Japanese gardens are breathtaking. One of the core principles of Shintoism, Japan’s native religion, is to respect and appreciate nature. To this end, Japan has some of the best gardens imaginable. There are traditional gardens that take one back to feudal Japan as they walk on the same trails as ancient samurai warriors and philosophers. And there are modern gardens that borrow design queues from European parks and other international sources. Here is a compilation of 11 of the best gardens to visit across Japan.
- 1. Kenroku-en (Ishikawa)
- 2. Koraku-en (Okayama)
- 3. Kairaku-en (Ibaraki)
- 4. Katsura Imperial Villa (Kyoto)
- 5. Kokedera (Kyoto)
- 6. Ryoan-ji Temple (Kyoto)
- 7. Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)
- 8. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
- 9. Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo)
- 10. Ritsurin Koen (Kagawa)
- 11. Sankeien (Kanagawa)
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1. Kenroku-en (Ishikawa)
Kenroku-en is located in Kanazawa in Ishikawa Prefecture. It is considered one of The Three Great Gardens of Japan. It was created by ancient daimyos (feudal lords) and used to host numerous events. Each subsequent daimyo added on to Kenroku-en and it includes a tea house and a pagoda. Located next to Kanazawa Castle, this garden is open year round and charges a nominal fee for admission.
Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM (Shigure-tei Tea House closes at 4:30 PM)
Adults: ¥320; Children ¥100 (Cash only)
2. Koraku-en (Okayama)
Koraku-en is also considered one of The Three Great Gardens of Japan. This is a landscape garden located next to Okayama Castle. There are two entrance gates for easy access. This garden was built in 1687 for entertaining important guests, but was opened to the public in 1884. It includes spacious lawns, a lookout point and rice fields. It is most famous for its plum, cherry and maple trees. There is also an archery range within the park. Combined tickets can be purchased to enter the park and Okayama Castle.
Hours: 8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
3. Kairaku-en (Ibaraki)
Kairaku-en in Mito in Ibaraki prefecture is the last of The Three Great Gardens of Japan. This garden is 18 acres and includes more than 3,000 plum trees with 100 different varieties. Lake Senba can be seen from the third floor of the observation area here. Kairaku-en is one of Japan’s first public gardens and was designated as such by the 9th feudal lord of Mito.
Hours: 7:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Adults: ¥300; Children ¥150 (Electronic payments accepted)
4. Katsura Imperial Villa (Kyoto)
Katsura Imperial Villa is also known as the Detached Palace. This garden was completed in 1645 and displays traditional architecture, design and gardening. It was a former residence for members of the Imperial family. It was designed to maximize the appreciation for foliage design and it merges Shinto design principles with Zen Buddhism. This park includes many traditional tea houses and continues to be a reference point for modern architects. Please note that you must join a tour to enter, tours are offered in English and include designated photo spots.
5. Kokedera (Kyoto)
Kokedera is also known as The Moss Temple or Saihoji. This garden has over 120 varieties of moss and has had a huge influence on Japanese garden design. Originally designed as Prince Shōtoku’s villa, it was converted to a Zen Temple in 1339. Visitors are asked to chant Buddhist mantras at the entrance. You will need to make a reservation prior to your visit.
The garden is closed during the winter months for maintenance.
6. Ryoan-ji Temple (Kyoto)
Ryoan-ji Temple is a Zen Temple and was the first estate of the Fujiwara clan. It is unknown when the garden was built, or by whom, but there are many theories surrounding its origins. It contains the “Seven Imperial Tombs.” The most famous aspect is the Zen garden or rock garden. This garden contains 15 different stones of different sizes. They are positioned so that only 14 stones are visible from any angle. In order to view all 15 at once, it is said one must attain enlightenment. There is also a water garden and tea house on the grounds.
Hours: 8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
Adults: ¥500; Children ¥300
7. Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)
Adachi Museum of Art is located in Yasugi in Shimane Prefecture. It is a modern Japanese art museum and garden that opened in 1970. It includes 6 gardens and 1,500 exhibits including paintings, pottery and more. There is a permanent exhibit of paintings by Yokoyama Taikan, who created the Nihonga painting method. This garden has been awarded the highest score of 3 stars by the Michelin Green Guide.
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Adults: ¥2,300 (Discounts available for students)
8. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
Shinjuku Gyoen began as an imperial garden in 1879 and was opened to the public in 1906. Originally destroyed by air raids in 1945, it was rebuilt and reopened in 1949. It includes more than 20,000 trees and has 3 entrance gates. There are three styles within this park: French formal, English landscape and Japanese traditional. It is incredibly popular for the annual cherry blossom picnics and parties known as hanami.
Hours: 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM (Closed Mondays)
Adults: ¥500 (Student and senior discounts available)
9. Imperial Palace East Gardens (Tokyo)
Imperial Palace East Gardens contains most of the administrative buildings for the palace and includes a music hall named the Tokagakudo Peach Blossom Music Hall. It is home to the Museum of Imperial Collections. The Ninomaru garden contains trees representing each prefecture of Japan. There are more than 260 trees here.
10. Ritsurin Koen (Kagawa)
Ritsurin Koen is also known as the Chestnut Grove garden and is one of the main attractions of the city of Takamatsu, Kagawa. It was completed in 1745, after more than 100 years of improvements made by different feudal lords. It was opened to the public in 1875. It includes a tea house and folk art exhibits. Mt. Shiun can be seen to the west of the garden.
Hours: 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Adults: ¥410; Children ¥170 (Annual pass available)
11. Sankeien (Kanagawa)
Sankeien in Yokohama is also known as the Three Creeks Garden. It was opened in 1906 and built by silk trader Tomitaro Hara. All of the buildings were purchased from across Japan. It was donated to the City of Yokohama in 1953. It includes a 3-story pagoda from Kyoto and the Kakushokaku which was the private residence of the Hara family, but is now an event space.
Hours: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM Adults: ¥700; Children ¥200
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Trevor Jones is an educator and an aspiring marketer. Originally from the United States, he moved to Tokyo in 2017. Trevor enjoys exploring new destinations and sharing his experiences. He can be found on Instagram at @tjones312