I’ve been to Shinjuku Gyoen so many times in the 5 years I’ve been living in Tokyo that it almost feels like I’m arriving home when I walk through the park entrance gates. It’s become a very familiar place. From the cherry blossom season and hot summer days, to the vibrant red autumn leaves and snow-filled lawns, I’ve experienced it all at this park. It’s a great place to go whether you’re on your own, with friends, babysitting kids or even on a date!
Being a massive 58 hectares, it really feels like a sanctuary or oasis in the middle of a congested, fast-paced city. The towering trees scattered throughout the park muffle the sounds of traffic outside, and the surrounding skyscrapers are only visible from some areas, so it’s a good place to get away without actually getting away. It’s convenient like that!
The park officially has three sections: a French garden, traditional Japanese garden and an English lawn; but there is much more than that. These are my eight favourite areas in my favourite place, and eight reasons why it’s worth visiting!
1. French rose garden
The roses in the French garden seem to bloom on and off from spring to autumn. I’d say the best time to see them is in May—that’s when they look the most ‘full’. They smell divine and I love how that they bring a whole lot of colour to the park. In the off season though, the rows of bare hedges are a bit of a sad sight!
2. Sycamore tree avenues
On either side of the rose garden are gorgeous sycamore tree avenues. In autumn (October-November), the giant leaves fall to the ground creating a thick carpet of leaves… perfect for leaf fights! This part of the park always reminds me of Paris. :)
3. Japanese garden pond
Way over on the opposite side of the park is the traditional Japanese garden which has two ponds and a tea house. The rounded hedges and curved edges of the pond and bridges create a very peaceful atmosphere. I usually don’t spend too much time hanging out here because there’s not a lot of sitting space, but it’s always beautiful to walk through, especially after a snow day.
4. Taiwan pavilion
On top of the French, Japanese and English gardens, there’s also this Chinese architecture-inspired building, adding yet another international element to the park. It was apparently gifted to the Emperor in the 1920s by Japanese people living in Taiwan—though I’m not sure what their connection to the Imperial family was. The pavilion definitely stands out in the park, and from inside, you get a beautiful framed view of the Japanese garden on the other side of the pond.
5. Picnics on the lawn
One of my favourite things to do is lay on the lawn at Shinjuku Gyoen. I grew up running around barefoot and now live in a city of concrete… I just miss grass!! A friend is a yoga instructor and sometimes had outdoor classes here which is so relaxing. And of course, the lawns are a fantastic place to picnic with friends, especially in spring and summer when the weather is warm! It’s also interesting to see Japanese couples getting ‘cosy’ on the lawn, something you don’t see in public very often.
6. Momiji hill
The back corner of the park, near the Sendagaya entrance, is an amazing place called momiji hill. Full of Japanese maples, early December is the best time to experience this heavenly corner. The explosions of autumn colour are absolutely unreal. And the best part… it’s almost never crowded!
I can’t believe I only went into the greenhouse for the first time a few months ago. I guess there was just too much outside for me to want to go inside! A winding path leads you past cacti, ferns, giant lily pads, a waterfall and even over a skywalk that makes you feel like you’re up in the canopy of a jungle. I was actually quite impressed!
Without a doubt though, spring has to be the best time to visit Shinjuku Gyoen. The park is home to roughly 1,300 cherry trees—around 50 different ‘cultivars’, or varieties—that bloom from January to May. There are even a few special ones that bloom in autumn. Some of the trees here are hybrids of hybrids, and don’t exist anywhere else!
Have you been to Shinjuku Gyoen before? What season did you go in? And what part of the park did you like the best?