget going to your children’s friend’s house – most are out of the country. This is the time of the year I wish I can whisk away my children to somewhere they can play freely without getting sick, dehydrated or get sun stroke.

Of course, there are a lot of summer camps going on but most are expensive (at least for us). Some have no bus services that one of the parents has to take the kids to the venue and pick up. Most are pretty pricey too. For example, this one from the famous Dubai Holiday Camps is AED595 per week (5 days a week, 8 am – 2 pm only) and transport is AED160 per week in a location nearest to us. Daily fee is AED140. Other summer camp I found is the E-sports summer holiday camp, the venues are far from where we live and again, it is not cheap.

List of other camps published in the Knowledge and Human Development Authority website here. In case, you’re looking for a place to send your kids to. Expatwoman has compiled a great list of summer camps in Dubai too, if you’re interested.

That said, we will be leaving in 14 days – out of the country for 3 weeks. I know they will love it but then after we come back, there will be at least 5 weeks of staying at home until school starts…My annual leave is 4 weeks every year, I envy the moms who can freely take their children outside the country for whole two months (or more).

Top photo credit

Are you an expat with kids living in the UAE? What do you do to entertain your kids in the summer months?

Al Tamimi Stables

Al Tamimi Stables

In an effort to give the kids more play time outdoors, given that the outdoor life here in the UAE is very time-limited, we went to visit Al Tamimi Stables in the neighboring emirate of Sharjah while the weather is still in our favor.

Al Tamimi Stables is a family friendly farm and educational activities centre that boasts of over 30 acres of lush farm land with over 500 domestic and exotic animals, sports facilities, stables, a horse trading enterprise, a recording studio, a petting farm, creativity studios and a quaint café.

They had a Family Fun Day event last Saturday so we looked forward to fun activities for the kids. First up was “Introduction to Falconry”.

Falconry

Did you know that the falcon, the national emblem of the UAE is one of the fastest bird in the world, flying at a speed of about 300 kilometers per hour? I didn’t!

The petting zoo was an instant hit for the children. Living in the desert, children in the UAE don’t get a lot of chance to be near animals, unless parents buy them as pets – but still could be a difficult arrangement for those living in apartments.

petting farm at Al Tamimi Stables

petting farm at Al Tamimi Stables

Pristine was very eager to hold everything. For the life of me, I could not do this.

petting farm at Al Tamimi Stables

I am not just proud of her for holding little critters like hamsters and guinea pigs, I am proud of her for encouraging other (scared) children to touch the animals!

petting zoo at Al Tamimi Stables

petting zone at Al Tamimi Stables

 These tortoises? They destroyed the age old myth that tortoises/turtles are slow pokes. They moved pretty fast!

petting zone at Al Tamimi Stables

There are a lot of activities (yes, it is very possible to stay there for the whole day!), including flower pot painting and transplanting a flower to your own pot.

Potting flower at Al Tamimi Stables

Meanwhile, Benjamin could not get enough of the bouncy castle.

Bouncy Castle at Al Tamimi

There were other attractions like free dance classes, a flea market, a short equestrian show but Benjamin had dozed off in my arms so I wasn’t able to take photos.

At first, the location will put you off, especially if you’re not driving much here, like me. Luckily, my friend Mio of Third Culture Family blog got my back on this. I just turned on the Google Maps navigation on my phone and she drove me and my kids, along with her kids to the stables!

It was surprisingly an easy drive so if you have Google Maps on your phone, use it and you’ll get there without any problems.

Tips when going to Al Tamimi Stables (a.k.a. things I will do on my next visit)

  • Bring enough water – it’s still cool for now but at midday, it’s hot if you’re not in the shade and the children could be dehydrated. 
  • Bring a picnic mat – there were lots of bean bags available but there were also a lot of visitors so it would be convenient to have your own mat.
  • Bring food – while there is a live cooking station selling burgers/barbecue, the queue was unbelievable especially at peak hours!
  • Apply sunscreen – for yourself and for the kids. Never underestimate the desert weather even during “winter”.
  • Convince your children that there are other attractions, force them out of the bouncy castle if possible! LOL
  • BONUS (if you don’t mind looking weird) – bring an umbrella. I wish I did. My skin is so tanned from sun exposure especially while watching Benjamin play in the bouncy castle.

Located away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Al Tamimi Stables’ petting farm animals, beautiful grounds and hands on activities provide a fun learning experience and a welcome break from the usual mall visits for the whole family. I know we will visit again.

Entrance fee to Al Tamimi Stables is AED60 for adults and AED35 for children over 3 years. Family package of AED180 for 2 adults and 3 children of over 3 years. See complete price list.

Outdoor life for kids in the UAE

Pristine at the park

I’ve been asked over and over again – “Is Dubai an ideal place to raise children?” or “We are thinking of moving to Dubai and we have 2 kids, is that a good idea?”

Honestly, there’s no cookie cutter answer to these questions. I wish there was but every family situation is unique. And I can only share my insight based on our personal experience. My daughter’s school recently had a Sports Day event a few days back and these questions sprung up from my mind, especially after I saw my daughter actively participating in the sports events, beaming with joy, running around with her friends under the sun.

Luckily, the weather right now is very pleasant so the children can enjoy running outside without the stifling humidity and scorching desert heat.

Sports Day

I get asked by parents who see the appeal and potential in Dubai but who have children and who are therefore naturally concerned about the type of lifestyle their children will have if they move to the UAE. Here’s what I have to say…

The cost of an international school education in Dubai is most certainly a negative factor.  Fees vary depending on the school and the age of the child, but we’re paying US$8,000 for annual tuition (and this belongs to the cheaper category compared to other British curriculum international schools) – factor in uniforms, extra equipment and school trips on top and it quickly adds up to some seriously high sums of money.

If that doesn’t bother you, the next would be the weather.

The next point you need to consider is that the weather in Dubai is not conducive for outdoor play for the majority of the year.  In the summer, it is simply too hot to allow children to safely and comfortably play outside.

We love living in the UAE – if not, hey, we wouldn’t last for seven years. But if there’s one thing that makes me a bit sad about living in Dubai, it’s the connection of children with nature, or the lack of it.

Outdoor life.

Grass beneath their feet.

Trees to climb. 

Those simple little things.

There are green spaces, yes, big parks like Safa Park and other smaller ones in the small residential areas. But our outdoor life here is limited – we can’t really allow the children to roam wild and free during the hot months that start as early as May and end in November.

Pristine’s love the outdoors so even though she was a bit sick, that nasty cough was back, she didn’t want to miss it for the world.

Sports Day

So, where can and do children hang out to play or socialize? Most meet at friends’ temperature controlled homes or they can hang out at the shopping malls on weekends and in the holidays. I admit, it was ok for us during the early years but a few years on, the mall culture can get to you. It can be exhausting and monotonous even with new and glitzy malls being opened every now and then. Mind you, the government is really doing a great job in entertaining us during the hot summer months. There are plenty of free entertainment inside these malls. But somehow right now, we got too lazy to go out every single weekend and would prefer to stay at home and play (though my heart just breaks for the kids when we couldn’t go on holidays during the summer/school vacation due to my work…). They loved the time when we went to Japan in the summer, sweat and all.

A part of me wishes my children can be more in touch with nature like I was while growing up…

With all that negativity aside, however, there can still be a benefit to enjoying a brief adventure in the United Arab Emirates with your family – it broadens children’s horizons (and yours), generally makes the kids more tolerant, enable them to learn a new language (Arabic which is mandatory even in international schools), make lots of friends from different nationalities and certainly more understanding that there is a far wider, diverse world out there.

Anyway, back to the Sports Day event…

It was a pleasant day for the children with the sun playing hide and seek most of the time and wind was cool. We thought, why don’t we bring the little guy out as well? He loves parks and crazy about running where he can feel unstoppable.

Sports Day

I saw the small kids in kindergarten at the grounds and remembered the time when Pristine was that small. Now she is in Year 5. Next year, Ben could be in that group of kids.

Sports day

Pristine was just telling me the other day that it’s horrible her little brother cannot talk properly yet. “Mom, he needs to go to school. He needs education.” So funny. I agree that he needs to go out more with children his age so I’ve started taking him to the park on Saturdays now that I don’t have work on Saturdays anymore (started last December).

Benjamin at Sports Day

When he walked closer to where the smaller kids were, some of the girls ran to him and started patting his head. He surely loved the attention!

Benjamin at Sports Day

Bye, girls! See you next year…sort of conversation going on here. I am already sure he’s going to love school and every chance of outdoor fun like this when he is ready.

Siblings

The case of the unwashed bento boxes

Siblings

Our older child, Pristine (almost 10 years old) is tasked to wash her lunch box after she comes home from school. She had been diligently doing this for years.

And then Benjamin came. At least until he changed from a squishy, all-sleep-no-play baby to a very mobile toddler – the one who giggles a lot and makes you forget there is an outside world beyond your house.

He can be addicting, I tell you.

Pristine started missing to wash her lunch box until I tell her, scuttles off when I enter the door and I have this look on my face, “Did you wash your lunch box, young lady?!” Because most of time, she didn’t. Or she has forgotten.

“I took a long bath, mama”

“I was about to wash it and then Benjamin wanted to play with me.”

Recently, I took hold of the iPad to update the operating system to the latest. There is not enough space for OS update. I went straight to the Photos album and found lots of videos, all evidence of what she’s up to – the reason she’s procrastinating washing her lunch box.

She is too excited for this.

This is just one of the many videos they have together. There is no way I can delete it in favor of an immediate OS update.

Pristine and Benjamin

Visiting the Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

We’re almost seven years here in Dubai and this being a ‘small’ city, we feel we’ve been to the places, no more room to explore. Actually there are lots left to explore, we are just too lazy to go out on our day off.

Since it’s still searing hot outside, where else to go but to the temperature controlled shelters like the mall. Dubai Mall is wonderful on early Friday morning: there’s only very few people there! Most people stay up so late on Thursday nights (night before the weekend starts) so they are in still in bed until noon. That’s how it is I guess in hot countries: people go out at night while the sun is hiding.

I took the kids to the Dubai Mall Aquarium and Underwater Zoo.

Dubai Mall Aquarium

It’s so huge this is the only aquarium in the world that can accommodate divers. There are people inside the aquarium, can you believe that?

Dubai Mall Aquarium and Underwater Zoo

We bought the Ultimate Aquarium Experience Package that includes the aquarium tunnel, underwater zoo, glass bottom boat ride and 40 dhs worth of gift certificate redeemable at the souvenir shop.

Honestly, I thought it would be boring…but then I enjoyed it! Lots and lots of fishes in the underwater zoo, we were all excited to see them all!

The kids can’t get enough of the fishes!

There’s this particular fish that needs a lipstick, according to Pristine, LOL!

lipstick fish

Then, I got excited when I saw Nemo…actually a LOT of Nemos! They were swirling round that thing (seaweed? coral?) – totally adorable!! I love clown fishes!

Nemo

And Nemo’s aquarium friend Gil was also there!

Gil

My husband almost always works on Fridays so it’s just me and the kids, however, we thought we’d improvise our family time by going out with him (he works in the mall), spending time at the mall where there’s plenty of space to walk around and then having lunch with him on his break.

Croc play

We had so much fun, I would recommend it to anyone especially if you have kids.

Pristine and Benjamin

Unfortunately, Benjamin is not allowed to get into the glass bottomed boat and they wouldn’t take Pristine without an adult chaperone. But still, our trip was worth it.

glass bottom

I was too scared to stand on the glass bottomed flooring! (below is the deep aquarium)

Ben slept after lunch so I let him be. We strolled around and around Dubai Mall, and for the first time in my life, I spent 8 hours in a mall. You don’t want to know how my feet felt that night!

The Dubai Aquarium is located inside the Dubai Mall,open during mall hours.

Soba tempura

Simple joys found through traveling

Travel is one of many things parents can do to help their kids grow into well-rounded adults with perspective that extends beyond their own neighborhood. For starters, it has made Benjamin realize flowers and thick bushes exist.

Ben and flowers

Seriously. You should see him stop at every flower in pot or otherwise or chase every insect and butterflies in the meadows.

ben skip hop

Traveling with (small) children is no walk in the park but we do it anyway. We do it so they can see the ‘other world’ beyond where they are everyday. We believe that traveling with kids is never a waste. I love how their eyes sparkle when they see new place, people or hear a different language. I would like to show them how others live.

Like, in most parts of the world (technically in Northern Hemisphere), children go out and play outside in summer (especially when school is out) and the weather is finally warming up after cold spring and winter. They sweat after playing outside in July – that doesn’t happen while living in Dubai because first, you don’t play OUTSIDE in July in Dubai!

Drinking tea

While our holiday to Japan wasn’t really a “holiday” as per dictionary terms, it was a terrific time to reconnect with our children’s roots, culture and language.

Most of all, it was the best way to connect with nature and enjoy it.

Pristine at grandpa's rice field

Most importantly, our simple vacation was a great way for them to reconnect with…US.

One of the best things about this vacation is the time we gave to our children: 100% undivided attention. There was no work to do, no deadlines to beat, no work-related errands. It was just us and them.

Playtime with Papa

This? This doesn’t happen often because of his crazy work schedule

We did a lot of  first-time activities that made our trip not only vividly memorable, but they also instill in kids a sense of adventure and a feeling of accomplishment that will last long after the trip is over. No, we did not get to see exotic jungles or animals in the wild. Or visit remote villages.

Our experience were are simple as finding joy in walking on grass.

Ben walking on grass

And then jumping for joy.

Jumping for joy

…being fascinated with vending machines.

digital vending machine

It’s still the same wonderful Japanese vending machine selling hot or cold beverages from teas to sodas, coffees and energy drinks, only with flat screen in front.

We did not go see the Eiffel Tower or walk the Great Wall of China so the exciting moments were as simple as finding and holding a dandelion for the first time.

Holding a dandelion for the first time

and then blowing the dandelions,

make a wish

…hoping and wishing this kind of vacation will come again. Soon.

It’s amazing how Pristine sees everything with fresh eyes. She was born in Japan but we left when she was three. The last time we were there, she was 5. It seems she has forgotten most of our travel four years ago – made us happy we made this trip all the more.

Our trip was nothing fancy, it’s like a staycation but in a different country. We didn’t go out much like tourists, we only met a few friends around town and saw temples and shrines nearby.

P and B in Japan

And of course ate as much authentic Japanese food as we can!

Soba tempura

So how did our simple trip turn out?

As I was tossing things and folding clothes on our last morning there, my daughter said quietly, “I don’t want to leave.”

“That’s the sign of a good vacation,” I replied. “Let’s come back some day.”

Pristine at Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen: Oasis in the middle of the big city

Shinjuku Gyoen

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.

Pristine and Ben at Shinjuku Gyoen

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.

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

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.

Shinjuku Gyoen entrance

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.

NTT building

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.

Shinjuku Gyoen

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!

Shinjuku Gyoen

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.

Shinjuku Gyoen

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?”.

Pristine and Benjamin at Shinjuku Gyoen

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!

Pristine and Benjamin at Shinjuku Gyoen

What to do? Boys do not have the word “danger” in their vocabularies!

Pristine and Benjamin at Shinjuku Gyoen

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!

Ben and iPad

It was Pristine’s turn to explore the park grounds, with an umbrella!

Pristine at Shinjuku Gyoen

She has been a bit obsessed with the UV-cut umbrella since we arrived!

Pristine at Shinjuku Gyoen

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.