When you think Tokyo, the image that immediately comes to mind is a sprawling neon-drenched metropolis. A city filled to the brim with a population so dense that the streets are literally crawling with people every second of the day and night. And it is, but it’s also a city of great contrast, because Tokyo is a city that also boasts some of the most richly historic and naturally stunning parks in the world. This is what makes the city a true photographer’s delight.
Dotted throughout its artificial landscape are parks that are ready to whisk you away into a completely new world. Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is one such tranquil place located in heart of one of the busiest pockets of the world.
Stretching across Tokyo, touching points of both Shinjuku and Shibuya, it’s one of Tokyo’s biggest and most popular parks. Located just a short walk form Shinjuku Station, the park is home to weaving walkways, sprawling lawns and trees that transform with the passing seasons.
During the Edo Period (1603-1867), the park was originally the residence of the Naito family, a feudal family with connections to a samurai clan. Following the Edo Period, the park was turned into a botanical garden and passed on to the Imperial Family in 1903, who used the space as a place for recreation and entertainment. Almost completely destroyed during the attacks of World War II, Shinjuku Gyoen was salvaged and from the ashes reopened as a public park in 1949.
Today it’s separated into three different parks, and is home to the oldest traditional Japanese landscape garden in existence. The classic traditional Japanese area of the park features perfectly maintained shrubs and foliage as well as a collection of ponds, adorned with mini islands and bridges ready for exploration. Wander through and you’ll come across its many pavilions, the highlight being the Kyu Goryotei, also known as the Taiwan Pavilion, which was built to commemorate the wedding of the Showa Emperor.
On the other side of the park sits a completely different world. It features two Western-style parks, a classic French garden, and an English landscape garden with sprawling lawns and towering trees that evolve with the seasons. Dotted with hundred of cherry trees, this area is a popular cherry blossom viewing spot in the spring months of March to April when the ground is carpeted with falling pale pink blossoms creating a backdrop that looks like it’s been ripped straight from the walls of an art gallery.
During September and October, the park takes on a whole new persona as the trees come alight shining fiery shades of autumnal gold and red leaves. Wander through the Japanese garden and the eastern corner of Momijiyama, aka maple-mountain, to see the stunning maple trees, which stay red all the way through November and December and even as late as January.
Beyond the park’s outdoor beauty, the land here is also home to an art gallery and a greenhouse that boasts an impressive selection of tropical and subtropical flowers all year round.
Over the years, the park’s beauty has been the inspiration behind a number of iconic anime films. In the contemporary manga turned anime film The Garden of Words, by Makoto Shinkai, it became the main backdrop and catalyst for this incredibly moving coming-of-age story. The story follows the journey of a Takao Akizuki, 15-year-old student and aspiring shoemaker, who meets 27-year-old Yukari Yukino. Together they navigate the confusing world of love and identity after a rainy chance encounter under a pagoda here in Shinjuku Gyoen.
If you’re spending a little time in Tokyo and are starting to feel like the overstimulation of the city centre is getting to be too much, don’t forget this not-so-little hideout is just a short stroll away. The park is open from 9am until 4:30pm every day except Monday and admission is 200 yen (US$2).