Shinjuku Gyoen – An Oasis in Central Tokyo
Situated in central Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is an oasis of calm in the big city. Stroll, relax and rest your weary limbs - Shinjuku Gyoen offers it all. To help out before you go, we've got all the info you're going to need, all right here...
If Yoyogi Park is the most popular park in Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is definitely the most beautiful. In the heart of the city, Shinjuku Gyoen is encircled by the city but perfectly insulated from it – the towers, noise and traffic are all safely distant, as will be your stresses and worries not long after entering.
Read on for a full guide to Shinjuku Gyoen, including a brief history, tips on activities and all the relevant access information you’ll need to get the most out of your trip.
Shinjuku Gyoen Overview
Shinjuku Gyoen was originally built on the site of a private mansion belonging to Lord Naito, a feudal lord of the Edo era. In 1872, as Japan started to modernize, Shinjuku Gyoen became the site of Japan’s earliest experiments in foreign horticulture and forestry. Accordingly, in 1879, the land became the Shinjuku Imperial Botanical Garden under the control of the Imperial Household Agency.
In 1903, the parks scientific uses were sidelined as it became an Imperial Garden to be used by the Imperial Family for recreational purposes. In the wake of the Second World War, Shinjuku Gyoen took on its current status as a National Garden open to the public. The park is 58.3 hectares (144 acres) in size with a circumference of 3.5 km and is divided into three distinct sections: Japanese traditional, English landscape and French formal.
The Japanese traditional garden features picturesque large ponds crossed by footbridges and two teahouses: Rakutei and Shoutei where you can enjoy some traditional matcha tea alongside a Japanese sweet treat. There’s also the Mother and Child Forest (Haha to Ko no Mori) and a beautiful Taiwan Pavilion which can be climbed for incredible second storey views.
The French garden has its own rose garden and beautiful tree-lined avenues, perfect for strolling down as the red autumn leaves (Momiji) begin to fall from the branches. The French garden was landscaped at the end of the 19th century by Henri Martinet, a Versailles Garden horticulture professor and an expert in his field.
Characterized by its open field and lawns, the English garden will feel familiar to those from the West. Polish your frisbee skills, kick around a football or just relax – the English garden is the most laid back part of the park. This area also offers beautiful paths shaded by trees in the late spring, as well as some small ponds and gorgeous foliage. Tokyo’s fourth tallest building, the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building, also looms over this section of the park.
Activities in Shinjuku Gyoen
Cherry blossom and red leaves:
In late March to early April, the much-loved cherry blossom season descends on Japan and Shinjuku Gyoen is a particularly great place to revel in this annual natural spectacle. Shinjuku Gyoen is a popular spot for couples, friends and families to view flowers (Hanami) and to sit, relax, eat and drink. Cherry blossom season is much hyped, but Momiji (red leaves) during the Autumn can be just as lovely.
Picnics and Relaxing:
Shinjuku Gyoen is an excellent place to relax on weekends, requiring a minimum of travel and safely tucked away from the fast paced city. Consider bringing a picnic lunch or bento box from home, or a variety of take-away items are available at the gourmet food hall in the basement of Takashimaya department store, just south of Shinjuku Station (east of the JR line tracks) and about 500 meters west of the garden’s Shinjuku gate entrance.
If you get the itch to shop, there’s also the large Tokyu Hands department store in the same mega-mall complex (called Times Square), selling everything from camping necessities to Japanese tea sets and stationery. Next door is the Kinokuniya bookstore, Tokyo’s best spot for picking up foreign and translated books as well as Japanese manga and kids books.
Please be aware that the consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited in the park.
Shinjuku Gyoen Facilities:
Information Center and Art Gallery: Find out everything about the parks facilities and pick up an English park map to ensure you don’t miss anything. The on-site art gallery is small but worth a look in for its range of contemporary paintings and sculptures.
Greenhouse: Home to more than 20,000 flowers and trees from all over the world, the greenhouse is a natural delight.
Imperial Rest House: Built in 1896 for the Emperor and now designated as an Important Cultural Property, visit four small rooms once used by the Imperial family.
The running course in Shinjuku Gyoen is only open from 9:00~16:00, meaning early morning or evening running is out of the question. However, if you find yourself free for a run within this time, the course, passing through each of the three gardens, is a runners dream. The park also has a small Kiosk-type shop and numerous vending machines for grabbing some pre/post-run refreshments.
Shinjuku Gyoen Chrysanthemum festival:
Shinjuku Gyoen’s famous Chrysanthemum Festival is held every year between the 1st and 15th of November. The park’s chrysanthemums, the symbol of Japan’s Imperial family, spring to life in the autumn and seem to almost defy the laws of nature. Shinjuku Gyoen puts on one of Tokyo’s best chrysanthemum displays and is all the more poignant because of its connection to the Imperial family. Find many of the displays housed within 3-walled shelters and draped with purple fabric (see above image), a traditional touch which has now become synonymous with special events or auspicious occasions.
Shinjuku Gyoen Access
Shinjuku Gyoen has 3 access gates:
Shinjuku Gate: 10-minute walk from JR Shinjuku Station (south exit), 5-minute walk from Shinjuku San-Chome Station (Exit C5) and 3 minutes from Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station (Exit 1)
Okido Gate: 3-minute walk from Shinjuku Gyoen Mae Station (Exit 2)
Sendagaya Gate: 5-minute walk from Sendagaya Station and Kokuritsu Kyogijo Station
The park: 9:00-16:30
The Greenhouse: 9:30-15:30 (Closes at 16:00)
Information Center (Art Gallery: 9:00-16:30
Mondays (If Monday is a public holiday, then closed the following day)
Special Opening Days: March 25th to April 24th (Cherry Blossom season), November 1st to November 15th (Chrysanthemum Festival)
Adults: ¥200, Elementary and Junior High School students: ¥50, Infants: Free of charge
Annual Pass: ¥2,000 for adults, ¥1,000 for high school students, ¥500 for children.