The top three places of this list are undoubtedly occupied by the three gardens considered the most significant in Japan, and also known as 日本 三名 園, [Nihon Sanmeien] The Three Great Gardens of Japan. They are called Kenrokuen, Kairakuen and Korakuen.
Kenrokuen is located in Kanazawa and was built in 1600 by the lords of the region for their own private use. The name can be translates as “the garden of the six characteristics” and it was given to this garden because it collects all the six features considered important in an ideal Japanese garden, spaciousness, serenity, reverence, scenic views, freshness and discreet design.
Kairakuen is located in Mito and it is very famous for its 3000 plum trees which come in more than 100 varieties and bloom in early spring. Kairakuen is known as “the garden to be enjoyed with people“ because after its construction the owner opened it to the public so that all citizens could visit it.
Korakuen is located in Okayama close to the castle. It is also called “the garden of pleasures” because it was built to be enjoyed by the owners after the daily tasks. As in the famous saying “duty before pleasure”.
In addition to these three VIG (Very Important Gardens) there are others that a lover of traditional Japan cannot miss.
Hama-rikyu Garden is one of Tokyo hidden gems. An oasis of beauty and peace in the midst of skyscrapers.
You can get there using the metro (take off at Shiodome and walk for 5 minutes) but personally I recommend reaching the garden from Sumida river using one of the boats that leave regularly from Asakusa Pier (Boat Bus). The boat stops right at the entrance of the garden and you can buy a combined ticket that includes the 35-minute cruise on the river and the entrance to the garden. An excellent opportunity to see Tokyo from another perspective.
The garden features a salty lake, cherry trees and also a beautiful chashitsu, a room dedicated to the tea ceremony where for 500 yen you can enjoy tea and cakes and attend a small ceremony.
The garden also hosts the annual event Tokyo Grand Tea Ceremony involving all beginners who have approached this art throughout the year in different schools. Different ceremonies are held during the day and visitors can assist with just the cost of the entrance ticket. It takes place generally around the 10th of October.
To learn more about the tea ceremony you can read my article Green tea and tea ceremony.
The garden is open all year round from 9:00 to 17:00.
The entrance fee is 300 yen for adults and children.
Official website (in English)
Site of the Boat Bus (in Japanese and English)
Heian Jingu is one of the most well known shrines of Kyoto especially famous for the huge red torii located at the entrance. When you visit do not miss a walk in its beautiful garden expertly taken care by an army of monks. The garden is very popular in spring when it turns pink during the cherry blossom season but it does not lose its magic all year around. I have visited it during the winter cloaked in white. Unforgettable.
The garden is open all year, from 8.30 to 16.30 from November to February and from 8.30 to 17.30 from March to October.
The entrance fee is 600 yen for adults and 300 for children.
Official website (in Japanese)
To get there take the bus 19 from JR Kyoto and get off at Kaikan Bijutsukan
Isuien is a beautiful garden located in Nara. And it is the union of two gardens which were merged into one in the second half of 1600. The garden is the only one in Nara built specifically to take a walk in it and it is therefore rich in trails and rocks visitors can use to reach also the small island in the middle of the small lake that has the shape of the kanji 水 – [mizu] water. In the garden there are also statues of animals like the turtle and the crane which are known in Japan as symbols of longevity.
The garden is open from 9.00 to 16.30
The entrance fee is 300 yen.
From Nara Station the garden can be reached by walking for 15 minutes or using the buses departing from JR Nara Station from platforms 5 or 6 getting off at Oshiagecho stop.
Keitakuen is a classic Japanese garden located in Osaka within the Tennoji Park and it was donated to the city, in 1920, by the wealthy merchant family Sumitomo. The paths, bridges and stones to cross the streams are strategically placed around the pond and allow a view of the summer pavilion, the room for the tea ceremony and other small buildings in the garden. The architect of this garden was Jihei Ogawa, who also designed Heian Jingu garden.
The garden perfectly reflects the pursuit of harmony and balance in the art of designing traditional gardens in Japan.
The garden is closed on Mondays and if Monday is a holiday it is also closed on Tuesday so check the Japanese calendar if you plan to visit it.
Open from 9.30 to 17.00 and during summer weekends, from May to September, the hours are extended until 20.00.
The entrance fee is 150 yen for adults and is free for over 65 and children.
The park’s official website (in Japanese)
Get off at JR Tennoji and walk 15 minutes
Stay tuned to travel more around Japanese gardens with the second part of the list!
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