Japanese gardens are widely known for a particular design following a unique aesthetic and philosophical concept. Tokyo hosts several of these gardens to be visited and enjoyed not just by garden fanatics but also by the ordinary tourist to encounter a new garden design as well as the regular visitor in search of contemplation and relaxation.
Japanese gardens are sometimes compared to the English garden. There are indeed some similar features such as interesting hills providing several perspectives as well as asymmetries in the garden elements. This produces the impression as if the garden was bigger than it is and creates variegated spaces. In this regard, both the English and the Japanese garden differ from the French garden with its clear-cut industrial arrangements. On the other hand, Japanese gardens consist of elements rarely found in the English garden such as rocks, stone lanterns and what connoisseurs of Japanese gardens love most: carefully positioned stones around and within ponds to be walked on.
Japanese gardens may also be compared to Chinese gardens as they share some design elements. The main difference, though, rests in the relationship between garden and visitor: While the Chinese garden is best enjoyed from the inside of garden houses (such as tea houses or central stages), the Japanese garden is best appreciated from the outside of houses when walking through them. Several philosophical disputes exist to discuss the concepts and main features of the Japanese garden - the literature is vast and hard to oversee by now.
To get a good impression of the Japanese garden, it is advisable to visit one of the magnificent gardens in Tokyo such as the Hama-rikyu garden or the Kiyosumi garden. You may visit them every day (with some exceptions) between 9 am and 5 pm (last entry at 4.30pm). To experience them and assess their concepts, a stay of at least one hour is recommended.
Hama-rikyu comes with the additional feature that you can enjoy a tea-ceremony without prior reservation: While sitting on tatami mats, a drink of hot or cold Matcha and Japanese sweets can be consumed - an unforgettable experience that should be part of every serious visit to Japan. Many other gardens, including Kiyosumi, also provide tea houses but reservations usually need some preparation time of at least several days in advance.
Unfortunately, it is no longer allowed to feed the Koi carps in Tokyo Metropolitan gardens; a regulation that was introduced recently to protect the animals in the ponds and their environment better. Hama-rikyu and Kiyosumi are beautiful gardens for their specific design with big ponds, winding walkways and bigger hills. In Kiyosumi, the tallest hill even takes the shape of Mount Fuji covered in clouds.
Kiyosumi is to be preferred if stepping stones are your most interesting feature, while Hama-rikyu is famous for its contrast between the traditional garden and the big building surrounding it similar to central park in New York. Hama-rikyu may be combined with a riverboat cruise on the Sumida river starting either in Asakusa close to Senso-ji or ending there. Kiyosumi is close to the Tokyo Edo museum or also to the SumidaHokusei museum.
All Tokyo Metropolitan gardens provide leaflets covering the fascinating history of the gardens as well as introducing the garden elements. Even if you are not into gardens, a visit is a highly recommendable and memorable and relaxing activity.
Kiyosumi garden: 150 Yen
Hama-rikyu garden: 300 Yen