When traveling there are some days when you simply need to take a break and be somewhere tranquil, near nature. Luckily there are some wonderful parks in Tokyo and one of the best is Shinjuku Gyoen, just 5-10 minutes walk due east from the south exit of Shinjuku Station.
The reason I really love this particular park is because the lawns are so well maintained, and on a nice day you can lie down on a natural carpet of freshly mown grass and watch the clouds scud by.
Shinjuku Gyoen was created from the site of a Daimyo family residence and was opened to the public in 1949. The park is 58.3 hectares (144 acres) in size and contains three formal garden areas: English, French, and Japanese. There are walkways all through the park and it's really a pleasure to emerge from one garden theme and happen upon another.
The highlight of the Japanese garden is the "kami-no ike" (upper pond), which includes ornamental bridges, carefully tended pines, tea houses, and at one end an oddly out-of-place building of Chinese influence. This is the "Kyugoryotei" (Taiwan Pavilion), which was donated by the Japanese community in Taiwan in 1927, in commemoration of the then crown prince Hirohito's wedding.
The building has a wonderful open side wall which looks out over the pond and carries you back in time to an age. The interior of the building is intricately finished with wooden lattice work, carvings, and other features.
Continuing around from the Japanese garden you come out to the English landscape area, which is highlighted by English trees and wide lawn areas. On one side is a delightful "Kyugokyusho" (Imperial rest house), which is a beautifully preserved Edwardian-style cottage built for the royals should they ever visit. It's closed most of the time, but you can get right next to the windows and peer in, to marvel at the quality of the joinery and the original float glass windows. Just down from the Imperial rest house is a huge botanical glasshouse under construction, which looks like another major point of attraction in the future.
At the rear of the park is the French formal garden and the first thing that strikes you is the plethora of rose gardens, which are in flower for most seasons. There is nothing better, in my opinion, than going around smelling each rose to see which one is most pungent, or has the freshest scent. Flanking either side of the rose gardens are alleys of trees, in the French style, with lots of park seats for visitors to while away the hours – perfect for reading a book in between business appointments...!
You may find yourself wanting to come back to Shinjuku Gyoen to recharge more than once. Just remember, though, that the park closes its gates at 16:00 and guests need to leave by 16:30. If you are later than this, then the next best thing is to hop a cab and ride down to Yoyogi Park, not much further away – and it's open 24 hours and is free.
Entry to Shinjuku Gyoen is not entirely free, but it is very reasonable. Just JPY 500 for adults, JPY 50 for school kids, and pre-schoolers (under 6) are free.