Visiting Japan without a stopover in one of its intricately developed, maintained, and prized gardens is like going for a run without headphones.
Sure, you can do it, and it probably won’t turn your experience completely negative if you go without it, but the entire time it’ll be like something is missing, like there is a small niggle that you can’t stop thinking about. That’s how we’d describe it.
The Japanese art of perfecting a garden in nature is one of the purest forms of creativity and has been practiced by over 1000 years. The gardens that you hear about and see today have evolved to showcasing a variety of styles (under the trained eye!), and may have completely different purposes to each other.
However, if we go back to the dates when they were first conceptualised and developed, you would learn about how they were used for entertainment and relaxation by feudal lords, or for religious purposes by monks, or even occasionally strolled through by emperors and royalty.
The 10 Best Japanese Gardens In Japan
Nowadays, most of these stunning gardens are open for the public to explore. Not only are they great photo opportunities, but most exhibit fascinating information about their history that you can read up and learn about, as well as have maintained gardens that often showcase gorgeous blooms throughout the year.
Some have bridges you can cross over and take photos on, and most will have a centrepiece pond to marvel. We’ve selected the top 10 best japanese gardens in Japan for you to visit.
- Kenrokuen (Kanazawa)
- Korakuen (Okayama)
- Risurin Garden (Takamatsu)
- Shinjuku-gyoen (Tokyo)
- Nezu Museum Garden ( Tokyo)
- Koishikawa Korakuen (Tokyo)
- Ginkakuji Temple (Kyoto)
- Tenryu-ji (Kyoto)
- Ryoanji Temple (Kyoto)
- Kinkakuji Temple (Kyoto)
1. Kenrokuen (Kanazawa)
Known to be one of the best three traditional gardens in all of Japan, Kenrokuen’s beauty and subsequent popularity stems from its ability to adhere by the six essential attributes that make up a perfect garden: spaciousness, scenic views, history, tranquillity, abundant water, and subtlety of design.
In fact, Kenrokuen literally translates to “garden of the six sublimities”. Its views are one of the best things about it – think rolling landscapes with hills and streams, and subtle structures in the background such as pavilions and tea houses. Between November and March, you’ll be able to witness the unique ‘yukitsuri’, a unique Japanese method used to protect trees from heavy snow. It looks magical at night when it is lit up. Kenrokuen Garden is only 15-minutes away from Kanazawa Station.
Recommended accommodation near Kenrokuen
For a budget accommodation nearby that offers incredibly luxurious amenities for a ridiculously low price, check out Emblem Stay Kanazawa. It offers free Wi-Fi, an onsite bar, and is close to a multitude of attractions including Kenrokuen.
Otherwise, stay right in the middle of the entertainment district, Higashi Chaya, at the Ryokan Yamamuro. It’s only a 5-minute walk from Kanazawa Station, and is run intimately by a mother and son duo.
2. Korakuen (Okayama)
The gorgeous Korakuen garden is located right next to the Okayama Castle, making it the perfect place to capture images of the castle amongst greenery. Its name is derived from a Confucius proverb meaning “garden of pleasure after”, which speaks about the idea that a ruler should consider his subjects before himself.
It spread across 144,000 square metres, and houses more than 10 historical structures. You can come during all seasons of the year and be presented with a different yet equally beautiful scenery every time. It’s roughly a 25-minute walk or 12-minute bus ride from Okayama Station.
Recommended accommodation near Korakuen
If you’re looking for a no-frills accommodation nearby, book the Lazy House. It’s a quaint guest house that features all the amenities for a comfortable stay, including decent Wi-Fi, regular cleaning, and well-equipped bathroom and kitchen.
For a bit more of a traditional stay, check out Tomada Onsen Iyashi no Yado Sensui. It’s a traditional ryokan that’s strictly authentic in every way. There’s a public onsen onsite for guests, free parking, and breakfast and dinner is included.
3. Ritsurin (Takamatsu)
If you’re out in the west of Japan, you might want to consider Ritsurin Garden, located in Takamatsu. This is a beautiful landscape garden that features a pond, teahouses, and exceptional walking paths that take you all over the grounds. In the background of it all you’ll see Mount Shiun, which serves as a subtle but epic backdrop for photos. To get there, it is a 20-minute walk from JR Ritsurin Station, or a 3-minute walk from JR Ritsurin Koen Kitaguchi Station.
Recommended accommodation near Ritsurin
For an accommodation that is cheap, affordable, and close by to Ritsurin Garden, you can check out jonah’s hostel. It’s walkable to the attraction, as well as other popular places such as the Takamatsu Castle. There is free Wi-Fi and private bathroom.
For yet another affordable accommodation, but this time in a traditional Japanese ryokan setting, Setouchi Mangetsuso is a great option. You will get the full experience of sleeping on futon bedding on tatami mats at a fraction of the regular price.
4. Shinjuku-Gyoen (Tokyo)
This list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Shinjuku-Gyoen, one of the most popular parks in Tokyo. On the daily it welcomes hundreds onto its grounds for peaceful and calming strolls right in the middle of what seems to be the busiest city in the world. Its spacious lawn welcomes picnics, outings, and parties throughout the yet in a traditional landscape garden setting. The park is an easy 10-minute walk from Shinjuku Station.
By the way, if you are looking for another superb park a bit outside Tokyo, check out the gorgeous Hitachi Seaside Park.
5. Nezu Museum Garden (Tokyo)
This attraction houses both a pre-modern Japanese and Asian art museum as well as a gorgeous traditional style garden that boasts a pond, bridges, and multiple interesting windy paths that take you around the cute tea houses on the grounds.
Here, you will pay one admittance fee but you’ll be able to visit both attractions – what a bargain! It’s located right in the quaint suburb of Aoyama right in the middle of Tokyo, so if you’re after a quick 1-2 hour break, head here to wind down. From Omotesando Station, it’s only an 8-minute walk.
6. Koishikawa Korakuen (Tokyo)
Located right next to the large and famous infrastructure that is Tokyo Dome, this stunning garden still remains peaceful and tranquil, and its beauty is undisturbed despite where it is situated. It boasts a wonderful network of trails that leads to various vantage points around the garden for photos.
It is the most popular during late autumn, entering into winter, when the fall colours are at their peak and bright shades of red and orange splash across the landscape. To get to this park, it’s a short 5-10-minute walk from Iidabashi Station, or 10-minute walk from Korakuen Station.
You May Also Like: The 15 Best Torii Gates In Japan
7. Ginkakuji Temple (Kyoto)
As opposed to the famous Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, why not pay a visit to its sister, the Silver Pavilion? Ginkakuji, located along Kyoto’s eastern mountains, is a Zen temple that showcases contemporary Japanese culture. It boasts gorgeous temple structures, a unique moss garden, and a dry sand garden.
Despite its name, the Silver Pavilion is not actually silver in colour. Rather, it was a nickname given to it many moons ago that just stuck. From Kyoto Station, simply hop on bus #5, #17, or #100 for 35 to 40-minutes and alight at Ginkakuji.
8. Tenryu-ji (Kyoto)
This stunning yet unassuming garden is one of the most celebrated temples in Arashiyama. It’s ranked number one among the city’s five great Zen temples, and is now a world heritage site. It’s a wonderfully peaceful garden that features a central pond, rock structures and tall pine trees, all set amongst the Arashiyama mountains background. If you exit via the back, you’ll be able to access the Arashiyama Bamboo Rainforest. It’s a 10 to 15-minute walk from JR Saga-Arashiyama Station.
More tips about visiting Japan here: Japan Travel Blog.
9. Ryoanji Temple (Kyoto)
Ryoanji Temple is a relatively unknown temple amongst the foreign crowd, a ‘sleeper’ almost. However, it’s quite a unique additional to the list. It’s actually famous in Japan for its rock garden, which was conceptualised and designed many years ago but the designer is still unknown.
When viewing the rock garden, an interesting fact is that at any viewing point, at least one rock structure is hidden. There are several theories as to what the rock garden symbolises, but it’s up to you to decipher it yourself when you see it. The temple ground also boasts a park area with a pond, walking trails, and a restaurant which serves Kyoto’s specialty, ‘yudofu’ (hot tofu).
10. Kinkakuji Temple (Kyoto)
We saved the most popular for last! You guys must have heard of Kinkakuji, aka the Golden Pavilion, before. It’s one of the most iconic Japanese attractions ever, but most people don’t realise that beyond the gorgeous golden exterior, there exists a garden whose beauty is unfortunately hidden in the shadows.
After you’ve taken your phone’s storage space worth of pictures of the golden temple, head inside passed the hojo, through to the temple’s gardens. You can witness the lucky Anmintaku Pond that’s surrounded by statues that people throw coins at for luck. There is also a teahouse you can visit, souvenir shops, a tea garden to sit down and enjoy some tea and sweets, and, of course, plenty of photo opportunities.
After reading this, there is no way you’re going to skip out on visiting at least one garden, right? Their beauty is unmatched and completely different to castles and temples and skyscrapers.
Once you pay attention to the details and intricacies of a traditional Japanese garden, you will learn how to appreciate just how much work and planning goes into creating the perfect ambient and visual. After all, the Japanese have spent thousands of years perfecting this artform!
PS: If you are currently building your itinerary in Japan, feel free to also check out this article: The 10 Best Castles in Japan.