The Most Beautiful Garden in Japan: Rikugi-en

Rikugi-en(六義園) is said to be the most beautiful and scenic landscaped garden in Japan, only comparable to the equally beautiful Koishikawa Koraku-En Garden. Built on the onset of the 18th century by the Tokugawa Shogunate, this garden was made as a physical representation of 88 scenes from famous Japanese literature. Classified as a strolling garden, Rikugi-en features many paths and trails that take visitors around its many features. Beautiful in all the seasons, this garden has been decreed to be a special place of scenic beauty by the Japanese government. From the manmade hills to the large pond at the center, Rikugi-en has many attractions that have been treasured by the Japanese for centuries.

The History Behind the Beauty of Tokyo’s Best Garden, Rikugi-en

The traditional gardens, called nihon teien of the Japanese culture, are centered around Japanese design aesthetics and philosophies. Typically, these gardens avoid as many inorganic materials in order to put the natural landscape into the spotlight. It is common to see many decorative plants and aged organic materials in the design of these gardens. Traditional Japanese garden designers often use aesthetics that are reminiscent of older times and mix it with the natural growth of plants in order to portray the idea that time will continue to pass. Another theme that is common among most traditional Japanese gardens is the concept that man’s creations and existence are only temporary. Aside from philosophical ideas, Japanese garden designers often used ancient artworks as inspirations for their work. It was through the translation of these ideas that formed a unifying aesthetic common among most Japanese gardens.

Rikigu-En is a strolling garden, which are landscaped gardens with paths that go around the area. These garden designs started to gain popularity among the Japanese nobles during the Edo Era, between the 17th century and the 19th century. The strolling garden design was used to complement the sukiya-zukuri style villas that were popular during the same time. These gardens were made with the intention of visitors following a path clockwise around a body of water. There are two main design aspects of a strolling garden; Shakkei and Miegakure. Shakkei, which means the borrowing of scenery, incorporates the environment outside of the garden in order for it to seem bigger than it actually is. Miegakure, which means hide-and-reveal, was the restriction of the visitor’s view in order to hide the scenery until the visitor reached the best vantage point. These included the use of winding paths, bamboo thickets, and shrubbery.

The Edo Era also saw the rise in popularity of landscaped gardens inspired by ancient Japanese literature. These gardens would often have recreations of scenes found in famous poems. The design of Rikugi-en Garden in Bunkyo-Ku, Tokyo took inspiration from 88 famous Japanese poems. The park was built between the year 1695 and 1702 by Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu. As a trusted partner of Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, the Shogun at the time, Yanagisawa had full control over the creation of this garden.Yanagisawa had a great interest in classical poetry and thus had chosen to base the design of the garden on traditional Chinese tales and Japanese Poetry, specifically the Waka poems. The name itself is a reference to a way of analyzing classical Chinese poetry, which is also heavily used in Japanese Waka poems.

With expert use of walking paths, shrubbery, the outlying mountain, and man-made hills, Yanagisawa was able to create a landscape that would be considered the most beautiful in all of Japan hundreds of years after his death. Once Yanagisawa had passed away, the garden had experienced neglect and its structures had degraded. It was only during the Meiji Era that Rikugi-en garden was restored. Iwasaki Yataro, corporate tycoon and founder of Mitsubishi, had bought the garden in 1878 and restored it to its original beauty. The Iwasaki family had taken up residence in the garden. 57 years later, the Iwasaki family donated the garden to the city of Tokyo and 15 years after that, it was referred to as tokubetsu meisho or special place of scenic beauty.

Visitors of this garden may only enter through the main gate, located on the eastern part of Rikugi-en garden. It is at most a 10-minute walk from the Komagome station when taking the JR Yamanote Line or when taking the Namboku Subway Line. Visitors may also use the Someimon Gate only during the autumn and spring celebration.

Major Attractions of Rikugi-en Garden

With a total landmass of around 88 million square meters, the Rikugi-en Garden is more than just a stroll around a pond. It features many attractions that have stood the test of time. The following are the different points of interest found within the most beautiful landscaped garden in Japan.

  1. Naitei-Daimon
    This gate is the reason why visitors are able to enter the garden from a central point. The most prominent sight here is the extremely large weeping cherry tree found close by. 
  2. Deshio-no-minato
    This is the name given for the shore of the central pond. Visitors who stand here are able to see the different points of interests of the garden. It gives visitors an unblocked view of the whole garden. 
  3. Takimi-no-chaya
    Takimi-no-chaya, or the teahouse for watching dragon, is next to a stream of water that goes through a gorge, which sprays mist. This place is also a great viewing point to see the sleeping dragon rock and the other scenery.

Lights Show: Rikigu-En Garden’s Cherry Blossom Illumination

The vast beautiful Rikigu-En Garden of Tokyo City holds an annual spring celebration. During this annual celebration, the garden cherry trees and all of the beautiful Rikigu-En garden will be illuminated as the sun goes down. It is really an enchanting and beautiful garden show like no other. If you would want to experience Cherry Blossom in a unique way, visit the Rikigu-En Garden during golden hour and wait for the whole garden to be lit up in the evening for a whole new different sight and experience. The Rikigu-En Garden is lit up until closing time at 9 PM. If you are coming from another trip in your itinerary, there is still time to drop by and visit the garden after dinner.

Rikigu-En Garden has a natural beauty charm to it during spring. All the cherry trees and shrubs are blooming bringing full life to the garden. The Rikigu-En Garden has a famous huge weeping cherry tree that no one should miss during a travel to the garden. The best time of the year to visit the weeping cherry tree is at the end of March to early April when the cherry trees are in full bloom. There are not much weeping cherry trees in Japan, let alone a huge one, thus, making the Rikigu-En weeping cherry tree a really famous tourist attraction. The most remarkable weeping cherry tree in Rikigu-En Garden can be found by the main gate, which welcomes you as you enter the garden. The weeping cherry trees are now to blossom earlier than other cherry trees, thus, hanami usually starts with weeping cherry trees.

The weeping cherry trees during cherry blossom are a really beautiful sight. You may opt to lunch out in the Rikigu-En Garden instead rather than go to a restaurant to fully experience cherry blossom, the weeping cherry trees, and the whole beauty of the Rikigu-En garden. It is also nice to have a quiet dinner at night when the garden’s annual celebration. The view you will get is breathtakingly beautiful.

The Rikigu-En garden also offers a one-hour guided tour of the beautiful park. If you would want to know more about the history of Rikigu-En park, a short background of the plants that can be found in the garden, and its special features, make sure to go to the schedule of the guided tours. This is recommended for English speakers as the maps that can be bought do not contain much information. There are only guided two Sundays of the month at 11 AM and 2 PM. This guided tour is for free. However, in the off chance that the weather is not ideal, all tours for the day are canceled.

Rikugi-en Garden’s Autumn-Winter Celebrations

Everyone in Tokyo takes its Winter illumination celebrations very seriously. The neighborhoods of Tokyo get really competitive trying to outshine each other with grandiose illuminations. There was a time when the competition is all about the number of lights. So Tokyo’s neighborhoods tried to outdo each other by putting up more lights year after year. Thousands of lights are put up every year. The more is definitely the merrier! But that is not the case presently as the winter illumination celebrations embraced the innovation of technology and moved towards a more complex and sophisticated way of displaying lights. There are still thousands of lights but now, there is interaction in play. The lights are now digitally choreographed. They just don’t twinkle, they dance as if they are alive! The display of lights is now not predictable, as they are choreographed by light electricians whose imaginations knows no borders. Every year, there is something new from a neighborhood that nobody has seen before. Every year, the winter celebrations get bigger and better!

Some might say it is best to visit Rikugi-en Garden during the spring season, the others would say the late autumn season is the best time to visit, and there are those who swear by that early winter is the right time. It is really up to preference because Rikugi-en garden remains beautiful all throughout the four seasons. So whichever season you are in Tokyo, make sure to visit Rikugi-en Garden.

During the late season of winter and around early winter, however, is the time when autumn colors take over the maple trees of Rikugi-en garden. If you love autumn colors, you will easily fall in love with Rikugi-en Garden during this time. Colors or reds, ambers, and yellow fill up the whole garden. It is simply beautiful. Time your visit end of November to early December to avoid snow covering the maple trees. You can also have a cup of tea and relax in Tsutsuji no Chaya teahouse and enjoy the beautiful view that runs up to Togetsukyo Bridge. You will also find a small hill located inside the garden. It is not a hard climb so do not worry. From this hill, you will have an amazing unobstructed view on the whole Rikugi-en Garden. Perfect place for you to take that GoPro selfie shot!

There is also a small bakery near the station. You may opt to buy bread here or pastry that you can enjoy eating while strolling in Rikugi-en Garden. You can also buy traditional Japanese green tea leaves in a small shop inside the garden. It is a perfect (and healthy) souvenir! There are also tea ceremony rooms that you can rent out at 7,400 yen for a maximum of five people.

The annual celebration of lights and colors draw in a lot of local and international tourists. It is a fun different way of exhibiting the autumn colors of Tokyo. In fact, it may even be the best display of autumn colors there is.

Here are just a few of the things to keep in mind to ensure a smooth sailing visit to Rikugi-en Garden:

  • The garden opens as early as 9 AM and strictly closes at 5 PM with entry only up to 4:30 PM. The Japanese people are time conscious so expect that these schedules will be followed.
  • The garden is closed from December 29 to January 1 as these days are declared as national holidays.
  • The price of admission is 300 yen and 150 yen for senior citizens. Children in kindergarten and younger are free of charge. It is also free of charge for all secondary students of Tokyo.
  • You may avail of the 20% discount for big groups of 20.

Rikugi-en garden is a beautiful place to relax and experience the beauty of nature. It is a place where quiet meditation and serenity will come naturally to anyone who strolls through the garden grounds. Try to book a hotel that overlooks the park in order to wake up with the best view in the whole city.