Japan Trip - Around Shinjuku, Part One

>> Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Welcome to Shinjuku, home of the busiest train station in the world, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, and more shops and restaurants than one person could ever hope to visit in one lifetime.

My trip began, again, on the Seibu line. I transfered again at Musashi Sakai, but this time passed Kichijoji to the extra five or six stops to Shinjuku. There are heaters under the seats, which was nice on this cold, cold spring day.

The Shinjuku train station is legendary, I've discovered, for its complexity. It's very easy to get lost in it--mostly because there are so many lines that come in to it, and thus so many levels. There are also about six main entrances, some of which take you out underground and deposit you a quarter of a mile away from the other side. If you leave through the wrong exit, you've got a long walk ahead of you. I knew I wanted to start on the west side of town, so I just went for the first exit that said "west" and I did okay. My plan was to go straight to the 45th floor observatory in the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. It wasn't open yet, so I walked farther on to a small park behind it, called Shinjuku Central Park.

The sakura (cherry trees) have just begun to bloom! It's been a long winter, and it's still cold here, so the cherry blossoms have been delayed a bit--which is good for me. The people of Tokyo are desperate for spring though.

I wasn't the only person out taking photographs--there were two other men out roaming the park with cameras this early in the morning.

This guy was getting his blue tarps laid out in preparation for a day of sitting under the sakura and eating and drinking. One of the teachers at ASIJ tells me the sakura watchers can get pretty blitzed, and that he saw a few ambulances called in to cart people away. That said, the revelry is supposed to be a pretty sedate affair for all the drinking. I think it was pretty darn cold to sit around in a park all day (about 40 degrees F), but to each his own! In a week or so, the sakura will be in full bloom and parks like this will be packed with blue tarps and crowded with folks ready to spend the day under the blossoms. As I blog this, the TV evening news is focusing on where the sakura are blossoming, and charting the blooming times by decade. You'd think after centuries of being obsessed by the sakura blossoms, they'd be over it by now--but no way.

With a little more time to kill, I walked around in Shinjuku's business district, where the architecture of some of the skyscrapers gets really interesting. The rocketship-like building is apparently the Mode Gakuen Cocoon Tower. What's going to pop out of that cocoon, I wonder? This?

I wonder...

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building is described as Orwellian in more than one travel guide I have. I think it looks a bit more like an Alliance cruiser from Firefly:

Whatever it reminds you of, it's imposing.

I'm playing around with the panorama setting on my new camera. I rather like the sweeping effect I got with it here. Click on the image to see it larger. This is the main plaza at the base of the government building. I visited on a Sunday morning, so it wasn't full of people. I imagine it must be on weekdays.

Near the plaza was a statue honoring the little bastards who keep me busy with my vacuum cleaner each spring: Japanese Lady Beetles. Some moron thought it'd be a great idea to import them to the US to control some other pest, and now these buggers are the pests. Don't mess with nature, people!

There was a line when I came back for the observatory. It's free to go up though, and that's about the only thing you're going to get for free in Shinjuku, so I wasn't going to miss it.

Forty five floors up there's a great observatory with a 360 degree view. There's also a cafe in the middle, and a bit of exhibition space for local art.

The views are what everyone's there for though. This is Tokyo, from Shinjuku Ward, about 9:45 in the morning on a cold spring day.

You're supposed to be able to see Mt. Fuji on a clear day, but we weren't treated to that sight this morning.

The big green spot is Shinjuku Gyoen, a public park where hanami (cherry blossom viewing) is very popular. The park was originally only for royalty. It was completely obliterated in 1945 at the end of World War II, and in 1949 the park was rebuilt and opened to the public. The park has approximately 1,500 cherry trees.

The stadium in the middle of this image is the National Olympic Stadium, built for the 1964 Summer Olympics. It's now the home of the Japanese national football (soccer) team.

Here's that park I visited before ascending to the observatory. That fellow has his blue tarps spread out under the cherry trees.

You can go up either of the two towers. Each has its own 45th floor observatory. Here are the folks who chose the other tower, peering out over the city.

And here's me, a bit backlit, and a bit too far away, but just happy to be there.

And one more panorama shot, this one catching a few sightseers along with a bit of the view. Again, click to see the image larger.

Next, I go back down and explore Shinjuku's infamous east side shopping district!


tanita davis March 31, 2010 at 6:32 AM  

MOTHRA! Oh, it's been AGES since I saw that. And yes, I'm pretty sure that cocoon building is where Mothra -- and the singing twins -- live.

I love that cherry BLOSSOMS are a bigger deal than cherries -- but the blossoms are just so lovely. I hope it warms up a bit while you're there so you can get more pictures.

Shinjuku looks fascinating!

Ron March 31, 2010 at 9:39 AM  

Really amazing. Thanks for all the great photos.

Joy March 31, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

I spent two years teaching English in Japan, so I visited Tokyo often. Of the handful of times I went up in the towers, I only saw Mt. Fuji once =) It's better close up anyway :) Did you try tonkatsu (deep fried pork cutlet) while you were there? It was one of my fav foods--and I'm not even a big pork fan :)

CL April 2, 2010 at 9:06 PM  

Yes we're all jealous of you, Alan! Mothra Rocks! Keep posting these great photos (metal beetle sculpture- that's what Asheville needs!)

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