Carefully manicured yet brimming with the beauty of nature, Japanese gardens are a true art from. Combining philosophical concepts, ancient aesthetics, and a deep appreciation of nature’s transience, the Japanese landscapes are crafted and cared for over centuries. They feature views from across the nation and embrace local scenery by using ‘borrowed landscapes’ allowing the gardens to extend well beyond their physical borders. While the trends and styles varied over the centuries, the key elements of the Japanese-style gardens have remained, with water, stone lanterns, bridges, and seasonal plants as strong focal points throughout.
Despite being ravaged by fires and wars, Tokyo has retained an incredible selection of traditional gardens, with some maintained, some rebuilt and some entirely recreated using ancient plans. The Edo style is prominent, with strolling Daimyo Gardens making the perfect retreats from busy city streets and evening illuminations adding a contemporary touch. Whichever corner of the capital you find yourself in, there will no doubt be a tranquil garden not too far away—which Journy can help you discover with a personalized, detailed itinerary.
Tokyo’s most beautiful garden
Considered the most popular of all the Tokyo gardens, Korakuen is a 17th century idyl with an unusual Chinese twist. One of Tokyo’s three surviving Daimyo gardens created in the Edo period, it now neighbors theme parks and Tokyo Dome, but retains a sense of tranquility. The garden was started by Feudal Lord Yorifusa, and his son completed the work in 1669. Unlike many gardens, however, it was designed to incorporate a combination of classical Japanese and Chinese scenes, as the scholar Shu Shunsui aided the plans.
The garden was named after a poem in the Book of Odes, a collection which outlines the six principles of Chinese poetry, later used to determine the six elements of Japanese Waka poetry. A close relationship between poetry and landscaping was present during Edo-era design and scenic views were carefully created to evoke the poetic atmosphere. Two man-made hills, Imoyama and Seyama, offer views across the pond and its islands, with winding walking trails allowing visitors to stroll through the carefully manicured grounds. With plum and cherry blossoms, irises, azaleas, and autumnal gingko and maple trees, the must-visit garden undergoes striking transformations throughout the year.
Entry: 300 yen
Hours: 9AM - 5PM (last entry at 4:30PM)
The garden of six poems
In a quiet residential corner of Bunkyo City in Tokyo lies Rikugien, a pristine example and the second of Tokyo’s traditional Japanese strolling gardens. Created for Japan’s fifth shogun, Tsunayoshi Tokugawa, its name holds the key to the thoughtful and unusual design. Meaning ‘Garden of Six Poems’, the landscape garden features scenes from the six principles of waka poetry, developed from ancient Chinese divisions. Only 38 of the original 88 scenes remain today and can be identified by stone markers.
The large pond, man-made hills, and seasonal trees can be appreciated without any detailed knowledge of these ancient scenes, however. The artful landscapes in miniature are truly beautiful, each carefully designed to form elegantly sculpted yet entirely natural views. Often combining pleasure with utility, the gardens have a network of trails each offering different vantage points, and a leisurely exploration and sightseeing can take around an hour.
While the garden was eventually neglected and left to disrepair, in 1878 it was adopted by the founder of Mitsubishi, who slowly restored it. Continued by his successors over the years, it was later donated to the Tokyo City Government and was named as a special place of scenic beauty in the 1950s.
With weeping cherry blossoms in spring, bright azaleas in summer, and golden hues in autumn, the garden changes throughout the seasons, with elegant yukizuri offering snowfall protection in winter. Evening illuminations offer a unique view of the garden for sakura and autumn leaf seasons, offering a rare chance to see the gardens at night.
Entry: 300 yen
Hours: 9AM - 5PM ( (last entry at 4:30pm, extended hours for illuminations)
A waterside retreat
The third of Tokyo’s surviving Daimyo gardens, Hamarikyu is surrounded by a seawater moat and is known for its picturesque floating tea house. Designed as a beachside residence in 1654 by Tsunashige Matsudaira, it was later converted into an imperial villa following the Meiji restoration. The gardens incorporated a duck-hunting ground for many years when originally built, and numerous remnants of the Feudal pastime remain. A cornerstone of traditional Daimyo design, the mix of purpose and scenery reaches a delicate balance in Hamarikyu.
The surrounding moat feeds into the garden’s tidal pond, lending the garden a sense of nature’s subtle transience. Perched in the center of the pond on wooden stilts is the teahouse, where guests can enjoy a traditional bowl of matcha with wagashi—small Japanese sweets. The garden holds an annual grand tea ceremony event in autumn, serving hundreds of visitors over a busy weekend.
A stroll through the gardens offers views across the water, a small rice field, and a variety of seasonal plants and flowers, from plums to cherries to peonies. While it isn’t as well known for the autumn leaves, the garden offers a unique contrast between towering skyscrapers and oasis-like greenery, making it the perfect place to reflect on Tokyo’s complex identity.
Entry: 300 yen
Hours: 9AM - 5PM (last entry at 4:30PM)
A royal garden
One of the only areas in the Imperial Palace open to the public, the East Gardens are a treasure trove of ruins and remnants. Surrounded by an additional moat and protected by five gates, the area was once the Edo Castle’s honmaru and ninomaru—the innermost circle of defense. For a view across the complex, you can scale the foundations of the Old Castle Tower in the northwest corner. It was completed in 1638 and was once the tallest castle in Japanese history, but was soon destroyed by fire in 1657.
A contrast to the vast lawns surrounding the castle foundations in the honmaru, the intricate ninomaru garden is a true traditional Japanese garden. While there was originally a small garden here, built by renowned designer Kobori Enshu, it was destroyed in a fire in 1867, having matured for over 200 years. Today’s garden is based on the plans of an ancient shogun and features trees from the prefectures of Japan as well as a carefully relocated teahouse called Suwa no Chaya.
If you explored the gardens and are looking for a little more nature before you hit the city streets, try Kitanomaru Park to the north. Offering row-boats on the moat and stunning cherry trees come spring, it’s an easy addition to your imperial explorations.
Hours: Opens at 9AM, closing between 4PM - 6PM depending on the season
A quieter option with all of the charm and none of the crowds, Happo-en is an Edo-period garden with an oasis feel. Winding paths will lead guests through garden lawns and around the koi-filled pond, with the name’s origins soon becoming indisputable. Meaning ‘Garden of Eight Views’, it is renowned for offering the perfect view, whatever the angle.
While tourists may pass by this small garden without a second thought, it's a popular spot for Japanese weddings, and seeing the elegant procession can bring the garden to life. Along with the more contemporary building, there are traditional elements dotted throughout the grounds. The Suichin is a resting space floating on the water’s surface, creating a surreal view across the water. One of the highlights is the collection of ancient Bonsai trees, one of which is over 500 years old. Combined with the seasonal cherry and autumn trees, the garden creates a window into the careful care that goes into Japanese landscaping, with all elements, large and small, equally treasured.
The garden—in addition to its ample green space—has two teahouses and a kaiseki restaurant, with meals and tea available, and the option to combine with a guided tour. Nearby, the Institute for Nature Study is a more rugged park, perfect for some contrasting natural scenery.
Hours: 10AM - 8:30PM (weekdays), 9AM - 8:30PM (weekends)
Three gardens to explore
Technically a park but home to three beautiful gardens, Shinjuku Gyoen is a cherry blossom haven in spring, but is beautiful all year round. Beginning as Feudal Lord Naito’s residence in the Edo era, it underwent a series of changes over the centuries. Temporarily an agricultural center and then a botanical garden, it was eventually presented to the imperial family and was used for entertaining guests. It was only in 1949 that the garden was opened to the public, having been rebuilt after the original design was destroyed in the second world war.
Still holding the imperial tag of ‘gyoen’ the park has French, English, and traditional Japanese gardens as well as vast lawns—a rarity in Tokyo. Filled with thousands of cherry blossoms and ample space for picnics, the park is one of the city’s most popular hanami (flower viewing) spots, but is perfect for a stroll whatever the season. Offering an interesting contrast to the Eastern style, the two Western gardens have rosebeds, symmetrical design, and plenty of unusual plants. The Japanese Garden is the true highlight, however, with a Taiwan Pavilion, linked ponds, tea rooms, and truly beautiful views against the city backdrop.
Entry: 500 yen
Hours: 9AM - 4:30PM (Oct - mid March), 9AM - 6PM (March 15 - June 30, Aug 21 - Sept 30) 9AM - 7PM (July 1 - Aug 20)
Birds and stepping stone bridges
Once belonging to an Edo-era merchant followed by a Feudal Lord, the gardens of Kiyosumi Teien are known for their vast pond, wild birds, and ancient stepping stones. Taking guests across the water, the isowatari path offers unique views and a glimpse of the many koi and turtles who live in the surrounding water. The smooth boulders transported from across Japan are an unexpected highlight of the garden and a traditional element of Japanese design.
Almost more pond than land, the park features three islands, and while it’s smaller than many of its contemporaries, it still manages to keep the bustle of the city at bay. Designed in a teahouse style but actually housing a restaurant, the elegant floating structure is the pond’s centerpiece, and meals can be enjoyed with views out into the garden.
Despite remaining a private garden until 1932 when it was opened to the public, it offered refuge to many during the great fire of 1923. After some repair, it was presented to the city government and was designated as a scenic place of natural beauty for the city towards the end of the 1970s. Birdwatchers frequent the grounds seeking out rare and unusual residents, while seasonal flowers like irises, hydrangeas, and cherries add an ever-changing dash of color.
Entry: 150 yen
Hours: 9AM - 5PM (last entry at 4:30pm)
For more ideas on what to do in Tokyo, check out our comprehensive list (museums, parks, shrines, palaces, shows, shopping, and more).