Tokyo Dreaming II – The Gardens of Tokyo ft. Yasukuni Shrine and Ueno Park

Sleeping man and bird, Ueno Park, Tokyo

Sleeping man and bird, Ueno Park, Tokyo

As a huge sprawling metropolis, Tokyo is a giant theatre of the sights and sounds of modern life – huge modern skyscrapers towering over workers rushing to work in the early mornings, the never ending sounds of footsteps on gravel, the blaring horns of traffic and the sound of hundreds of trains arriving and departing on a clockwork schedule on the busy subways of Tokyo.

Shinjuku Gyoen, a big sprawling area of greenery in the heart of busy Shinjuku offers many sculptured theme gardens - this is the Taiwanese Pavilion.

Shinjuku Gyoen, a big sprawling area of greenery in the heart of busy Shinjuku offers many sculptured theme gardens – this is the Taiwanese Pavilion.

Boating along the scenic Chidorifaguchi River during Cherry Blossom season

Boating along the scenic Chidorifaguchi River during Cherry Blossom season

For such a densely populated city where housing prices are sky high, one can still find quiet sanctuaries of tranquility within the many parks and gardens of Tokyo – such public parks and spaced of greenery are amazingly well kept and maintained, and provide natural beauty and quietness, places of refuge from the crowds and the ills of modern city life, centres of meditation from the stress of daily living.

Shinjuku Gyoen offers a quiet place of refuge from city life.

Shinjuku Gyoen offers a quiet place of refuge from city life.

A walk in the park - at Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo

A walk in the park – at Shinjuku Gyoen, Tokyo

During my first solo trip to Tokyo, because of the highly unplanned nature of my trip, I did not realized it was cherry blossom season (I booked the flight only 1.5 weeks before the actual flight) until my good friend CK made it a point to remind me to visit. Since that amazing first sight of the Sakura flowers, I’ve been going back to these gardens and parks every trip, soaking in the tranquil calm of these public parks. I was never a nature person but I’m a convert after that first trip to Ueno Park in April of 2012.

In this post, I will attempt to briefly introduce Yasukuni Shrine and Ueno Park, with pictures of course. The next few posts will feature other gardens as it’s a bit too much to fit all into one post!

Yasukuni Shrine

2 women in front of Yasukuni Shrine

2 women in front of Yasukuni Shrine

Spring time portends a time of new beginnings, a season of refreshing where we acknowledge the passing away of old things, and herald the beginning of the new, and nowhere is the marking of this passage of change more evident than the much loved and watched phenomenon in Tokyo known as a the blooming of cherry blossoms, or “Sakura”, as this species of flowers under the trees of the genus of Prunus.

The representative Sakura tree in Yasukuni Shrine

The representative Sakura tree in Yasukuni Shrine

In Tokyo, the beginning of the cherry blossom season is a media event, marked by the observation of first blooming of Tokyo’s representative tree, housed inside the Yasukuni Shrine. With cameras and media on hand, once the first flowers bloomed on this tree, the sakura season is declared open and hanami party goes (hanami is the traditional practice of picnicking under cherry blossom trees for a time of fellowship and communal admiration of the sakura flowers).

Visitors walking down a sakura tree-lined avenue in Yasukuni Shrine

Visitors walking down a sakura tree-lined avenue in Yasukuni Shrine

This year, the season started on the 16th of March 2013, much earlier than usual, and with this in mind, (as well as the continuation of my Tokyo Street series), I woke up one morning and decided I wanted to go back to Tokyo again. One week later, I was on a Delta Airlines flight heading towards Narita airport. Living in ever sunny (and rainy) Singapore, the concept of Spring is an alien concept, so I feel a sense of excitement and exhiliration as I travelled to various parts of Tokyo to witness the beauty of the cherry blossom season and hanami parties this year and experience this uniquely Japanese phenomenon again after my initial Sakura viewing in April of 2012.

Prayers at Yasukuni Shrine. This altar is for honoring the wall dead, and is the controversial shrine honoring Japanese generals of World War II visited by the previous Japan Prime Minister.

Prayers at Yasukuni Shrine. This altar is for honoring the war dead, and is the controversial shrine honoring Japanese generals of World War II visited by the previous Japan Prime Minister.

One year on, and even as I was recovering from certain events in my life, the Sakura still speaks to me of renewal, and it is in this mood that I visited Koishikawa Korakuen, one of the oldest gardens in Japan, the moats of Chidorifaguchi, Yasukuni shrine,  Shinjuku Gyoen (about 20 minutes walk from my hotel) and the ever popular Ueno Park.

Ueno Park

Tourists traipsing down the Sakura tree-lined avenues of Ueno Park

Tourists traipsing down the Sakura tree-lined avenues of Ueno Park

I was by now thorough familiar with the rail system of Tokyo, and found that I could get to these places fairly effortlessly, even if many of them are places I’ve visited for the first time. I consider this trip my “Cherry Blossom” pilgrimage, one which I think I will be making every year, such is the beauty of the flowers, the attraction of walking in serenity under the over-arching branches of the cherry trees, and the lure of the cool, temperate weather of Tokyo during the season. I also enjoyed seeing the hanami parties (cherry blossom picnics and sakura flower viewing sessions) though I have yet to sit down at one of them!

Hanami parties are everywhere during Sakura season in Ueno Park.

Hanami parties are everywhere during Sakura season in Ueno Park.

An early morning jogger at Ueno Park

An early morning jogger at Ueno Park

A beautiful reflection off Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park

A beautiful reflection off Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park

Ueno Park is perhaps the most well known of the cherry blossom spots, and the classic scene of sakura tree-lined avenues of this park has occupied the dreams and imaginations of many outside of Japan, Conveniently located next to Ueno station along the JR Yamanote line, this park also features 2 giant scenic lakes – one of which is Shinobazu pond, home to many flying birds.

A bird takes off from the railing surrounding Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park

A bird takes off from the railing surrounding Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park

Next to Shinobazu Pond, the duck pond offers opportunity for boating.

Next to Shinobazu Pond, the duck pond offers opportunity for boating.

 

The magnificent cherry blossom trees are a sight to behold.

The magnificent cherry blossom trees are a sight to behold.

Bird watching or people watching?

Bird watching or people watching?

Being a man-made park Ueno Park also houses the Ueno zoo, plus other attractions like museums, though I didn’t visit the zoo during my past 2 trips there – I wanted to get as much out of the cherry blossoms as possible. I was also fascinated at the many photographic opportunities as man interacted with nature in this enclosed space of green.

Kids ferried in what looks like a giant sized trolley in Ueno Park. This certainly looks like a convenient way to bring kids around!

Kids ferried in what looks like a giant sized trolley in Ueno Park. This certainly looks like a convenient way to bring kids around!

Saying grace before food - I believe they are Filipinos. Ueno Park has a large influx of foreign tourists every cherry blossom season.

Saying grace before food – I believe they are Filipinos. Ueno Park has a large influx of foreign tourists every cherry blossom season.

Three young men preparing for a hanami gathering. Such cherry blossom viewing picnics are popular among the Japanese every Sakura season.

Three young men preparing for a hanami gathering. Such cherry blossom viewing picnics are popular among the Japanese every Sakura season.

You can see more pictures from Ueno Park at my Flickr set.

You may also be interested in my previous post which is part 1 of these series –  Tokyo Dreaming – The Complete Series Part 1.

My next post in this Japanese garden series will feature Shinjuku Gyoen and Chidorifaguchi River. Stay tuned!!!!!

Edit: I’ve now put up Part 3 of Tokyo Dreaming – The Complete Series, featuring more street photography. The Japanese garden series will probably come later on Part 4! Enjoy!

6 comments for “Tokyo Dreaming II – The Gardens of Tokyo ft. Yasukuni Shrine and Ueno Park

  1. December 10, 2013 at 23:11

    WoW David, super envious, I love all the Sakura photos !
    If the kids are not tagging along, I can easily spend 3D2N roaming the parks 🙂

    cheers, Andy
    (SengkangBabies)

    • December 11, 2013 at 16:11

      You should go visit this coming April!!! 🙂

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