15/11/2021

Hamarikyu Gardens: Paradise in Edo

Marked as the garden paradise during the Edo Period, and the haven of the Imperial family, Hamarikyu is inarguably a cultural gem of Japan. A relaxing place, scenic no matter the season, with a pond drawn from the bay, a teahouse, and a spot to enjoy blooming flowers. 


Table of Contents

  1. Introduction to Hamarikyu Gardens
  2. The Garden’s Main Features
  3. Access and Other Useful Information
  4. Summary

Introduction to Hamarikyu Gardens

Hamarikyu Garden traditional teahouse building

History

First established during the Edo Period, Hamarikyu Gardens is representative of classic traditional Japanese Gardens from that era. Its most unique feature is its sea water pond whose levels ebb and flow with the tide. Hamarikyu Gardens is an important building through the Tokugawa Shoguns reign as a villa and place of rest. Once the Shogun’s hunting grounds, the first building in the garden wasn’t built till the 4th Shogun was raised to power. As time passed along with the succession of Shogun’s, Hamarikyu Gardens did not achieve its final form till the 11th Shogun’s reign. 

Fun facts about this place: an elephant used to live here. It was a gift from Vietnam to 8th Shogun Tokugawa Yoshimune. Moreover, the grounds were also used as the Bakufu's academic institution at one point in time. 

※ Hamarikyu Gardens, "About This Park"
※ 中央区観光協会オフィシャル, “江戸の街にゾウが来た。

Renowned for Its Scenic Beauty and Historical Value

Tokubetsu meisho, or Special Places of Scenic Beauty was promulgated as the prime law to designate unspoiled architectures as a historic treasure. This rule, enacted in 1897 is meant to secure the preservation of ancient, tangible symbols such as divine sanctuaries, monuments, and several other things.

※ Agency for Cultural Affairs, "Cultural Properties for Future Generations," p.4

Sometime in 1948, the Hamarikyu Gardens was recognized as a special historic site. 4 years later in 1942, it received recognition as a Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan.

The Garden’s Main Features

As you walk around this designated cultural property garden, you wouldn’t want to miss all the amazing features of the Hamarikyu Gardens. 

300 Year Old Pine Tree

To your immediate left upon crossing the entrance bridge and entering the garden is a grand pine tree. This pine tree is 3 centuries old. It was planted in honour of the 6th Shogun when the garden was renovated.  

Seawater Pond and Moat 

Hamarikyu Shiori no Ike, seawater pond and moat

Hamarikyu Gardens is home to the last remaining seawater pond in Tokyo. There used to be another 3 more, namely Kyu-Shibarikyu Garden, Kiyosumi Garden, and Kyu-Yasuda Garden, which have ceased being so. 

Visit and have a stroll around the Seawater Pond, called Shiori no Ike, whose waters come from Tokyo Bay. Due to its connection to the sea, the pond’s water levels rise and ebb with the flowing tide. To maintain the water levels, a sluice is used. 

 Enjoy the salty breeze as you admire the traditional Japanese Garden. Peony flowers surround the gardens, whilst ducks float on the water surface. Most interestingly, since the pond contains seawater, saltwater fish are present in the pond. 

Hinoki Cypress Bridge

Otsutaibashi hinoki bridge across seawater pond

Above the pond and leading to Nakajima Tea House is O-tsutai-bashi, a Hinoki wood bridge. The bridge connects the tea house to a small island in the middle of the pond. Made purely from Hinoki Cypress wood at a length of 118 meters, O-tsuitai-bashi (お伝い橋) meaning “telling bridge” looks very traditional. 

From the island, you can take a nice photo of the bridge with the pond and tea house as a backdrop.  

Nakajima Teahouse

Nakajima teahouse and autumn foliage

At the other end of O-tsuitai-bashi, Nakajima no Ochaya, a traditional tea house awaits you. Built around 1704, the teahouse was frequented by Shoguns and imperial nobles to rest and relax. Enjoy a break here and partake in matcha and seasonal wagashi for less than 1,000 yen. 

Duck Hunting Grounds 

Duck hunting trench and hiding spot

As previously mentioned above, the Shoguns enjoyed the sport of hunting in Hamarikyu Gardens. Have a look at the old tradition of duck hunting at the Kamoba (鴨場 Duck Hunting Ground) and Kamozuka (鴨塚 Duck Grave) which are unique highlights of the Gardens. 

There are 2 duck hunting grounds, Koshindo and Shinsenza. The grounds are built with narrow water tracks for the ducks to traverse. There are various spots to spy the ducks and lure them closer before trapping them. 

Nearby Shinsenza Kamoba is a grave mound dedicated to the deceased ducks. Built in 1935, its aim is to appease the spirits of ducks that linger. Spooky! 

※ Bureau of Construction Tokyo Metropolitan Government, "Hama-rikyu Gardens," p.135

Flower Field

Cosmos field oasis in Tokyo

A flower field at the northern end of the garden grounds holds more than 1,000 flowers that bloom in various seasons, from peonies in spring, and cosmos in summer and autumn. The best time to visit is spring when around 60 types of peonies are in full bloom in a variety of colours! 

Plum Blossoms

Blooming plum blossoms in Japan

To the right of the flower fields and peony garden, and north of Koshindo Kamoba is a plum tree grove. Hamarikyu Garden is pretty well known for plum blossom viewing in early spring before the cherry blossoms bloom. From here, you can also enjoy a view of Tokyo Tower with the plum blossoms. 

※ Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, "View Point"
※ Japan National Tourism Organization, "Hamarikyu Gardens"

Access and Other Useful Information

Nearest Stations

Most convenient way to reach Hamarikyu Gardens is by train:

  • 7 minutes walk from Shiodome Station, Tsukiji-shijo Station, or Yurikamome Shiodome Station on the Toei Oedo Line

  • 10 minutes walk from Shimbashi Station on the JR, Tokyo Metro Ginza Lines

Alternatively, you can also reach by boat/water bus (Suijou Bus) from Asakusa, Nihonbashi, Odaiba Seaside Park, Toyosu, Hinode Pier, and Tokyo Big Sight.   

※ Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, "Access"
※ Japan National Tourism Organization, "Hamarikyu Gardens"

Opening Hours and Admission Fees

The gardens are open daily from 9am to 5pm. Last entry is by 4:30pm. 

Closing days are from 29 December to 1 January for end of the year and New Year holidays.

Entrance Fees: 300 yen (Adult)

Free Entry Days: 

  • 4th May Greenery Day (みどりの日)

  • 1 October Tokyo Citizen Day (都民の日) 

TIP

If you are planning to visit Kyu-Shiba Rikyu Gardens that’s around s 15-minute walk away, consider getting the combo ticket for 400 yen. 

Free Guided Tours

Volunteer-runned guided tours are available every weekend and public holidays at 11am and 2pm. These are in Japanese. For English guided tours, available dates and time are Saturdays and Mondays at 11am. 

There are also Teahouse Guided Tours available on Thursdays only at 11m, 12pm, 1pm, and 2pm. This tour is available in Japanese only and limited to 25 participants on a first come first serve basis. 

Note that all tours are subject to weather conditions. 

※ Due to the Coronavirus Spread Prevention measures, all tours are cancelled until further notice. Please check the website (link below) for more details. 

※ Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, "Access"

Best Time to Visit 

The best time to visit is entirely dependent on what you are looking to see.

If it’s plum blossoms, visit around mid or end of March before the cherry blossoms are in bloom. For cherry blossoms and other spring flowers, visit around the end of March till early April.  

To find out more about the flowers and their seasons, check here

Summary

Walking path lined by trees in Tokyo Garden

Enjoy nature in this garden oasis in the midst of metal city Tokyo. Seek peace and solace in the serene and peaceful landscapes. Stroll the garden, watch the ducks, enjoy traditional matcha and wagashi, and just relax. Or make this part of your Tokyo tour by taking the water bus!

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