During a trip to Japan, a visit to Japanese gardens is a must-do for several reasons: both to feel the tranquility and the soothing atmosphere specific to these places, even in the heart of the city.Ε“heart of the city, but also to admire the artistic, philosophical and spiritual work that a Japanese garden represents.

In the same vein as my articles on my Top of the best Onsen in Japan and my Top of the best Onsen villages in Japan, I offer you today my Top Japanese Gardens !

garden in japan
Gardens are ubiquitous in Japan so it was not easy to make this classification!
garden lights
The gardens live throughout the year through many seasonal events so visiting the same garden at different times of the year will have nothing to do with it!

THE HISTORY OF JAPANESE GARDENS

Japanese gardens have a long history stretching back to ancient times with inspirations from Korea and China but it is Heian period (794–1185) that a real enthusiasm is created with in particular the drafting of Sakuteiki (“From the creation of gardens”), a user manual which includes all the rules for the creation of gardens which were previously only transmitted orally.

Codes and styles evolve over the centuries but remain very influenced by poetry, spirituality and religion, especially Buddhist. Buddhist elements and symbols are omnipresent in Japanese gardens. For example, the Karesansui is what is called a “Zen garden”, a dry garden established by the monks of Zen Buddhism. The Jodoshiki is a garden representing “the Pure Land” which is based on a unique view with a pond and a bridge leading to the building of a temple, established by the monks of Jodo Buddhism (school of the Pure Land).

karesansui
Karesansui, the Japanese dry garden or “Zen garden”.

jodoshiki byodo in
The Jodoshiki Garden of Byodo In Temple (Uji, Kyoto Prefecture): a unique view with a pond and a bridge (right) leading to the Buddhist building.

From the Edo period (16031868), the gardens no longer become purely spiritual places but also places to walk. The gardens are organized around a pond and we follow a circular route. These promenade gardens are called Kaiyushiki and they represent the idea that we have of a Japanese garden today. The gardens on this list will therefore all be Kaiyushiki-type gardens.

japanese garden promenade
Kaiyushiki, the Japanese garden as a place to walk.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A JAPANESE GARDEN

Japanese gardens obey 5 main principles :

  • Symbolism (Mitate), which translates into elements symbolizing ideas: rocks in the water representing cranes (Tsurujima) and turtles (Kamejima) to signify longevity, the lotus buds on the bridges signifying purity, the stone lanterns (Dai-Doro) representing the 5 essential elements of Buddhism (Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Spirit), the pines representing eternity, etc.
  • Miniaturization (Shukukei), which consists of reproducing famous landscapes or an ideal representation of nature in miniature. It is notably obtained by the art of Niwaki, the size making it possible to form and guide a tree.
  • Borrowing the landscape (Shakkei), which consists of using the landscape around the garden (mountains, forests, buildings) and playing with the perspectives to give the impression that this landscape is part of the garden.
  • Concealment (Miegakure), which consists of hiding certain parts of the garden in order to better reveal them during the visit. Hide certain views to reveal them by surprising the visitor like a succession of paintings.
  • The symmetry, which brings harmony to the garden. Where the beauty of formal gardens resides in symmetry, the art of sublimating nature by adding human rigor, Japanese gardens represent nature as it is, unbalanced. We find this thought in many Japanese arts such as theIkebana, floral art.
japanese garden elements
Dai Doro lamp on the left, Kamejima rocks representing a turtle and Yukitsuri, bamboo stems protecting trees from snow (used even in places where it does not snow as markers of the winter season).
japanese garden bridge
The lotus buds (in black) on the decks represent purity. This symbol is found in temples and shrines.

There is a classification of 3 most famous gardens in Japan (Nihon Sanmeien) which includes the Kenrokuen (Kanazawa), the Korakuen (Okayama) and the Kairakuen (Mito) but personally none of them are in my Top. They are of course pretty but I would like to highlight other gardens which are even more interesting to discover.

kanazawa kenrokuen
The Kenrokuen, one of the 3 most famous gardens in Japan.

Japanese gardens are generally paying (unlike parks) but you can still find some free, often because they are small and located in quiet neighborhoods.

garden in japan
Mejiro Teien, a small free garden in the heart of Tokyo.

In most Japanese gardens, there is a tea pavilion where you can drink matcha tea. This is something I recommend to you because the tea break is clearly part of the visit in my opinion!

matcha garden
The Matcha break is clearly part of a visit to a Japanese garden …

MY FAVORITE GARDENS IN JAPAN

Let’s go for this ranking which, of course, only commits me! πŸ™‚

RITSURIN KOEN (TAKAMATSU, KAGAWA PREFECTURE)

Very large garden located on the island of Shikoku, the Ritsurin Koen is beautiful and clearly everyone agrees: everyone who has visited classifies it as the most beautiful garden in Japan!

It must be said that it has everything: countless pines, a large pond filled with hundreds of Koi carp on which you can take a boat trip and Kikugetsu-Tei, a tea pavilion that offers a spectacular view.

ritsurin koen
The Ritsurin Koen garden in Takamatsu.
ritsurin koen
A large garden which offers magnificent views.
kikugetsu tei
Kikugetsu-Tei, the tea house in the Ritsurin Koen garden.

MORE INFORMATIONS
Admission: 410 yen
30-minute boat ride: 620 yen
Matcha tea at Kikugetsu-Tei: 700 yen
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
Ritsurin Koen is located in Takamatsu, capital of Kagawa Prefecture. It therefore offers a nice entry point to Shikoku Island (accessible in 1 hour by JR train from Okayama). You can visit Kagawa prefecture and more generally the whole island of Shikoku afterwards.

angel road shodoshima
Kagawa Prefecture is a great place to explore!

YUUSHIEN (MATSUE, PREFECTURE OF SHIMANE)

While fall is its most popular time, the Yuushien is a garden that can be appreciated in all seasons. Even during slower periods, there are constantly special events that allow you to enjoy the garden in a different way.

Very complete with also a Karesansui (Zen garden) and a greenhouse, it combines contemporary art with natural beauty. There are traditional shops as well as a tea room at the end of the route which allows you to enjoy a superb view of the garden.

yuushien matsue
The beautiful Yuushien Garden in Matsue.
yuushien autumn
Yuushien garden in autumn.
yuushien matsue
Coffee at the end of the Yuushien visit …

MORE INFORMATIONS
Admission: 800-1200 yen depending on the season (-50% on presentation of a foreign passport)
Matcha tea: 620 yen
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
The Yuushien is located in the town of Matsue which offers beautiful corners to discover including the Sanin region and the garden of the Adachi Art Museum, also in this ranking.

matsue castle
Matsue Castle.

SUIZENJI-JOJUEN (KUMAMOTO, KUMAMOTO PREFECTURE)

The Suizenji-Jojuen is a garden representing the Tokaido, one of the two roads that once linked Edo to Kyoto. We thus find there the important stages of the road in miniature version with in particular Mount Fuji and Lake Biwa.

You can also have Matcha tea in the old tea pavilion in the garden, which offers a lovely panoramic view.

suizenji jojuen
The beautiful Suizenji Jojuen garden.
suizenji jojuen
An original garden that recreates the Tokaido road in miniature.
suizenji jojuen
A pretty garden in the middle of Kumamoto.

MORE INFORMATIONS
Admission: 400 yen
Matcha tea: 650 yen
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
Suizenji-Jojuen is located in Kumamoto Town, a great area to explore on Kyushu Island with beautiful Onsen. Renting a car is not necessary but highly recommended to fully enjoy the region.

kurokawa onsen
The Kurokawa Onsen Spa Village in Kumamoto.

RIKUGIEN (TOKYO)

Among the many gardens in Tokyo, the Rikugien is clearly my favorite in the capital. Very popular during the fall with its nocturnal illuminations, it is also a beautiful place to admire the azaleas in April.

In the middle of the garden, there is Fukiage Chaya, a tea pavilion that allows you to enjoy a beautiful view in a pleasant setting.

rikugien
The Rikugien garden.
rikugien azaleas
Azaleas from the Rikugien garden.
rikugien fukiage chaya
Fukiage Chaya, the tea house in the Rikugien garden.

MORE INFORMATIONS
Admission: 300 yen
Matcha tea: 600 yen
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
Located in the heart of Tokyo, you can easily continue with other visits. The Sugamo district (rue des papys et mamies) is a 10-minute walk away.

sugamo
Sugamo, the district of grandpas and grandmothers.

ADACHI ART MUSEUM (YASUGI, PREFECTURE OF SHIMANE)

Quite different from all the others on this list, the Adachi Art Museum Garden is not really conducive to a walk but rather a succession of paintings that we enjoy regardless of the season.

It is also a museum so there are several exhibitions of Japanese historical and artistic objects.

adachi art museum
The garden of the Adachi Art Museum.
adachi garden
A garden that presents itself as a succession of paintings.
adachi garden
The garden of the Adachi Art Museum under the snow.

MORE INFORMATIONS
Admission: 1,150 yen (-50% on presentation of a foreign passport)
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
Located in the town of Yasugi, right next to Matsue, you can easily continue with a visit to the Sanin region as well as the Yuushien garden cited above in this ranking.

tamatsukuri onsen
Tamatsukuri Onsen, thermal village located in Matsue, not far from the Adachi art museum.

KOKOEN (HIMEJI, PREFECTURE OF HYOGO)

We often find gardens right next to Japanese castles (Korakuen in Okayama, Kenrokuen in Kanazawa, Genkyuen in Hikone,…) and the Kokoen is the only garden of this type in this ranking! Located right next to the magnificent Himeji Castle, it offers a pleasant and quieter ride than the castle which is often popular with visitors.

There is a restaurant and a tea room where you can relax a little in a superb setting.

himeji kokoen
The Kokoen garden in Himeji.
kokoen garden
A garden located right next to Himeji Castle.
kokoen himeji garden
There are a lot less people here than at the castle.

MORE INFORMATIONS
Entrance: 310 yen (or 1,050 yen for the ticket with the entrance to Himeji Castle)
Matcha tea: 500 yen
See on Google Maps

TO VISIT AROUND
Located in the city of Himeji, right next to its famous castle, you can then continue with a visit to Hyogo prefecture.

himeji castle
Himeji Castle.

Here it is, this is only my personal ranking but do not hesitate to share your favorites with me.Ε“ur in Japanese gardens! πŸ™‚

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