The Kairakuen (偕楽園) is a Japanese landscape garden located in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture, and considered to be one of the “Three Great Gardens of Japan” along with Kenroku-en (兼六園) in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, and Kōraku-en (後楽園) in Okayama, Okayama Prefecture.
The garden was founded by Tokugawa Nariaki (徳川斉昭, 1800-1860), the ninth daimyō of the Mito Domain in 1841 and opened a year later. From the outset, it was not conceived for the feudal upper class only, but for all people living in the domain. Commoners could access the park on any day of the month including a three or an eight. The name Kairaku-en means as much as ‘a park that can be shared and enjoyed together’ and was taken from the Book of Mencius (Chinese: 孟子 Mengzi), a Confucian philosopher who lived in the fourth century BCE:
“The ancients would share the pleasures with people, so their pleasures would be hearty and deep.”
The park was totally destroyed by an American air raid on August 2, 1945 and reopened in 1958 after three years of renovation. The Kobuntei (see below) burned to the ground a second time in 1969 after it was struck by a lightning. Restoration works finished in 1972. In 2011, the park suffered again during the Great Tohoku Earthquake on March 11 of that year, resulting in land subsidence and liquefaction. The Kobuntei was reopened to the public on February 7, 2012.
The park encompasses about thirteen hectares and features some 3,000 trees, including more than one hundred different kinds of plum trees, as well as cedar trees, bamboo, azaleas, Japanese clovers, wisteria, etc. The park is most popular from late February to late March, when the plum trees are in bloom and the Mito Plum Festival (水戸の梅まつり) is held. In July 1999, Kairaku-en was merged with two other municipal parks, covering now a total area of some 300 hectares.
The Kobuntei is a a historic three-storey wooden building, made up of the main house, the northern one-storey annex (oku-goten), which served as the private quarters of visiting nobility, and the arch-bridge corridor (taikobashi-roka). Tokugawa Nariaki played a significant role in the Kobuntei’s construction. He would invite writers, artists, and residents of his domain to the Kobuntei and host parties composing Japanese poetry and events to entertain the old. The private quarters also served as an evacuation site in case fires broke out on the Mito castle grounds. It was used by the daimyō‘s wife and entourage.
Kobuntei features a remarkable variety of painted fusuma (襖, sliding screens) made of cryptomeria (Japanese cedar wood).
Tokiwa Jinja (常磐神社) is a Shintō shrine in proximity to Kairakuen. It was founded in 1874 and enshrines Tokugawa Mitsukuni, the second daimyō of the Mito Domain also known as Mito-Kōmon, and Tokugawa Nariaki, the ninth daimyō, who are worshipped as “Giko” and “Rekkō”. An annual festival (Tokiwa Jinja Reisai) is held on May 12. The shrine grounds hold the Giretsukan (義烈館), a small museum on both daimyō and exhibit a cannon, a giant drum and other artifacts, which have been designated Cultural Properties by the city of Mito (admission JPY 300).
Access and admission:
Kairaku-en can easily be reached by bus from the north exit of JR Mito Station (15 minutes), the bus leaves about every 20 minutes.
Map of Kairakuen (click to download, you must be logged in)
Address: 1-3-1 Tokiwa-cho, Mito City, Ibaraki
Hours: open daily from 06:00–19:00 (April 1 – September 15), 07:00–18:00 (September 16 – March 31). Kobuntei is open from 09:00-17:00, and from 09:00-16:30 (from January 10 – February 19).
Admission: access to the park is free, admission to Kobuntei is JPY 190 for adults, and JPY 100 for children.