Parks & Gardens

23 WardsBunkyoParks & GardensViewing Spots

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien-Fall-NightRikugien Fall Illumination

六義園
Rikugi-en

  • Address: 6 Chome-16-3 Honkomagome, Bunkyo City, Tokyo 113-0021
  • Nearest Station: Komagome Station
  • Website: https://www.tokyo-park.or.jp/teien/en/rikugien/
  • Hours: 9:00 – 16:00
  • Price: ¥300

Rikugien is one of those places where art mimics art. When the noble samurai Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu founded this garden some 300 plus years ago, he was inspired by classical Waka poetry and sought to give it shape within earth, stone, water, and plant. In fact, the word Rikugi refers to the “Six Forms of Waka Poetry” while en means garden. If you’re lucky to find a full English translation of Kokin Wakashu (古今和歌集) perhaps you gain some insight into Yanagisawa’s own ascetics – seeing as he was inspired by this literature published by an Emperor some 800 years before the Edo period samurai himself!

Today Rikugien is open to the public and is one of Tokyo’s highly renowned gardens in addition to being designated as a “special place of scenic beauty” by the Japanese government.

When to Go

Spring – Weeping Cherry Blossom Viewing

From mid-March to early April, Rikugien lights up its prodigious weeping cherry tree (also known as the Shidarezakura) for an annual illumination viewing. The Shidarezakura is truly a massive tree and measures at 15m high and 20m wide. During the day, the tree looks like a soft pink cloud, while at night the lights create an illusion of cascading blossoms.

Rikugien Cherry Blossom Illumination
Rikugien Cherry Blossom Illumination at Night

Summer – Hydrangeas

Japan has a very long history with the Ajisai (紫陽花) or Hydrangea. It was first cultivated in Japan. There is even a tea called ama-cha (甘茶 “sweet tea”) made from the Hydrangea serrata, a specific breed whose leaves contain an ingredient which develops a sweet taste. A legend has it that on the day Buddha was born, nine dragons poured Amrita over him. So every April 8th, during the Buddha’s birthday ceremony, monks will substitute ama-cha for Amrita and pour the tea over a statue of Buddha.

Sitting next to Rikugien’s hydrangea trellis while enjoying a cup of ama-cha is the perfect way to enjoy the verdant green of high summer. Followed by a stop at the tea house to enjoy wagashi in the shape of hydrangea,

Hydrangeas
Hydrangeas symbolize Gratitude in Japanese culture

Autumn – Fall Foliage Illuminations

From mid-November to December, Rikugien holds its annual Autumn Evening Illumination. As the lights turn on at sunset, the central pond sparkles with the vibrant colors of fall as the water reflects the image of the trees and their foliage. Taking a stroll through the garden circuit will guide you through over 400 maple trees and all their glorious hues of vivid red, deep orange, or flashy yellow.

Rikugien Fall Illumination
Rikugien Fall Illumination

Rikugien Highlights

Tsutsuji-chaya – This Meiji era tea house was built using azalea wood. It avoided damage during World War II and is a style rarely seen today. This is one of the best spots to sit and enjoy the fall foliage of Rikugien.

Togetsukyo – Not to be mistaken for the one in Kyoto, this bridge was created from two large slabs of rock linking a man-made island in the middle of the lake. It was named after the Waka Poem: “Shadow of the moon moving at night and cry of a crane in the mash of reed in the sore of Waka, makes me feel so lonely.”

Takimi-chaya – Takimi means “waterfall viewing” and next to this small tea house, you can enjoy the sounds of cascading water.

Horaijima – In Japanese and Chinese legends “Horaijima” is an island inhabited by immortals and represents a kind of paradise. Its often a feature found in Japanese gardens and is intended to be watched and pondered from a distance. So, find a bench near the pond shore and meditate upon this particular Horaijima.

Fukiage Chaya – Inside the gardens is a tea house that serves tea and sweet wagashi in shapes that reflect the season. In summer, the matcha will be iced and the wagashi in the shape of a hydrangea. In fall, the wagashi will be a maple leaf, while in spring they will offer a sakura shaped confection

Matcha and Wagashi
Matcha and Fall Wagashi

A Garden for Meditation & Art

During the few times I visited Rikugien, it was crowded with people. I have a feeling that if I had a moment of solitude, it would have been easier to enjoy the gardens and to meditate on the original creator’s intention behind each vista and vignette. I also wish I had access to the poems associated with Rikugien. Regardless of these minor regrets, I felt that Rikugien represents a single facet of Japanese art and literature – all in a single perfectly groomed floriferous edifice – and that alone makes it worth visiting.

Shidarezakura
Shidarezakura – the Willow Cherry Tree
23 WardsChuoParks & Gardens

Hamarikyu Gardens

Hamarikyu GardensHamarikyu Gardens

浜離宮恩賜庭園
Hama-rikyū Onshi Teien

  • Address: 1-1 Hamarikyūteien, Chuo City, Tōkyō-to 104-0046
  • Nearest Stations: Shiodome Station, Tsukijishijo Station
  • Hours: 9:00 to 17:00
  • Price: ¥300

Between skyscrapers and the mouth of Sumida River lies an Edo period estate now turned into a public garden. For 365 plus years, the Hamarikyu Gardens has seen many visitors, from noble daimyos and powerful shoguns to the modern-day office workers and curious tourists.

This coastal garden intentionally draws water from the sea to fill its moats and ponds. Before the modern highways and skyrises, canals connected this feudal estate with Edo Castle. During the Meiji Era,  Hamarikyu served as a detached garden for the imperial family.

Although many of the original buildings were destroyed during World War II, the garden was restored and replicas rebuilt just for the public to enjoy.

When to Go

Spring Flowers

March 20th marks the first day of spring. For Hamarikyu Gardens, this is the time when about 300,000 rapeseed (canola) blossoms carpet the flower fields in hues of gold. Then in early April, the garden is painted in dreamy soft shades of pink thanks to the hundred or so cherry trees.

Rapeseed (canola) blossoms

Summer Arts

In August, the Hamarikyu Oedo Cultural Arts Festival celebrates high summer with traditional Edo-era art right next to pop-culture exhibits. What better way to fully appreciate Tokyo then to dance the traditional summer Bon Odori dance to beats spun by a modern DJ.

Matcha and seasonal Wagashi

Autumn Colors & Tea

In September, the Hamarikyu flower fields that were once colored yellow by the spring blossoms of the canola plant, are now dressed in the pink, white, and purple of cosmos flowers.

In October, the garden becomes a host of the Tokyo Grand Tea Party, a celebration of the traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony on a large scale. Participants can attend tea ceremonies held in buildings at the Hamarikyu Gardens and Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum, and open-air ceremonies held under the autumn sky.

In November is when Tokyo’s autumn color really begins to show, and Hamarikyu Gardens is no exception.  Though it may not be the best that Tokyo has to offer, it still offers a serene landscape for everyone to enjoy.

Cosmos at Hamarikyu

Winter Lights & New Year’s Falcons

The top of the garden’s hill Shinhi-no-Kuchiyama offers a unique view of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge. As the sun sets early in the winter, you may be able to see the bridge’s special winter rainbow illumination (Dec to Jan). Also, Nearby Caretta Shiodome holds an annual Winter Illuminations from November through February.

On January 2nd and 3rd, Hamarikyu annually hosts a New year’s celebration.  Weather permitting, falcon demonstrations are held right on the falconry field that once belonging to the Tokugawa shogun. In other parts of the park, Edo period food and drink is available right alongside traditional New Year’s games.

Falcon Demonstration at Hamarikyu

Hamarikyu Garden Highlights

Nakajima no Ochaya – On an island in the middle of the pond is Nakajima Teahouse. Here you can sip a cup of matcha and nibble a traditional Japanese sweet for ¥500. But drinking in the scenery as shoguns and imperials have done for centuries before you is nearly priceless.

Nakajima no Ochaya

Audio Self-Tour or Group Tour – the gardens offer both audio tours and group tours both free of charge. This is a great way to learn more about the park. They offer audio tours in English, Chinese, Korean and Japanese.

300-year-old Pine Tree – This pine was planted by Ienobu Tokugawa, the 6th shogun to commemorate the garden as the detached residence of the Tokugawa. Give pause when you realized that this tree is nearly 60 years older than the United States is as a country.

Peony Garden – Over 60 types of Peonies can be found in Hamarikyu. From Mid-April to Mid-May, you can enjoy a plethora of color in the form of big lacy blooms.

One of many Peonies to enjoy at the garden

Shioiri-no-ike – This seawater pond is the last of its kind in Tokyo, the other historic ponds were consumed by skyrises and highways. Fed by Tokyo Bay, it draws water from the sea through a sluice gate. Look carefully and you may be able to spot some seawater fish such as mullet, sea bass, gobies, and eels

Waterbus Landing – Taking the morning Tokyo Waterbus is a fantastic way to start out a tour of Hamarikyu Garden. The Sumida River Line runs from Asakusa to Hamarikyu and takes 35 minutes for ¥1040. There are usually 1-2 boats per hour – be sure to check which boat goes were since there are several routes. The dock at Hamarikyu is located within the garden’s paid grounds, and admission to the garden is included in the price of the boat ticket.  

Note that the boat from Asakusa to Hamarikyu Garden is one way only and there is no direct return service. You would have to take the boat to Hinode Pier, then transfer to Odaiba and take the Asakusa-Odaiba Direct Line back to Asakusa.

Hotaluna – Tokyo Waterbus

Quintessential Tokyo

Hamarikyu Gardens is an ideal representative of nearly four centuries worth Japanese garden culture and history. If you’re here on a layover or a weeklong vacation, this garden is certainly my top pick of places to first visit once landing in Tokyo.



Try some Cherry blossom viewing at Hamarikyu in the Spring
View of Hamarikyu from Shiodome Building