The Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden is a gorgeous park that’s just a short walk from Shinjuku Station. There are several gardens within the space, including a formal French one, an English landscape garden, and a traditional Japanese design. While the admission fee is nominal (about $2), it helps assure that it is surprisingly quiet, with fewer visitors than parks open to the public for free. If the weather is good, consider picking up a bento from nearby Takashimaya’s depachika. Convenience stores sell plastic “blue sheets” for impromptu picnics. The only downside to this park is that it is alcohol-free; if you want to drink sake at your picnic, head down the road to Yoyogi Park.

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Escape the Crowds at Tokyo's Shinjuku Gyoen

Shinjuku Gyoen, located near Shinjuku Station, is a posh park with French, English, and Japanese gardens. The 200 yen (about $2) entrance fee keeps the park from becoming overcrowded. It’s an idyllic setting for a picnic with its sprawling lawns and views of Shinjuku’s skyscrapers. Open 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, the park is about a ten-minute walk southeast of Shinjuku Station.

Sublime Moments ot Realization

After reading a series of recent posts on Afar that say things like “travel has taught me X,Y,and Z,” I got to thinking: what has travel really “taught” me? Has it taught me to be nicer to people? More tolerant? More..."worldly” or educated? I would say no to all that. Travel hasn’t “taught” me anything. Rather, travel has gently reminded me that my attentions were focused on other things, and that as busy as I was, the world got on without me just fine, and nowhere was that more clear than in Japan. Stepping into Tokyo was my first major travel experience, and it is one I’ll never forget. I wanted to go big, and I hit the jackpot here. As a white American male of European descent, I felt like a total alien in Tokyo. Make no mistake: in Japan, outsiders stand out, and this island nation of respect and honor reminded me that nothing I had learned in life meant much of anything here. I was an outsider, plain and simple. I remember spending a few days in Tokyo and suddenly feeling the intense apprehension of culture shock, and I spent an entire day in the hotel room frozen in fear! Once I got over that, I ventured out to Shinjuku and opened my eyes to the scene (and photo) attached to this highlight. Seeing these artists in the Shinjuku Gyoen park painting familiar subjects with familiar techniques reminded me that maybe we really aren’t that different, and that appearances are really just details. Travel as a “teacher” is a myth. You are your own teacher.

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