top of page
  • Shelley Dark

19. Gyoen and Ginza

Each morning for breakfast we've had a table at the window looking at the fabulous view over Tokyo. Today we had this dinky little alcove instead.

We thought we'd be at Shinjuku Gyoen Park at opening time this morning before the crowds descended. It's one of Tokyo's best, and it's quite near the Park Hyatt.

photo courtesy Wikmedia commons

This good-looking chap (I can say that with the safety of a few centuries between us) is shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He gave a huge tract of land, including this area, to one of his loyal lords in 1590. It was lucky he did, because had he not, it may never have become this wonderful botanical garden.

By 1872 it was being used as experimental land for primary production, and in 1879 became the Shinjuku Imperial Botanical Garden under the control of the Emperor.

photo courtesy Wikmedia commons

Between 1902 and 1906, it was landscaped to the design of the French landscaper Henri Martine, who was working at Versailles. Although its name changed to Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden, it continued to supply street trees for Tokyo, including cuttings and seeds of sycamores and tulip trees (liriodendrons).

I was glad Ange had the opportunity to see these cherry trees at their peak - there are 1500 of them - ornamental white and pink-flowering. They're later-flowering cultivars than the ones John and I saw at the beginning of the trip - this park is a good option for sakura viewing from mid to late April. Did I tell you there's even a word for cherry blossom viewing? It's called hanami.

The cerise, pink, purple and orange azalea bushes are trimmed to pudding shapes, and at this time of the year are quite dazzling. Or if you're like me, it's a bit of a shocking visual explosion in the landscape.

During an air raid in 1945, the whole garden was destroyed and the buildings burned down. Unfortunately Martine's original drawings were destroyed too.

Except for the magnificent Taiwan pavilion (kyūgoryōtei) which survived the disaster. It was designed by the architect, Matsunosuke Moriyama. In 1927 Taiwan, under Japanese rule, donated it to Emperor Showa (Hirohito) on the occasion of his marriage.

Doesn't it provide just the perfect frame to view the garden? It's built in Minnan style which originated in the Fujian province of southern China. Reinforcing and repairs have improved its earthquake stability. I was absolutely (I keep thinking absorootry) blown away by the floor tiles, and the woodwork at the roofline. Aren't they just breath-taking?

There's one of these stone ornaments at either side of the entry door. I'm assuming that it represents a ball balancing on water, perhaps as a reference to zen life balance, but I'm only guessing. Would love to know.

There are English and French areas, but we were mostly interested in the Japanese stroll garden. These little cuties were flowering in a wooded area.

While we were wandering along a path in a little meadow of wild flowers, Ange said 'look there's a tiny little bird!' It turned out to be the red-bodied swallowtail butterfly or pachliopta hector for the lepidopterists among you. Oh ok, you're right, I've never heard of a pachliopta or lepidopterist until tonight. -:)

Recognise the telecommunications building we see at breakfast?

There is one area called the Mother and Child forest - I wonder why?

I think these are huge catfish, expecting to be fed.

The fresh lime-ness of the maples looks wonderful with a dark green shady background.

A school excursion was happening which explains all the school bags - I think the grass hasn't recovered from the constant hanami picnic-rugging and trampling feet, because we've been told there has been plenty of rain to green things up.

The scale of some of those cherry trees is rather amazing.

There have been some wonderful school uniforms - don't you love the little upturned hats?

The Japanese maple foliage is made even more stunning by the dark trunks and branches.

White dogwoods out everywhere. They're used extensively as a street tree here.