Perhaps it’s because of their deep connections to both Buddhism and Shintoism, with a combination of other elements in their culture and history that brings the Japanese to create and preserve gardens unlike any other country in the world.
No matter which landscaped garden you come across in Japan, whether it’s a large one that wraps around a castle or a small fragment of land in the middle of a big city, it’s a metaphorical expression of beliefs embedded in Japanese philosophy. These beliefs respect the delicateness of life, the unstoppable forces of change and time, and how nature will simply be as it is, and always was. A garden is a natural temple.
It may not be explicitly said, but in the middle of Tokyo exists a haven that represents this philosophy, called the Hama rikyu gardens.
What Are the Hama rikyu Gardens?
Hama rikyu Gardens (Hama-rikyu Onshi Teien) or (Hama Detached Palace) is a beautiful public park located in Chuo, Tokyo, Japan. The park area is 250,165 square miles and is an oasis of calm in the middle of a busy city. Located in an area called Shiodome in Tokyo, Hama rikyu Gardens is right in the middle of skyscrapers and commercial complex buildings.
The History of the Hama Rikyu Gardens in Tokyo
Matsudaira Tsunashige, a feudal lord of the Kofu domain, reclaimed part of the tidal ponds to make it into a falconry ground, or tidal duck hunting ground for the Shogun family. The garden, first built in 1654, was then called it a beach pavilion, or “Kofu Hama-yashiki”. The urban villa became a place where the elite went to enjoy them.
By the 17th century, Ienobu, who was the 6th shogun took over and he made more renovations on the garden. It was renamed “Hama Goden”, or Beach Palace. Several shoguns came to rule and made more renovations until the gardens were landscaped to have their final look under Ienari, who was the 11th shogun.
The gardens ended up falling under the ownership of the Imperial Family after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. It then was called the Hama-rikyu Onshi Teien, or Hama Detached Palace.
Rising Above War’s Ashes
Sadly, that garden would be destroyed beyond repair, as two tragedies would strike it. The great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 inflicted quite a bit of damage to the gardens, and even more, harm was done during the Second World War.
Quite metaphorical to how Japan was able to rise from the ashes of its war, the administration was given the green light by the imperial family in 1946 to become public grounds. It was also later classified as a site of great cultural and historical value in 1952
What to Expect When Visiting the Hama Rikyu Gardens in Tokyo
The shape of the garden resembles that of a diamond. There are two gates; Otemon, which is in the northern part of the garden, and the northwestern one or inner gate, which is Naka-nogomon.
At the main entrance (Otemon gate), you will immediately notice a huge old pine tree. The pine tree is a magnificent 300-year-old tree. Rumors have it that in 1709, Shogun Ienobu planted it here, and its beauty has been well preserved. The tree looks like a cluster of pine trees, but truly, they are branches stretching out from one single old tree.
If you take a minute to observe your surroundings (specifically the flower fields), you’ll notice the degree of how varied the garden is when it comes to flora. There are many kinds of plants, flowers, and trees found in these gardens - there’s the Black Pine, Japanese apricot, Camellia, Iris, Azalea, Peony, Japanese Red Maple, Hydrangea, Chinese Tree Nettle, and so much more. In fact, in the entire garden, there are counted to be around 6,077 high trees.
Though it is no longer there, there was once a reception lodge called “enryokan”. It was a building designed with hints of western influence (some say it was the first ever of that kind to exist in Tokyo) and made out of stone. This was new to the Japanese back then because they had been closed off for centuries to globalization, leading to an isolation and concentration of their own traditions.
After it was built, the Enryokan was often used as a place to entertain guests of the Imperial family – even ex-president Ulysses S. Grant was accommodated here for a couple of months in the late 19th century.
Because it was once a site for duck hunting, there are several ponds around the garden which those ducks lived in – and still, do. One of them is the Shinsen-za kamoba. This pond may not be accessible to tourists, but that is mainly to keep the ducks that live there more peaceful. There are protrusions from the ground that have holes cemented holes, yet seem to be covered in grass. Those are feeding posts that the ducks use, made as early as 1791.
On the right side of that duck pond, and arguably one of the garden’s best features is a salt water pond called the Shioiri-no-ike Pond. Its name literally translates to “incoming tea pond”. It is the only tidal pond left in the city of Tokyo, which means the water in the pond rises and falls depending on the tide. A sluice gate regulates the water level and controls the tidal range coming from the sea.
Twice daily, the seawater of the pond is refreshed, and many types of fish find their way into the pond. There are black mullets, sea bass, eels, gobies and sometimes even crabs. Waterbirds flock and come down to hunt them.
A seawater moat filled by Tokyo Bay surrounds the whole park. The gardens are divided into 2 sections. The southern section was where the feudal lord resided. The northern section was later added.
The Matsu-no-chaya (pine tea house) is one of the several teahouses adjoining the pond. This Chaya was constructed during the reign of Tokugawa Ienari, the 11th Shogun. Another tea house, Nakajima no Ochaya (Hamarikyu Onshi Teien), which is a wooden small house, offers tourists the experience of having an informal tea ceremony.
Be A Part of a Tea Ceremony When You Visit Hamarikyu Gardens
The interiors of the Nakajima no Ochaya teahouse possesses the traditional Japanese look of tatami mats and other Japanese furniture. If you like, for 510 yen, you will be served matcha tea and traditional sweets. It’s a great place to learn more about the culture of Japan while taking a recharging break. Plus, if you’re feeling hot from walking around the garden, the tea house offers air conditioning, which can be a relief to those who are used to the cold.
If you opt to go for the activity (it isn’t mandatory if you visit the park), you will be asked to remove your shoes and enter a tea room. From there, you will be given a sheet of instructions to follow, which will simulate the process of the ceremony.
The ceremony consists of eating the “wagashi”, or confection, a step-by-step explanation and/or guide of how to go about the ritual to consume the matcha, followed by achieving a state of gratefulness. Most formal tea ceremonies can be quite expensive around Japan, so tourists on a budget opt for this because it gives a tiny glimpse of what a ceremony is like, even though it isn’t a full-blown formality.
When’s the Best Time to Visit These Gardens?
You can enjoy the Hama rikyu gardens in any season, but each season has something special about it. Plum blossoms are in full bloom in late February, and cherry blossoms are enjoyed from late March until early April. In spring, the peony, cosmos, and canola blossoms also begin to bloom. Late November and early December are when the Koyo front comes out to show its splendor, turning leaves yellow, brown, red, and orange.
How Much Is the Entrance Fee to the Hama-Rikyu Gardens?
The admission fee to enter the Hamarikyu Gardens is 300 yen for adults, but for senior citizens aged 65 and older, it only costs 150 yen. Junior high school students with a Tokyo residency, or at least go to school in Tokyo don’t have, to pay, and neither do those who are of primary school age or younger. Groups of 20 or more avail of a 20% discount.
If you pay 400 yen, you will be able to avail of a package deal, which involves access to visit another nearby garden, which is the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden.
Opening Hours of the Hama Rikyu Gardens
The garden does not have a night view; it is only open from 9 AM to 5 PM (last entry is at 4:30 PM). They close on holidays from December 29 until the 3rd of January. Perhaps the best time of the day is in the afternoon (3:30 to 4 PM), approaching sunset.
How to Get to the Hama Rikyu Garden – By Boat or Subway Map
This popular park is situated very close to Tokyo Bay and is positioned at the mouth of the Sumida River. It takes a 2-minute walk from Shiodome Station (Oedo Line), a 7-minute walk from Tsukiji Shijo Station (Oedo Line), or from Shimbashi Station, around a 15-minute walk (Ginza, Asakusa, and JR Lines).
You can also get there via the Tokyo Water Bus, which comes from Asakusa. This trip costs 740 yen and takes 35 minutes for just one way. This fee does not include the entrance to the garden itself. It also only goes one direction, so for you to head back to Asakusa, you have to take another option which is available in Hinode Pier. This trip also costs 740 yen but takes 45 minutes.
You can find Hamarikyu Gardens at 1-1 Hamarikyuteien, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0046, Japan.
Why You Should Visit the Hama Rikyu Gardens
Hamarikyu Gardens is a quiet, peaceful, and beautiful setting that provides a respite from the surrounding noise, chaos, and urban crowds. Walk the grounds and take time to climb the several small hills that give an elevated view of the gardens. One of those small hills is called Ochinyama Hill. From the top of that hill, you will be able to clearly see a full 360-degree fantastic panoramic view of the entire gardens with the tall skyscrapers in the background.
The large, attractive, delightful, and tranquil gardens with the typical Japanese garden architecture from the Edo Period (Kaiyu-Shiki-Teien style) are a wonderful break from the soaring, modern buildings of Tokyo. Here you will admire and be amazed by the panoramic contrast between the old traditional Japan and modern Japan.
Is it worth booking a hotel nearby to see? Definitely. It’s near the Tsukiji market and other landmarks, which makes it an ample spot to stay in and travel around. You can easily head to places like Shinjuku or Odaiba with the ease of transportation around the area, so Hama rikyu gardens should be a part of your to-see list.