Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑) in Tokyo is one of the most recommended spots for cherry blossom viewing. It’s not only wide and spacious, being a nice place to go even during the most crowded times but the park also has many different species of cherry blossoms that bloom with different timing so there’s cherry blossoms to see for longer period of time than in many other parks.
I visited this park a few days ago. Some trees were in full bloom already but many were not and I realized that I was a bit early. It was still very beautiful.
Upon entering the park, I made sure to pick up a map of the park. As Shinjuku Gyoen is one of the largest parks in Tokyo, you might want to plan your route with a map instead of just walking around. If you just walk around pointlessly you’ll easily miss some places in this park with the size of almost 60ha. I picked up a Japanese map myself but you can ask staff for the English map. If you are going to the park just for the cherry blossoms, you’ll do fine with Japanese map as well though: just look for the pictures of flowers.
As you can see looking at the picture above, the park was very crowded even though it was a morning. Many Japanese children and students have their spring holidays colliding with cherry blossom season which is why parks will be full of visitors even during the usual work or school hours.
One thing I found interesting when I first came to Japan was the fact that many Japanese people seemed to have their picnics in the shadows, not in direct sunlight. I wondered if it was because of food getting spoiled faster but apparently the main reason is avoiding getting a tan. Having never been a tan of myself, this is something I do like but I many of my foreign friends indeed find it weird, especially since it’s often still pretty chilly here during cherry blossom season.
Shinjuku Gyoen has three different gardens: English landscape garden, French formal garden and Japanese traditional garden. English landscape garden is, in my honest opinion, usually not too special being only a big open field with some trees around but it’s very beautiful when cherry blossoms are blooming. It’s also a nice place for picnics as there’s a lot of space and it’s often sunny.
While English garden was unusually beautiful and Japanese traditional garden also at its glory, French garden apparently isn’t at its best in April.
Is Shinjuku Gyoen worth visiting?
Definitely yes. I’m not sure if it is the the absolute best place for cherry blossom viewing but offering a wide variety of different cherry blossom species for only a few hundred yen, I think it’s worth it. It’s also a very nice park to visit outside the cherry blossom season. I found it particularly beautiful in summer whereas in winter the scenery was a little sad.
What you should take into accord is that even though the park is very wide and large, offering space for a very large amount of people, it will get crowded.
I went to see cherry blossoms in a weekday, entering the park before 11am in the morning but the situation at the gates was already like in the above picture: horribly crowded. I lined up for more than half an hour just to buy tickets. I would strongly recommend buying tickets in advance if you’re planning on visiting the park during the season of sakura. You should also come to park early if you want to secure a nice spot for picnic.
Shinjuku Gyoen also has somewhat strict rules that make it unsuitable for a bit “wilder” hanami picnics. You aren’t allowed to bring alcoholic beverages to the park and your bags will be checked upon entrance. Playing ball games or playing with frisbee is also forbidden. You are also not allowed to play music and the park will close before dark.
What you can do though is look at the incredibly beautiful cherry blossoms, take some amazing pictures and enjoy lunch in an unbelievably beautiful environment. I would probably go to Shinjuku Gyoen in the morning or in the afternoon and then head to some other park for another hanami picnic.
For those planning a visit
Access: A few minutes walk from Shinjuku Station. Can also be reached from Sendagaya or Shinjukugyoenmae Station.
Opening hours: 9am-16:30pm (last entry at 16pm), everyday during cherry blossom season and during the season of autumn leaves, otherwise closed on Mondays.
You can also check the official site for the latest information.