If there is one thing I love to do while in Japan it is to visit gardens, preferably the older Japanese traditional ones. When I first stepped fot in Tokyo, in 2010, one of my first outings was to one of Tokyo's oldest gardens: Koishikawa Korakuen. Even though my first visit there was in early spring, when most things are not yet in bloom or even green, it sparked an interest in Japanese gardens that have meant that I always try to visit at least one garden whenever I'm somewhere new and it still makes me visit this particular garden quite often.
Some of Tokyo's parks are very popular amongst tourists and most guides recommend visiting the tree big ones: Shinjuky Gyoen, Yoyogi Koen and Ueno Koen. Although these parks are well worth a visit I prefer, and highly recommend, a visit to one of Tokyo's traditional gardens. The difference here, between park and garden, is that most parks are covering large areas with different types of scenery and are free to visit (except for Shinjuku Gyoen) while gardens are smaller, better landscaped and cared for and often have a long history. To enter a garden you usually have to pay somewhere between ¥150- ¥500.
My favorite garden in Tokyo, where I always take friends and family who come to Tokyo. Koishikawa Korakuen was founded in the early 17th century by the Tokugawa clan, which makes it one of the oldest gardens in Tokyo. It is also one of the most beautiful, especially during cherry blossom season (hanami) in late March early April and during autumn colors in November-December. Because of this, however, it is well visited during peak seasons so getting here quite early in the day to beat the crowds is a tip. Koishikawa Korakuen features a large pond, breathtaking cherry trees, a rice paddy and iris field, an inner garden, a full moon bridge and a beautiful vermillion wooden bridge. And lots of strolling paths. It is not uncommon to come across bird watchers, waiting for a perfect photo, by the large pond. I have visited this garden in almost every season and it never disappoints me. If you are feeling hungry or in the mood for Japanese tea, there is a beautiful tea house serving Japanese bento boxes and tea for a really reasonable price just by the entrance Entrance fee: ¥300
Just along Tokyo bay, surrounded by skyscrapers in downtown Tokyo, this Edo period (1603-1868) garden was first used as duck hunting grounds and the now beautifully landscaped garden was established later on. It is a perfect garden for strolling and the big open lawns and flower fields are perfect for relaxing during your Tokyo stay (just make sure to follow the garden rules, usually posted by the entrance and in the garden pamphlet). Here you can enjoy plum blossoms quite early in the year and Hamarikyu is a great place to view Japanese wisteria and peonies in late April. Just by the entrance stands an 300 year old pine which is very impressive. The pond is connected to the bay which makes it rise and fall with the ebb and flow of the tide, and there is a waterbus landing within the garden. By the pond you can find a large tea house with seats both inside and out on the deck, where you can take in the garden views while sipping on a cup of perfectly brewed green tea. Entrance fee: ¥300
A little further away from the downtown of Shinjuku or Chiyoda (central Tokyo) you will find Rikugien garden, often said to be the most beautiful Japanese landscape garden (together with Koishikawa Korakuen). Rikugien is a quite large strolling garden with a large pond and a variety of greenery. The garden was established in 1702 and its layout is inspired by Waka poetry. While strolling the garden you come across 88 miniature scenes from famous poems as well as a tea house and small shop. Pines, shrubs and an array of large trees as well as a lot of seasonal flowers can be viewed in this garden. I have only visited during late summer which was great, but Rikugien is supposed to be one of the best spots to visit and enjoy during autumn color season. For sparks of color earlier in the year, the azaleas on the manmade hill (and other part of the garden) are in bloom during April and May. Entrance fee: ¥300
For the garden lover or those of you that have already visited the gardens above, I recommend Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden, a smaller Japanese style garden not far from Hamarikyu Garden. This garden's focus is the center pond, the stone formations and pine trees. The land on which the garden lies used to be under water, but after being reclaimed in mid 17 century the garden was created. I visited here in late January, when most gardens are quite grey and brown, and found it relatively green because of the evergreen pines. Since January was warmer than normally this year the ume (Japanese plum) trees were already starting to bloom.
Entrance fee: ¥150 If you want to visit Japanese gardens but don't want to spend any yen, head over to the Imperial Palace East Gardens which is a free park in the centre of Tokyo. Here you can visit a small Japanese garden as well as see the foundation and site of Edo castle and stroll through the rest of the large park.
Entrance is free!
For visiting gardens during the summer period, be sure to bring bug spray! I ventured into Rikugien on a rainy summers day without it and got quite a few souvenir mosquito bites. So be aware!
All of the gardens above (except the Japanese part of the Imperial Palace East Gardens) are part of the "9 Metropolitan Cultural Heritage Gardens", designated as places of special scenic beauty and/or special historic sites. These are in other words some of the best gardens Tokyo has to offer! What is your favorite Tokyo garden? Let me know below!
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