Bolstered by the large and eventful breakfast, which I wrote about here, and visiting Tokyo in Crimson Leaves Season, we were keen to explore a traditional garden, on our first day in Japan. At the top of our list was the Gyoen National Garden, a green oasis that is completely amidst the busiest commercial district in Shinjuku, Tokyo.
Background of Gyoen
Originally a residence for one of Japan’s feudal Lord during the Edo period, the Gyoen National Garden fell under the control of the Imperial family in the twentieth century. Although much of the garden was then destroyed during World War II; you would never know it, as Gyoen is nothing short of a tranquil, well tended masterpiece of Japanese horticulture.
With the NTT Docomo building towering stoically above Gyoen’s tree line like an old world Imperial Guard, it is easy to remember the Shinjuku-Shibuya metropolis is never far away. However, the hard concrete lines of modernity are significantly softened by the more natural lines of the leafy foliage and traditional Japanese garden fixtures.
The Gyoen Guide Map offers us the chance to fully comprehend the scale of the park and orientates ourselves to ensure we see all the individual gardens and differing botanical features contained therein. Entrance, (with guide map in English), costs 200 Japanese Yen.
We don’t want to miss anything!
The small fee we pay to enter the garden is truly value for money, as the day we visit there is also a special floral display of cultivated chrysanthemums, which attracts the attention of many Japanese citizens.
Light rain only enhances the organic beauty around us, as the raindrops linger on the leaves. This delights my daughter as it makes for excellent photographic opportunities.
And we have the ubiquitous, clear-plastic umbrella to shield us. Very Japanese.
“Maple trees can be seen in large numbers around the Japanese garden and Momijiyama (maple mountain) on the [Gyoen] park’s eastern side. The colors typically appear from mid November to mid December. “
Tokyo Tourist Guide
Our arrival is a week or so early to see the majority of crimson leaves in Tokyo, for the temperatures are unusually warm. Despite this, I find the trees are magical and remind me of a medieval Northern forest, or a scene from a Lord of the Rings novel.
The carp pond
No Japanese garden could be complete without a Carp pond – and Gyoen has one.
Again the city reminds you it’s not far too away.
Autumn avenue awesomeness
However, for this sub-tropical Australian resident, the ultimate heavenly experience is yet to come when I discover the avenue of Sycamore trees, a feast for local photographers. It is such a delight for me. I truly am in awe of these trees and their burst of colour.
This is Autumnal earth, resplendent in shades of sienna, brown, rust, bright yellow and green, all coalescing in an intense and harmonious collection of wholesome organic beauty.
The child in me wanted to run and kick up the fallen leaves, throw them in the air, rake them into a pile and jump on top of them. An Autumnal experience that exists only in my dreams.
Never before had I seen an avenue of trees that captivated me in such a way and I didn’t want to leave. [You have to remember we don’t have such deciduous trees in my home zone, so I’m super excited.]
Reluctantly, after several hours exploring and a gazillion photographs taken, we walk towards the park’s Sendagaya gate and find yet another magical path through the trees.
Gyoen National Garden – A perfect spot to sit and ‘Ponder About Something.’
Think of Japan, and what comes to mind? The perfect symmetry of Mt Fuji, the controlled calm of a Tea Ceremony, Kimonos, or Sushi? Japan is all that and more. This East meets West paradigm can be a place of extreme contrasts, as we found out not long after settling in to our hotel in Shinjuku, west of Tokyo.
With 20 tracks and 12 train links, Shinjuku Railway station is the busiest railway station in the world. Each day, up to 3.5 million commuters pass through its gates.
Given the vast metropolis that surrounds them, Japanese are fortunate to
have a green oasis Shinjuku Chuo Park, a few steps away.
This tribute to Zen incorporates gardens, a children’s, playground, waterfall and contrastingly – smoking cabins!
As I walked through this delightful park, I thought the smoking cabins seemed counter-intuitive to the objective of tranquility and Zen. Yet that did appear to be the objective of not only, the Tai Chi group, but also the gentleman playing the bamboo flute. (Even with the slight off key notes). This is Japan!
Again, we found it hard to believe another world was around the corner. What a contrast.
And if that wasn’t enough of a contrast, for us, we were about to discover the Pachinko phenomenon.
Pachinko MADNESS – What is it?
To the novice, Pachinko parlours are without doubt, a full on assault to the senses, bordering on sensory overload. But if Ikebana and Shinto Shrines are where Zen reaches its ‘zenith,’ Pachinko parlours must represent the flip side as leisure pursuits.
Pachinko parlours are full of loud, colourful and very noisy fantasy games. By day or night, grown men, mostly wearing suits, obsessively shove thousands of tiny beads into the hungry mouths of their electronic fantasy machines. Here is a taster: –
Not familiar with Pachinko? That might be because, to my knowledge, the game is purely a Japanese phenomenon.
As Gambling for cash is restricted to horse racing in Japan, the Japanese play for tiny beads, which can be exchanged for cards or tokens, redeemable at a separate location. At least, I think that is how they play it. To me these grown men were terribly reminiscent of teenage boys addicted to W.O.W or Fortnite! Crrrazzyy…
Thinking it is a harmless pastime of little consequence? Think again. “In 2015, Japan’s Pachinko market generates more gambling revenue than that of Las Vegas, Macau and Singapore combined.”
The Pachinko Parlour at the Shinjuku Washington Hotel operates seven days a week from 10 – 2300, and boasts 500 seats and a SMOKING section!
Note: Smoking in public places in Australia has been banned for many years and to do so immediately relegates one to some back alley or rooftop alcove, usually beside large air-conditioning units, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that the Pachinko parlour lists the smoking room as one of their assets!