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Five Must-See Gardens Recommended to Visitors

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Visit five popular Japanese gardens that have a unique gardening culture, accessibility, and high tourist ratings.

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There are three gardens in Japan that are designated as sandai teien, or the "Three Great Gardens of Japan". With deep history, class and beauty, each garden is magnificent on its own.

However, Japanese standards do not always match those of visitors from other countries. Famous gardens are more often than not, also located far away from popular sightseeing spots such as Tokyo and Kyoto.

Out of all the numerous Japanese gardens available, we would like tourists to visit ones that have unique gardening culture, great accessibility from famous sightseeing spots, and highly rated by tourists.

1. Katsura Imperial Villa (Kyoto) - A Calculated Japanese Beauty

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Image courtesy of David Sanz

The Katsura Imperial Villa (桂離宮, Katsura Rikyū) was constructed as a separate villa for the royal family in the year 1615. In the 69,400 square-meter space, houses and lakes are carefully placed. The way the buildings blend into nature has not only received high praises from Japanese architects, but also from foreign ones.

Many consider this Japanese garden a masterpiece even among its kind.

Located in the Nishikyo Ward of Kyoto, many make a stop during their tour around the city.

The garden is maintained by the Imperial Household Agency, so visitors find its free admission a welcomed feature. Entry requires prior reservations, however.

2. Hama Rikyu Gardens (Tokyo) - The Contrast of Contemporary Architecture with Japanese Gardens


Photo by Pixta

The Hama Rikyu Gardens (浜離宮恩賜庭園, Hama Rikyū Onshi Teien), located in the Chuo Ward of Tokyo, is a rare Japanese-style garden buried under the modern skyscrapers of the city.

This is a unique park where you an see cherry blossoms, pine trees and other seasonal scenery with buildings in the background. One can enjoy the changing scenery with Tokyo Bay's rising and falling of tides.

Located in the center of Tokyo and within a walking distance from Tsukiji fish market, it is easy to include this garden in your itinerary.

More details at: Visit Hama-rikyu Gardens and Tsukishima

3. Ryoan-ji Temple (Kyoto) - Embrace Nature's Beauty in This Rock Garden


Photo by Pixta

This is a rock garden located within the Ryoan-ji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji). Unlike Katsura Imperial Villa or the Hama Rikyu Gardens, which are filled with trees and lakes, this garden expresses nature using rocks and sand instead. These types of rock gardens are called Karesansui, or "Dry Landscape Gardens".

Though there are many Karesansui gardens in Japan, the highly popular rock garden of Ryoan-ji Temple has carefully placed rocks, creating a refined atmosphere that one can even call philosophical.

Paying the admission fee to Ryoan-ji Temple allows you to explore and appreciate the garden on your own. Extremely popular with tourists, one can also see the silhouettes of these visitors gazing into the rock garden, lost in the moment.

You will also be able to enjoy the different sides of the garden when the cherry blossoms bloom or the leaves turn color according to the season.

4. Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane) - Top Favorite Garden Among Tourists of Japan


This garden in the Adachi Museum of Art (足立美術館, Adachi Bijutsukan) has reigned as the number one garden for 12 years straight in the American magazine of Japanese gardens, "Sukiya Living/The Journal of Japanese Gardening".

It even earned three stars on the "Michelin Green Guide Japan" and had been rated highly among many Americans and Europeans.

The secret behind its ratings come from the quality and its sheer size. The garden is divided into six sections and you are able to appreciate a classic Japanese garden like Katsura Imperial Villa and a stone garden similar to Ryoan-ji Temple at the same time.

Since this is a museum, you can enjoy the garden from indoors as well. The large windows create a frame around the scenery making the garden seem like a piece of art.

Though this garden is somewhat far from popular tourist sites, several shrines steeped in history such as the Izumo Taisha Shrine are located close by.

Take your time to carefully explore this garden during your long stay in Japan.

5. Shikina-en Garden (Okinawa) - A Ryukyu Kingdom-Style Southern Paradise

Lastly, we would like to introduce the Shikina-en Garden (識名園, Shikina En) in Okinawa. Unlike the prior gardens we've introduced, this one has a more tropical feel to it.

Long ago the Ryukyu Kingdom in Okinawa had a different culture to the mainland. The Shikina-en Garden was created as a separate villa for the royal family back then.

One can discover the harmony between nature and architecture while experiencing Okinawan freshness in this Japanese garden. You might even get a taste of Chinese influences from the stone bridges and buildings.

In Conclusion

Aside from the classic Japanese gardens, we hope you enjoyed taking a look at the different styles. Did you manage to find one that captured your attention? Do make a trip to Japan to witness the splendor of the gardens with your own eyes.

There are many more gardens in Kyoto and Tokyo to see. Wouldn't it be nice to spend a day or two exploring gardens in Kyoto or Tokyo?


1. Katsura Imperial Villa

Address: Katsura Imperial Villa, Nishikyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto
Entry Hours: 9:00am, 10:00am, 11:00am, 1:30pm, 2:30pm, 3:30pm (One hour exhibit time. Reservation needed)
Closed: Weekends and holidays.
Wi-Fi: Not available.
Credit Cards: Not Available
Staff Language: Japanese only
Language availability: Audio guides in English, Chinese and French
Station: Katsura Station (Hankyu Kyoto Line)
Access: 20-minute walk from Katsura Station. 8-minute walk from the Katsura Rikyu-mae bus station.
Price Range: Free
Phone Number: +81-75-211-1215
Official Website: Katsura Imperial Villa

2. Hama Rikyu Gardens

Address: 1-1 Hama Rikyu Gadens, Chuo ward, Tokyo
Hours: 9:00am~5:00pm
Closed: End of the year (Dec 29 ~ Jan 1)
Wi-Fi: Not available.
Credit Cards: Not Available
Language: Japanese, English, French, Chinese (simplified and traditional), Korean audio guides. Free English guides available on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 AM.
Language availability: English
Station: Tsukiji Ichiba Station (Toei Subway Oedo Line), Shiodone Station (Yurikamome line), Shimbashi Station (JR, Tokyo Metro Ginza Line, Toei Subway Asakusa Line)
Access: 7-minute walk from Tsukiji Ichiba Station (E18), Shiodome Station (E19), Yurikamome Shiodome Station. 12-minute walk from Shimbashi Station (G08/A10)
Price Range: Standard admission: 300 Yen / Seniors over 65: 150 Yen / Under elementary or Middle school students living in Tokyo: Free.
Groups over 20 people standard admission: 240 Yen / Seniors over 65: 120 Yen
Phone Number: +81-3-3541-0200 (Hama Rikyu Onshi Gardens Service Center)
Official Website: Hama Rikyu Onshi Gardens

3. Ryoan-ji Temple

Address: 13 Ryoan-ji Goryo no Shita-cho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto City, Kyoto
Hours: 08:00am-17:00pm on March 1 to November 30.
08:30-16:30 on December 1 to End of February.
Closed: Open all year.
Wi-Fi: Not available.
Credit Cards: Not Available
Language: Japanese only.
Language availability: Not Available
Station: Ryoan-ji Station on the Keifuku Line
Access: 7-minute walk from the Ryoan-ji Station. 7-minute walk from the Ritsumei Daigaku Mae Station on the City Bus number 50 or 55. Front of the Ryoan-ji Mae Station on the City Bus number 59.
Price Range: Adult and High school students: 500 yen. Elementary and Middle school: 300 yen.
Religion: Buddhist
Phone Number: +81-75-463-2216
Official Website: Ryoan-ji

4. Adachi Museum of Art

Address: 320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi City, Shimane
Hours: 09:00am-5:30pm April to September.
9:00am-5:00pm October to March.
Closed: Open all year.
Wi-Fi: Not available.
Language availability: English and Chinese audio guides available.
Station: JR Yasugi Station
Access: A 20-minute ride on a free shuttle from the JR Yasugi station.
Price Range: Adult: 2,300 yen, College student: 1,800 yen, High school student: 1,000 yen, Elementary and Middle school student: 500 yen
Phone Number: +81-854-28-7111
Official Website: Adachi Museum of Art

5. Shikina-en Garden

Address: 421-7 Maaji, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: 9:00am-5:30pm April to September
9:00am-5:00pm October to March
Closed: Wednesday (If that day is a holiday or a memorial day, the following day.) There may be temporary closures.
Wi-Fi: Not available.
Credit Cards: Not available.
Language: Japanese only.
Language availability: English, traditional Chinese, Korean pamphlets available
Station: Shikina-en mae Station on the Naha bus
Access: Right in front of the Shikina-en mae bus station.
Price Range: Adult: 400 yen. Child (up to middle school): 200 yen
Phone Number: +81-98-855-59356
Official Website: Shikina-en Garden

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