Daily life in Tokyo

Shinjuku Gyoen - Mother And Child Forest, Part 1

This is Part 1 of a lovely mid-November walk at Shinjuku Gyoen - Mother And Child Forest
Prologue: The Kilometre Zero Marker of Japan
Part 2: A short virtual walk through Mother and Child Forest
Part 3: I translated some of the signs so you can share them with your family


The leaves glowed orange, gold, and green.

On my way home from Nihonbashi, I heard another station name that I remembered. On a whim, I hopped out onto the platform and climbed the stairs back into the crisp, bright Sunday afternoon, deciding that this would be a perfect day to revisit Shinjuku Gyoen National Park.

Posing under the stinko biloba tree

Posing under the stinko biloba tree

I was not disappointed! I arrived around 2:30, the park closes at 4:00, and sunset occurs just around 4:30 in Tokyo in November. So my timing was perfect to see the evening begin to cause all the glorious fall colors to glow. I stopped before the gates to eat my lunch on a park bench and watch people pose for photos under a particularly pretty yellow-green ginkgo biloba tree.

A note about ginkgo: The nuts that fall from those trees smell bad. Maybe it's something I'll get used to? If people in southeast Asia can grow up eating and loving durian fruit, maybe it's possible that people here find ginkgo familiar and not too stinky, because these trees are all over Japan!

 

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park Chrysanthemums

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park Chrysanthemums

Next, I walked past a Chrysanthemum exhibition adorning the entrance plaza. Hundreds of chrysanthemums, beautifully displayed! The sakura (cherry blossom) may be one of the best known flowers of Japan, but it shares its unofficial National Flower title with the chrysanthemum, which is represented on the national emblem, as well as many other monsho (emblem, seal, coat of arms).

At the ticket window, you can buy a ticket from an attendant or a machine very handy at crowded times! I put 200 yen into a machine to get my ticket. That's currently about USD$1.75.

The ticket has a QR code printed on it. Business journal blogs in the United States frequently wonder if QR codes are officially dead, but in Japan they are alive and well! You'll see them for advertisements and contests, sure, but they're also used on signs, in museums, in place of URLs, and to connect to friends via Line (Japan's most popular text messaging service). QR codes are even used by my local community center for textbook audio links, and one of my teachers has a code on his email address card. I find it very incredibly handy to scan a code instead of typing phone numbers, emails, and web addresses into my phone.

Inside the gate, I grabbed a map. Shinjuku Gyoen is a HUGE park, 583,000 square meters. This awesome website helps me give you a better idea of how massive the park is. For instance, It's about about 100 times the size of an American football field, about three times as big as Grand Central Station, and about nine-tenths as big as Disneyland. If you're not American, it might help you to know that it's one-and-three-tenths times as big as Vatican City, and seven-and-a-half times as big as Buckingham Palace. But I specifically wanted to revisit one small portion called Mother and Child Forest, because, last time I was there, it was a dark rainy day, and there were giant garden spiders all along the outer path. What would this forest be like on a bright, unspooky day?

Welcome to Mother and Child Forest

Welcome to Mother and Child Forest

When I reached my destination, the sun was just starting to set, and the light was perfect. The Golden Hour. What had previously been a gloomy pavilion, now looked welcoming against the colorful nature backdrop. Near the southwestern edge of the park, a low footbridge connects the gravel path to a boardwalk reminiscent of Louisiana swamp paths. To the left and the right grow a cypress grove and a stand of sequoia trees. I stood on this boardwalk in awe. The leaves glowed orange, gold, and green against the bright blue sky.

Orange cypress and green-gold sequoia against a clear blue sky

Orange cypress and green-gold sequoia against a clear blue sky

I gave a small sigh of relief that there were no spiders to be found.

And then my camera died.

At least I was able to record the colors I saw among the cypress and sequoia, so I was quite satisfied. In fact, I was delighted to have this unexpected mandatory break from technology. I walked around the rest of the park with all my senses available, and no smartphone distractions to disturb my reverie.

Exploring the rest of Shinjuku Gyoen, I walked down a lane lined with tall, vibrant golden sycamores; perused a hundred beautiful varieties of roses, finding just the right spots to catch their scents on the breeze; and studied the spectrum of color in the Japanese maples.

As I rounded one corner, I walked into an amazing moment. As the lowering sun hit a Japanese maple's tiny leaves, the light illuminated small sections, creating patches of delicious, warm color saturation among shaded branches. Some visitors eagerly photographed this, and, though I would have done so as well, I felt lucky to be among the ones quietly appreciating these raremoments with naked eyes.

Next up: A short virtual walk through the forest