This spring has been a little strange for Japan – March was eaten by a series of disasters we’re still dealing with, and April flew by in much the same way. The end of April and very early May, however, brought some beautiful weather and a series of national holidays referred to as “golden week”, where much of the country has a few days to an entire week of vacation.
The last month has been an attempt to return to normal here, and I think in many ways, it has worked. I’ve been out enjoying the sun and stimulating the economy as best as I can, and it’s been a very nice way to spend these spring days. The blooming of flowers in Japan follows a schedule, and many parks even have posted information regarding what time of year to come to see X flower. Shortly following the earthquake, the first park visited was Furukawa-tei in Komagome, an English-style rose garden with a little Japanese influence. At that time, the ume (plum blossoms) were showing their colors in pinks and whites. It was a nice way to remember that life goes on, despite what had happened up north.
The next park visited was a few weeks later, at the tail end of hanami season, which was sadly, much less fun this year than expected. Government requested that people show “self-restraint” regarding their yearly hanami parties as a gesture of politeness to those affected by the earthquake in northeastern Japan. While I can understand the sentiment to some degree, it seems to make more sense to get out of the house and stop using electricity for a few hours (like everyone has been trying to do) rather than sit glued to a TV waiting for news. Regardless, I did not participate in any hanami parties this year, just took in the cherry blossom trees in parks on my way to work.
This park is Korakuen, in central Tokyo. It’s a Japanese style garden built right next to Tokyo dome, which provides some interesting background noise at times from cheering baseball fans or other events, but the day was very nice. Some of the cherry blossoms were even still going at this point in time, though certainly on their way out of bloom.
Today, May 4th (may the 4th be with you, haha, I know, fellow star wars nerds), was “midori no hi” or “green day” or “greenery day”, whatever you want to translate it as. Regardless, this is supposed to be a day to go out and celebrate nature and greenery. I had completely forgotten about this until I arrived at my destination, a park in Shinjuku near my home. Shinjuku Gyoen (Shinjuku Park) is only about a 10 minute walk from my apartment. I woke up on Wednesday, the national holiday, and saw the weather was beautiful, so after breakfast and a coffee, headed out for the park. Of course, seven million Japanese people had the same idea I did.
I love the area surrounding Shinjuku Gyoen – there are tons of cool shops and restaurants with outdoor seating and funky, interesting stuff. Its proximity to my apartment is one of the reasons I chose to live where I do now.
Shinjuku Gyoen is a huge park in the middle of Shinjuku. It’s a 58.3 hectacre (144 acre) park done in a combination of styles – Japanese, French, and English. I walked around every inch of the park over the course of about an hour and a half, enjoying the beautiful sunshine and people watching.
These were pretty much the only thing in the park that was a bright purple against an almost sea of green. Grandmothers and men with zoom lenses were pushing their way up to these flowers to take their picture. I, thus, decided to be a jerk too and take a picture:
A Chinese style building at the back of the park:
Spotted this guy as I walked down the path:
Other influences besides Japanese are evident throughout the park – some pinks and lighter color shrubs are near the back of the park. This area had a very Alice in Wonderland feel about it. Minus all the Japanese people, anyway.
The whole park is beautiful, and the contrasting styles keep it interesting. I was in no rush, and spent a good portion of my afternoon relaxing here.
As I mentioned before, this park is right in the middle of Shinjuku, arguably the heart of the beast that is metropolitan Tokyo. You can see some of the buildings in the background of this photo. Amazingly, however, the sounds of the city disappear while you’re inside the park. It’s easy to forget where you are while you’re wandering around these grounds.
Expansive lawns leave plenty of space for family and friends to play. Shinjuku Gyoen restricts activities that other parks do not – there’s even usually a 400 yen admission fee for adults to visit. The pamphlet available at the entrance states that no alcohol is to be brought onto the grounds (yes, drinking in public is allowed in Japan), no lights/lanterns, no tripods for your cameras, no smoking, no music, no pets, no bicycles, and no sports equipment. Whew. Big list. Regardless of this, families and friends still visit the park to play, chat, and nap in the sun.
Japan seems to have done a good job of celebrating greenness today, at least from what I saw. It’s evident spring is in full swing, which means that summer is right around the corner (ugh). Bare legs now appear more and more often on both men and women not just to be fashionable, but because the days are also getting warmer. Today I watched people relaxing and having what I think was a much needed vacation. Even the vigilantly beautiful Japanese girls went for a walk in the sun. I sat on the grass near two young women who had kicked off their heels and nice sweaters to play catch with a shiny pink makeup bag. Today was a day for us to do the human equivalent of a lizard basking in the sun.
For all the reputation Japan has for being stoic, there was no shortage of cheery faces at the park today, and it was infectious. After my long walk around the park, I sat barefoot in the grass and remembered: these are the moments life is really all about.