8 Reasons to Love Shinjuku Gyoen

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. Continue reading “8 Reasons to Love Shinjuku Gyoen”

Spring Afternoon at Yasukuni Shrine

Exciting times in Tokyo… Spring has officially sprung!

At Yasukuni Shrine near the Imperial Palace, there is one tree in particular which is carefully observed by the Japanese BOM. It’s a somei-yoshino, also the most common variety of cherry blossom found across Japan. A camera is set up in front of the tree so that the meteorologists can keep an eye on it 24/7. The footage can be seen by the public on the shrine’s homepage, and I’m not going to lie – I had been checking it all weekend in anticipation!

Then, on Monday morning, it happened. The first buds broke open and delicate white petals emerged. The media was onto it straight away, and opening of the sakura season was officially announced in front of hundreds of photographers and reporters.

At the moment, there are just a few somei-yoshino flowers dotted here and there. But this time next week, they should be close to full bloom. Yay, I can feel the excitement in the air!

There are hundreds of varieties of cherry blossom, that differ in shape, colour and blooming times. There were a few deep pink coloured trees at their peak. Such a gorgeous colour. And behind the shrine is a cute little pond and tea house garden. The afternoon light was sublime! Wandering around here was the perfect way to spend a warm spring afternoon.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Vibrant

It’s mid winter here in Tokyo and the days of late have been sun-less, rainy and dreary. Some people thrive in cold weather. The idea of cozy fireplaces, Ugg boots, snow angels and mulled wine sounds like the perfect dream. But in reality it’s more like struggling to get out of bed when it’s so cold you can see your breath, finishing work when it’s already dark out, and trying not to get sick as you go between overheated rooms and freezing outside temps all day. Yeah, I think it’s safe to say winter isn’t my favourite season!

This week’s photo challenge, Vibrant, came at a great time. I miss the colours of spring, summer and, more recently, autumn. In December, I went to Koishikawa Korakuen to catch the autumn foliage at their peak. I wanted to post about this city garden last month, but didn’t get the chance – so I’m hitting two birds with one stone today:)

Koishikawa Korakuen

Koishikawa Korakuen was created over 380 years ago, making it one of the oldest gardens in Tokyo. It’s one of 7 places in the country to have been designated both a ‘special place of scenic beauty’ and a ‘special historic site’, and is famous for its sakura in spring and momiji in autumn, as well as its bridges and water features. I’ve been at least half a dozen times since I moved to Tokyo, but nothing prepared me for the brilliance I saw this time!

 

Chasing Colours in Central Japan (Part 1): Kanazawa

The past month has been crazy busy. Apart from my day job, I’ve had visitors staying with me, gone on day trips and weekend getaways, and been writing for an online travel guide (very exciting, but more on that another time). I’ve been dying to share pics from a trip I did in the first weekend of November – better late then never!

I was so eager for the trip that I went to work on the Friday with my travel bag in tow. As soon as I was done for the day, I was straight on the first train out of Tokyo. Three and a half hours later, I met up with my travel companions at our first destination: Kanazawa.

 

 

Kanazawa is a city on Japan’s west coast, and is known for a number of things: fresh fish, crab, sushi, friendly people, samurai houses, a beautiful train station featuring a giant drum gate, and a 21st century museum of contemporary art. But over all of that, the one place Japanese people think of when they hear Kanazawa, is Kenrokuen. It’s recognised as one of Japan’s three most beautiful gardens, but most people would say there’s no competition; it’s easily THE most beautiful garden in the country.

The name Kenrokuen means ‘a garden consisting of 6 factors’ – it’s spacious yet feels secluded, it’s man-made yet has a feeling of antiquity, and while enjoying the many water features up close we can also take in the view of far-away places which have been mysteriously (abstractly) brought to the garden.

This was actually my second visit to Kenrokuen – the first being Christmas Day 2008 (when I still lived in Australia). I remember being fascinated by the moss gardeners of all things. On that day, they were crouched down on the garden beds as though they were searching for something they’d dropped. But after asking them what they were doing, we found out they were tirelessly weeding unwanted types of moss! And that is how perfection is achieved.

This time around, I went for the autumn foliage. We were a little early but still found pockets of gorgeous colours. The place was packed with Chinese tour groups with their megaphones blaring – not quite the serene morning we were hoping for – but thankfully the garden is massive and it was easy to escape the masses. We were even lucky enough to see a newly wed couple and their bridal party having their photo taken.

It was a magical start to our Saturday, but just the beginning of an amazing weekend. More to come in the next post!

Tokyo’s Best Sakura Locations

What an incredible week! In the last weekend of March, the cherry blossoms were just beginning to bloom, and everyone was excited and ready to welcome spring’s annual masterpiece. The sunshine only lasted for a few days before the rain clouds took over. And now, the green leaves have sprouted, marking the beginning of the end of the cherry blossoms’ short but very sweet life.

Rather than travel outside of the city, this year I made it my mission to stay in Tokyo and see as many famous as well as not so well-known sakura spots as I could. The result? One very intense, fun, amazing week of adventures! I was afraid I’d go into sakura depression after the season had finished, but actually I just feel very fulfilled! I can’t believe how much these flowers transform the city. It’s truly one of the most beautiful natural phenomena.

Here are 10 of my favourite cherry blossom spots in Tokyo city…

#1 – Sengawa River in Setagaya

I happened upon this river a few weeks ago and noticed all of these bare cherry blossom tree branches overhanging the canal. I could just imagine how it would look in spring and knew I had to come back once the sakura season started. I’m very glad I did! The mirror reflection of the sakura in the water against the blue sky was so picturesque! It reminded me of the famous canal at Naka-Meguro, but without any of the crowds! Definitely one of the best kept secrets in Tokyo.


#2 – Harimazaka, Bunkyo

This street is also not one of the most well-known of spots for sakura viewing, but it deserves a lot of attention. The two sides of the street as well as the median strip is lined with trees, making three rows of sakura! Traffic was not so bad, so it was actually quite a nice spot to sit down for a picnic.


#3 – Sumida Park, near Tokyo Sky tree

Sumida Park actually spreads across both sides of the Sumida River. Half of the park lies near Asakusa, while the other half is close to Tokyo Sky tree. There’s a small garden on the Sky tree side that really blew me away with its gorgeous sakura trees, which perfectly framed the giant 634 metre tower!

#4 – Ark Hills, near Roppongi Itchome

I was actually on my way to Roppongi Hills when this area caught my eye. Although it was raining, these rows of trees were beautiful against the night sky and city lights.


#5 – Ueno Park

Ueno is notorious for its crowds. I was going to skip this park but thought I have to go at least once! And it was a good choice! At dusk, the lake was really beautiful. It was fun to weave through the crowd, but I wouldn’t want to be one of the picnic parties that have to get there at a ridiculously early time to reserve their spot!

#6 – Chidorigafuchi, the Imperial Palace moat

This area of the Imperial Palace is one of the most iconic sakura spots in Tokyo. It actually felt more congested than Ueno Park since the pathways here are narrower and people (myself included!) want to stop every 5 metres to take a photo. The garden designers for the Emperor definitely knew what they were doing when they planned this spectacular sight!

#7 – Nakameguro

The Meguro River has been voted the most popular sakura viewing spot in recent years. And for good reason. The canal near Naka-meguro is lined with cherry blossoms. From the bridges that connect the two sides, you get an incredible ‘tunnel’ view of the sakura. The crowds here are intense and you have to be very patient if you want that perfect shot! Luckily, there are plenty of bars and restaurants nearby where you can unwind in after having battled the masses.

#8 – Senzoku Pond

A friend introduced me to this very family-friendly and beautiful area. We had a lot of fun taking a row boat around the lake and soaking up the warm spring weather. This lake is rich with history and was featured as a ukiyo-e print in the One Hundred Famous View of Edo in the 1800s.

#9 – Rikugien

Rikugien is one of Tokyo’s top 9 strolling gardens. In spring, the giant weeping cherry blossoms are the star attractions. I didn’t even bother seeing the rest of the garden – this monster of a tree was incredible on its own. I arrived late afternoon and was able to see the colours on the tree change numerous times as the sun went down. It was mesmerising!

#10 – Koishikawa Korakuen

This is another of the top strolling gardens in the city. It’s surrounded by modern skyscrapers, but still manages to keep a very peaceful feel to it. I love how there are so many hidden areas of this garden – it’s a great place to explore!

The season is not finished just yet. I still hope to get to some of the lakes around Mt. Fuji in the coming weeks, where the sakura bloom a little later. But for now, spring holidays are over, and it’s back to work!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Serenity

I’ve been so busy since coming back from holidays – getting back into my work routine, apartment hunting and sorting out immigration paperwork to renew my visa – that I feel like I’ve hardly had time to catch my breath. So, this week’s photo challenge theme “serenity” has actually come at a great time to make me stop and relax!

Japanese gardens are designed as serene places where you can reflect, meditate and be at peace. They are always aesthetically pleasing, and grab your attention in the most gentle of ways. From the lines in the raked sand, to the colours in the garden, and the moss on the rocks, you can rest assured everything is in its place!

These are some of my favourite Moss, Rock and Promenade gardens of Kyoto.