Japan has many great gardens, so if you are planning a trip to Japan, you can easily find nature almost everywhere. We have selected the ten best gardens on TripAdvisor, to help you select where to visit whilst traveling across Japan. If it is beautiful nature, stunning lakes and ponds, or fantastic waterfalls you are seeking, then read on for the ten best Japanese gardens:
1. Shinjuku Gyoen (Tokyo)
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This park was originally created as a garden specifically for the Imperial family for recreation and guests of the family, and was designated as an Important Cultural Property. Shinjuku Gyoen boasts a size of 58 hectares and consists of 3 types of gardens: an English garden known for its gentle slopes and public gathering space during hanami season, a French garden with sycamore trees and a Japanese garden with a central pond.
During the year, there are numerous events held at the park; there are participatory events such as photography lessons and contests in addition to chrysanthemum flower exhibitions and traditional Japanese art performances of Noh theatre. Once every month, the Edo Tokyovegetable market and Shinjuku Gyoen flower market are also held. It is prohibited to bring alcohol into the park to ensure that the peace and calm is kept at Shinjuku Gyoen. A visit to the garden is highly recommended during the cherry blossom and fall foliage seasons, but in general it truly is the ultimate place to take a break from the noise and bustle of the hectic Tokyo.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 200 / Child: ¥ 50
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Shinjuku Gyoen
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shinjuku Gyoen
- Tours in Shinjuku Gyoen
2. Kenroku-en (Kanazawa)
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As one Japan’s three greatest gardens, this garden is a Place of Scenic Beauty that is rightly designated as a National Treasure. Enjoy the different features of each season in this garden where man-made beauty and nature exist in remarkable harmony.
Kenroku-en is a Japanese garden that was designed in 1676 by Kaga Hanshu and took almost 180 years to complete. The name Kenroku-en (“garden with six characteristics”) comes from the Song dynasty book “Record of Famous Gardens in Luoyang,” which describes six features (spaciousness, seclusion, artifices, antiquity, water-courses and panoramas ), all of which are found in Kenroku-en. It is spacious, bright and open, but the garden also has the peacefulness and profundity of being among the mountains, and every inch of the garden has had some influence from man. The garden also has an antiquated feel, and, as the ponds and waterfalls vie for your attention, you can marvel at the view of the Ushinada sand dune and the Noto peninsula in the distance, and the view of the Utatsu Mountains, Mount Haku and Iozan in the foreground. In each season, you will enjoy the beautiful scenery while walking around the 5800m2 Kasumiga-ike pond in the middle of the garden, which still has the characteristics of a pleasure garden with trees and water-courses from the Edo period. The Kotoji Lanterns that light up the surface of the water are one of Kenroku-en’s most outstanding features, and they create an incredibly harmonious scene with the old maple trees and Nijibashi, which bridges the meandering stream. Gankou-bashi is a line of 11 stones modeled on the appearance of wild geese in flight. It is also called Tortoise-shell Bridge because the stones are shaped like tortoise shell. This bridge is said to ensure that those who cross it will live a long life, but crossing is now prohibited in order to protect the stones (viewing the bridge is possible).
Admission: Adult: ¥ 310 / Child: ¥ 100
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Kenroku-en
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Kenroku-en
- Tours of Kenroku-en
3. Asahikawa Zoo (Hokkaido)
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Currently visited by over 3 million people annually, Asahikawa Zoo has naturally been popular with the Japanese but has also attracted overseas tourists. In the 1990s, annual visits had dropped to 200,000 people, but through various tactics to be able to view the animals up close and have them live in their own environments, it progressed to the point of becoming Japan’s No. 1 zoo. As a good example in recreating different regions, it is a zoo that has gotten attention from the rest of the nation also as a successful example of an autonomous business.
The animal displays were changed from 1997. The thriving animals have become a must-see due to breeding methods that were completely thought out to the last letter so that the animals’ natural behavior could be seen. First off, there is Totori Village, an observable facility which was the first display to be incorporated. Originally, many birds had their wings clipped so that they couldn’t fly off but in this gigantic bird cage, the birds can freely fly about. At the very popular Penguin House, there is a tunnel in the water where you can get a 360-degree view. In winter, you can even meet the penguins as they walk through the zoo. Furthermore, Asahiyama Zoo has become famous for the successful natural reproduction of polar bears. Using a moat without any fencing, there is an open feeling of being able to view wild polar bears. If you are lucky, you might even be able to see them diving into the pool. As well, there are other popular exhibits such as the Moju House where you can get the same point of view as the animals and Orangutan House where the orangutans enjoy swinging through the air. There are wild animals which sleep throughout the day, so seeing them at night is also recommended.
Admission: ¥ 820
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Asahikawa Zoo
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Asahikawa Zoo
- Tours of Asahikawa Zoo
4. Takachiho (Miyazaki)
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Takachiho is a nature-filled town located in the northern part of Miyazaki Prefecture and surrounded by soaring mountains which is known as “The Village of Myths” for its status as a place where many legends have been told and for its many shrines. You will want to visit here with a rental car or through a tour. In the town, Takachiho Gorge has been designated as a Place of Scenic Beauty and a Natural Monument; the gorge runs for 7km with 50-100m high cliffs carved out from volcanic activity. A symbol of the gorge is the 17-meter-high Manai Falls which has been selected as one of Japan’s Top 100 Waterfalls. You can rent out a paddle boat to get that awesome view of the falls from the bottom. As well, it’s also possible to view the gorge from the top via the walking trail. The three-arched Sandan Bridge is a unique place even for Japan where you can get that view with a difference from the trail.
Takachiho Shrine boasts a history of 1900 years and its main building has even been designated as an Important Cultural Property. Two gigantic trees whose trunks are fused together known as the Fuufu (Couples) Cedar are said to provide good fortune in matchmaking, household security and perpetuation of the family line if the couple joins hands and goes around the trees 3 times. In addition, the kagura dances that are famous within the Takachiho area are a local festival that gives thanks to a good harvest and prays for stable lifestyles, and the dancing ceremony brings the gods and the local people together as one. At the Kagura Hall within the shrine, Takachiho yokagura night dances can be seen nightly from 8pm under a reservation system. You will want to experience the culture of the kagura where the gods of Japanese mythology dance. At Kunimigaoka, which is a famous point at an altitude of 513m, there is the perfect view of the sea of clouds in the chill and quiet of an early morning in autumn. Regardless of the season, though, it is also a popular spot to view the Takachiho Valley during good weather.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Takachiho
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Takachiho
- Tours of Takachiho
5. Koraku-en (Okayama)
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Okayama Koraku-en is one of Japan’s Three Great Gardens along with Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en and Mito’s Kairaku-en. Nationally designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, it has even received 3 stars in the French guidebook The Michelin Green Guide and worldwide praise. There are a variety of structures everywhere within the garden such as the central Enyo-tei House that the daimyo used to welcome honored guests with Mt. Miyao and Okayama Castle in the background. The visitor can enjoy new views as he takes a walk through the garden with Yuishinzan Hill in the center along with a canal and pond at its foot.
The view from the most important building of Enyo-tei House has the most beautiful view from within the garden. Normally, the building is not open to the public except for two times in the spring and fall so you will want to visit then. Aside from the buildings, what is also not to be missed is the garden’s harmonious relationship with nature through the plants and Japanese cranes. In the spring, there are cherry blossoms and azaleas, Japanese iris and lotus in the summer, the fall colors, and camellia and plum in the winter so that seasonal scenery can be enjoyed throughout the year. At Koraku-en, Japanese cranes have been raised since the Edo Era. Although the program was halted temporarily, it has returned with the cranes being raised in cages. Annually on January 1st, several cranes are released into the wild with suitably excited visitors celebrating in an air of congratulations for the New Year.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 400 / Child: ¥ 140
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Koraku-en
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Koraku-en
- Tours of Koraku-en
6. Ashikaga Flower Park (Tochigi)
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Ashikaga Flower Park which has become famous for its wisteria blooms has more than 350 wisteria trees on its huge 92000㎡ grounds. The year is divided into 8 seasons with a floral theme which begins with winter peony in early January, so that flowering plants such as wisteria, hydrangeas, irises and flowers can be enjoyed all throughout the year. During this time, the Giant Wisteria Festival which takes place from late April to May is popular, attracting more than 500,000 people annually. Designated by the prefecture as a Natural Monument, the 80m-long white wisteria tunnel and the 3 giant multilayered wisteria trellises that cover the equivalent of 600 tatami mats are truly attractive. Along with purple, there are unusual colors of wisteria such as gold and white which can be seen, and together with 5000 azaleas, they provide something worth seeing.
Also, the Bejeweled Flower Garden that occurs 3 times from late October is the largest illumination show in the Kanto region that has been designated as one of the Top 3 Kanto Great Light Shows as a Japanese Heritage Site for Night Views. The symbolic tree of the Miraculous Giant Wisteria is decorative illumination imagining a wisteria-colored flower cluster. The sight of it waving in the wind just like the real thing is impressive. The Wall Mural of Light that shines in the mountain river and the areas which take advantage of the effect of glass on the surface of the pond are also popular. In 2014, Ashikaga Flower Park was selected as one of the Nine Dream Tourist Destinations in the World by CNN. The 140-year-old Miracle Wisteria in the park was the basis for The Tree of Souls featured in James Cameron’s “Avatar” which has also led to the park being the focus of attention from the world as a tourist spot. Another plus is that the park can be easily accessed by car or train within 90 minutes.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Ashikaga Flower Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Ashikaga Flower Park
- Tours of Ashikaga Flower Park
7. Hamarikyu Gardens (Tokyo)
During the Edo period (1603 – 1868), feudal lords across Japan had second houses in the capital Edo (present day Tokyo) because they were obliged to be in Edo for certain periods to engage in public services (the sankin-kotai system). They built beautiful gardens for these second houses where they entertained guests. For this reason, much passion was put into these gardens by feudal lords who competed with each other to prove that their clan was the best by creating the best garden; many clever ideas and arrangements were incorporated into the gardens. A garden craze ignited by these feudal lords caught on in the town of Edo. Hamarikyu is a garden that was built during this garden craze of Edo. The construction of Hamarikyu began in 1654 when Tsunashige Tokugawa, the young brother of the fourth shogun (military governor), started the construction of his estate. A number of construction projects for the garden and the buildings were conducted by successive shoguns and finally, the garden was completed during the times of the eleventh shogun, Ienari Tokugawa.
The garden is an “excursion type” garden in which visitors can enjoy a variety of changing views while strolling around the garden. Nevertheless, the garden stands out the most for its boldly created huge pond which was constructed by filling up and drawing seawater from the Tokyo Bay. This design was devised with the intention to create views that change by the states of the tide; in addition to enjoying these views, it is said that the residents and their guests had fun fishing saltwater fish which, riding the tide, entered the pond from the sea. The highlights of the garden are this vast seawater pond “Shioiri-no-ike” and the magnificent design of the garden with artificial rolling hills that were created to resemble a natural landscape.
Admission: ¥ 300
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hamarikyu Gardens
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hamarikyu Gardens
- Tours in Hamarikyu Gardens
8. Sankei-en Garden (Yokohama)
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In 1906 Yokohama, Sankei Hara, who was successful in the raw silk trade, established the ideal garden on a huge site of 17.5 hectares. Old buildings from cities such as Kyoto and Kamakura were transported, and a total of 17 structures were carefully placed in consideration of the land’s natural topography. Of these buildings, 10 have been recognized as National Important Cultural Properties while 3 have been recognized as Yokohama Tangible Cultural Properties. The natural scenery and the formative art born from the Japanese architecture placed there evoke a beauty that can only be found at this garden.
Sankei-en suffered wartime damage following the death of the founder, and the Hara family donated the garden to the city of Yokohama afterwards. It is now maintained by the Sankei Hosho Foundation, and following its postwar recovery, it was recognized as a National Historic Site in 2006 and is continuing to attract visitors with its unchanging beauty. Sankei-en is not just limited to the picturesque scenery of its landscape gardening or the beauty of its buildings as National Important Cultural Properties, but it also has the highlight of its changing scenery through the flowers of the four seasons. There are the cherry blossoms of spring, the irises of summer, the foliage of autumn, the quintessentially Japanese scene of winter, and camellia. How about spending a day getting a sense of the original beauty of Japan at this Japanese garden which has its own distinctive expressions depending on the season. In particular, the evening illumination of the springtime cherry blossoms lends a mystical air which explains its annual popularity.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 500 / Child: ¥ 200
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Sankei-en Garden
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Sankei-en Garden
- Tours of Sankei-en Garden
9. Atsuta Shrine (Nagoya)
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Atsuta Shrine, located in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, was established in the year 113, and reaching its 1900th anniversary in 2013, a commemorative festival was held. At the shrine that has been affectionately called Atsuta-san by Nagoyans, more than 6.5 million visitors come every year. Not only local citizens but members of the Imperial Household and shoguns have also worshiped at the shrine, and it is also known as the most prestigious shrine next to Ise Shrine. The reason for this is that it is famous for enshrining the Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi, the sword that is one of the Three Sacred Treasures of Japan (mirror, jewel, sword) which were given by the gods in Japanese mythology. Including a National Treasure and Important Cultural Properties, it is one of the over 6000 artifacts that are housed within the shrine. Atsuta Shrine has a Bunkaden treasure hall in which permanent and special exhibitions are held on the 1st floor. Selected treasures are displayed monthly. On the 2nd floor of the Bunkaden is the Atsuta Library where Shinto writings are exhibited. The atmosphere at this foliage-rich shrine itself is also recommended. Within the 200,000 m² grounds of the shrine, there are camphor trees planted which are more than a millennium old. Just strolling through this tranquil atmosphere is cleansing for the heart. Atsuta Shrine is a popular tourist destination as a refuge of nature.
The Atsuta Festival held on June 5th is the largest celebration held at the shrine among the many festivals there. Beginning with the dedication of makiwara lanterns, it is a grand festival that marks the arrival of summer in Nagoya with 1000 fireworks. You can freely enjoy a Japanese summer festival through the taiko drums and mikoshi and the stalls lined up on the path heading toward the shrine. There are various festivals so please check the homepage for the festival that you would like to visit.
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Atsuta Shrine
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Atsuta Shrine
- Tours of Atsuta Shrine
10. Hitachi Seaside Park (Ibaraki)
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The park is about 110km north of Tokyo. Facing the Pacific Ocean, the sea breeze is very pleasant in the summer. The park is divided into 7 areas and each area has flowers that blossom all throughout the year. The nemophila which blooms in the Miharashi area is at its peak from late April to early May. On the huge 3.5ha Miharashi-no-Oka Hill which overlooks the Pacific, the 4.5 million blue blooms of the nemophila all open at once. The 360-degree view of this blue world of sky, sea and nemophila has a breathtaking beauty. In autumn, the kochia is famous. Known in Japanese as houkigusa, the fluffy red kochia is at its peak from late September to early October. As the greenery of summer slowly gives way to the colors of fall, it is this gradation from green to red that is charming. The kochia that has brilliantly changed color and painted Miharashi-no-Oka scarlet makes for superb scenery. In addition, there are the white and yellow spring daffodils and tulips, along with the sunflowers and lavender of summer, the cosmos of autumn and rape blossoms of winter, so the park can be enjoyed for its flora at any time.
The Pleasure Garden area is a hit with the kids, and in March 2015, 5 of the attractions got an extra boost. Next to the amusement park, there is a gigantic slide which has a diameter of 24m and a large snake-like facility spanning 400m with 19 items so that you can play there for the entire day. The park area is certainly huge so it’s good to make use of the rental bicycles or the Seaside Train to get around. During the year, there are several days which are free of admission so please check the website before making your way to the park.
Admission: Adult: ¥ 410 / Child: ¥ 80
- Guidebook from Planetyze about Hitachi Seaside Park
- Reviews from TripAdvisor about Hitachi Seaside Park
- Tours of Hitachi Seaside Park
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