F An imperial oasis in busy Shinjuku - jeepneyjinggoy

An imperial oasis in busy Shinjuku


CONSIDER your first glimpse of Japan from above a blessing, and the first lesson about the country's culture.

Japan's panoramic view through the plane's peephole is extraordinary-manicured patches of green, wide verdant pastures with seemingly orchestrated components, nothing is off. If a first-time visitor's thoughts bear any apprehensions, the calming view will erase them. I speak from experience.

Verdant & manicured, nothing is off.  A bird's eye-view of Narita, Japan. 

The reverence for nature is deeply rooted in the Japanese culture. This is the influence of Shintoism, an ancient spirituality primarily based on deeds rather than creeds. Kami-no-michi, or Shinto, places importance in nature, purity and tranquility, and one of its four affirmations is "Love of nature"-- nature is sacred, to be in contact with nature is to be in contact with the gods.

Knowing this, it was not surprising to me that even in the highly urbanized, modern day Japan where every square inch of land is precious, gardens share equal space with the skyscrapers. The natural green provides a stark but calming contrast to the man-made grey.

Amidst Shinjuku's trade and commerce is an oasis where the world-weary businessmen escape to - the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden. 

Considered to be one of the most important gardens from the Meiji era, it blends the three distinct styles of the French formal garden, English landscape garden and Japanese traditional garden in a 58.3-hectare expanse. The property it sits on used to belong to a feudal lord, a daimyo of the Edo era, Lord Naito.


It was the imperial garden for the royalty in the early century. It took four years to implement before it was completed in 1906 and no less than the Emperor Meiji was present during the its opening.

Sadly, war destroyed the garden in 1945. Soon enough, the garden was rebuilt and reopened to the public on May 21, 1949 as "National Park Shinjuku Imperial Gardens." In January 2001, it came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Environment, and "Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden" became its official name.


With horticultural work being conducted in the greenhouses since 1892, Shinjuku Gyoen's present greenhouse complex stocks more than 2,400 species of tropical and subtropical plants on permanent display. The towering Himalayan cedars, cypresses, tulip trees and other plane trees that were first planted in Japan in the Imperial Gardens are among the 20,000 trees that grow in Shinjuku Gyoen.

But clearly the most popular are the cherry trees and the famous Sakura, Japan's unofficial national flower. The garden has more than a thousand cherry tree varieties that bloom on separate, but continuous period, -- the Shidare or Weeping Cherry in late March, the Somei or Tokyo Cherry into April and the Kanzan Cherry towards late April. It is due to the "long" Sakura period, thanks to the early and late blooming trees, that Shinjuku Gyoen has become favorite and recommended spot for the hanami, the traditional cherry blossom viewing.

Shinjuku Gyoen is a favorite & recommended spot for the hanami, the traditional cherry blossom viewing.

Shinjuku Gyoen National Park provides solace to those who seek it. The soft hues of the cherry blossoms in spring, the viridescence of summer, the golden shades of autumn or the pristine white of winter, the rich colors of the park can be stimulating as well as relaxing. Perhaps most importantly, it is the Japanese reverence to nature that makes the Universe give back the energy that rejuvenates the citizens of this commerce driven metropolis, no matter the stature, no matter the season.


Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on July 07, 2011.