Today is our last full day in Tokyo before we depart for Hanoi tomorrow morning at 5am (bleh). So far, Mark and I are halfway through our big Asia trip with our friends Chow and Annie. We started in Shanghai where we stuffed ourselves with an endless amount of dumplings in a span of 3 days, before jetting off to Tokyo as our second stop. The past week was everything we could have asked for; we met new friends, shared drinks and hazy memories, and ate well beyond the limits of comfort. In terms of the Tokyo bucket list, it had seemed we had done everything we had set out to do; well, almost everything, we still had a Shinjuku Gyoen engagement to shoot.
Flashback to 3 weeks ago. It was a Sunday when Chow first called me. He told me that he was planning on proposing to Annie in Japan and he was hoping that I could help take photos. Needless to say, being the hopeless romantic I am, I squealed nonstop for a good 5 mins and nearly shouted, “YES! OF COURSE!” After that, we devised a plan on how it would all go down. Chow mentioned that he wanted to propose to Annie under a cherry blossom tree. Naturally, me being me, my brain went into overdrive thinking about the details.
When are the cherry blossoms going to bloom? Which park are we going to go to? We have to find the perfect tree ahead of time. What time of day should we go? There’s always so many tourists, we have to go early! What’s the weather going to be like? Will it be sunny? Should Mark and I break from the group and scout out a spot first? Should we hide and meet them there? Or should we go with them?
But before I fully plunged myself down the rabbit hole, Chow brought me down to earth and simply said, “I don’t want you to spend your vacation having to look around, we can just scout the day of and walk around. I was just going to do it wherever I found a good spot.” Whew. Ok. That sounds good.
In the end, we decided on this. After doing some google research, I found that Shinjuku Gyoen engagement would best because they had the most prominent blooms. Then I would reach out to Chow and Annie before the trip and ask if I could do a “couples portrait session” with them under the cherry blossoms. We would go early in the morning, find a tree we were happy with, and start shooting. I would start posing them as I normally would, before telling them to turn their backs to each other. Then, unbeknownst to Annie, Chow would get down on one knee and I would tell them both to turn around and Annie would look down and see him. It’s going to be perfect.
Fast forward back to today. The plan is to be out the door by 8:15 am, take the subway, and arrive at the Shinjuku National Garden right when it opens at 9 am. Before we got ready to head out the door, Chow informed me that Annie didn’t bring any dress clothes for the shoot. That was probably my fault. I purposely didn’t tell Annie to dress up for the shoot because I was worried it would come off too obvious. Oops!
A few minutes later, Annie knocks on my door and apologizes for not bringing any clothes. I felt so awful because I didn’t want her to feel bad at all, especially not today of all days! In the end, I gave her some of my dresses to try on but she ended up wearing a long black dress she brought. Either way, she looked effortlessly beautiful, perfect for a Shinjuku Gyoen engagement shoot!
We head out the door a bit later than planned but still on track to be at the park a little after 9. We make our way towards the subway station where we plan to meet our friend Jacquie, who was coming along to help. One thing to note: subway stations in Tokyo have like 6 different exits that are blocks away from each other. After 15 mins of waiting and searching, we finally find each other and we end up arriving at the park at 10 am instead.
As expected, there are TONS of people everywhere. I tried not to let it show, but inside I was so stressed out. It was so tough to not worry about finding the perfect tree and finding a bunch of people around it. And what if I missed the shot? I was worried about Annie turning around before Chow got down on one knee.
As we strolled around the park, we noticed that every tree was surrounded by hordes of people; all except one. It wasn’t perfectly pink, but it was fully blossomed and beautiful nonetheless. I look over at Chow and he tells the group, “this looks like a good tree” and that was my signal that it was go-time. We make our way towards the tree and set up. Chow sneakily takes the ring box out of his backpack and shoves it into his back pocket.
As I start posing them, I could tell that everyone was waiting for my cue. Annie seemed innocently unaware of what was going on, yet super focused on following my directions with the poses. During the session, we had a few close calls where Annie almost touched the ring box in Chow’s back pocket. Chow would jerk away slightly and we would quickly change to the next pose.
But finally, it was the moment of truth. I tell Chow and Annie to turn their backs away from each other. Annie looks at me confused for a second, but turns around anyways, and looks up at the blossoms in the tree. Chow slowly gets down on one knee and I tell Annie to turn around.She turns around and looks down.
Everyone’s quiet. We all listen for Chow to say the words, but the only sound that could be heard was the sound of the trees branches swaying in the warm wind. Annie begins to cry and I start to tear up behind the camera as well. Chow didn’t ask her the question and she didn’t say the word yes. Because she didn’t have to. They both just knew. She nods her head and Chow gets up, slips the ring on Annie’s finger, he hugs her and they kiss. Mission accomplished!
To our dear friends Chow & Annie, thank you SO much for allowing us to be a part of this beautiful moment. You two are such kind, caring, and incredible people individually, but you’re even stronger and better when you’re together. We’re so thankful to have you guys in our lives and we can’t wait to be there for you again when you tie the knot!
Shinjuku Gyoen Engagement | Annie + Chow
If you’re interested in doing an international engagement session, check out my travel bucket list to see which places I’m dying to go to next! Travel fees may be negotiable.