Springtime in Shinjuku

{ Japan April 2010 - Day 2 - Shinjuku, Tokyo }

Actually, springtime in any places in Japan would mean that the people awaits for the first sakura tree to bloom. There were forecasts and detailed reports of the percentages of bloom and the best places to watch sakura. They even have a phrase for that - hanami 花見 - which literally means flower watching. As the cherry blossom, or sakura as it is called in Japan, blooms only for a week or two, everyone watches the forecast closely in preparation for hanami.

So, we were extremely lucky to plan our holiday in Japan just at the right time this year. The sakura started blooming less than a week before we were there, and it was in full bloom by the time we were there. After 7 hours of flight, and lugging our luggage and taking the train for almost 2 hours to travel from the Narita Airport to Yokohama where my brother's place was, we rested for the night and decided to join visit Shinjuku Gyoen the next day for hanami. Only we didn't know that the rest of Tokyo were planning the same thing.

Once we got to Shinjuku station, we could just follow the crowd to the direction of Shinjuku Gyoen - a huge park which was a favourite hanami spot for the locals. There were queues outside the park and lots of people having a picnic under the sakura trees. Luckily the park was huge and it did not feel as crowded as it looked. The park should be pretty spacious if it wasn't for the sakura.

We could easily see why the Japanese love to go there during springtime. The flowers were blooming all around the well-kept garden, with many varieties of the cherry blossoms and many other flowers.

After we found an opening under a sakura tree, we spread out our picnic cloth and lay out our food. Our simple bento with sushi and desserts paled in comparison with feast prepared and enjoyed by the locals. However, it was great being there, knowing that it would be pretty unlikely that my next trip to Japan would coincide exactly with the time when the sakura is in full bloom. We continued walking around the park after lunch, enjoying the beautiful flowers, gardens and lake all around. 

We continued walking around the Shinjuku area after leaving the park. Shinjuku has many shopping centres including the huge Isetan departmental store (below).

And, of course, when in Japan, you have to snap a photo of Hello Kitty!

After spending some time walking around the shopping area (but not buying anything), we took the train heading towards Roppongi Hills.

That, however, would be in another post.

::: Footnotes :::

{ How to get to Tokyo } Many airlines fly directly to Narita Airport from Singapore and other countries. From Narita Airport, you can take the Narita Express or other standard trains to Tokyo or Yokohama.

{ Getting around } Trains and subways are the most convenient public transportation in Tokyo. While it may be daunting when you first look at the railway map, the sheer number of lines mean that you can get to almost anywhere in Tokyo on the train. Hyperdia is an extremely good website to search for possible train routes. If you plan to travel around Japan, you should get a Japan Rail Pass, especially if you plan to take the Shinkansen (bullet train) to another city. The Japan Rail Pass can only be purchased outside of Japan and is only valid for foreign tourist.

{ Shinjuku Gyoen 新宿御苑 } We walked to the garden from the Shinjuku Station. Refer to this website for other ways to get there. It is opened from 9am to 4.30pm everyday, except Monday. Admission costs 200 yen. 

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