In my 8 years in Japan, I have been to many traditional gardens in Kyoto and Tokyo, but despite having lived in Tokyo for 8 years, until the other day I had never been to the Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens close to JR Hamamatsucho station. It just never happened. So this was to be the big day!
While Japanese gardens can be quite expensive, an adult ticket for the Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Garden costs only 150 Yen. A one-year pass for 600 Yen is also available and very popular with the people working in nearby offices to spend their lunch break in the garden.
The garden is very old, it was constructed in 1686 by Okubo Tadatomo – an official of the ruling Tokugawa Shogunate – for the Shogun’s residence. Garden designers from the Odawara Domain (west of Tokyo) were summoned to Edo (Tokyo) to build the garden.
The garden’s owners changed several times. At the end of the 19th century, the garden was purchased by the Imperial Household and became the Shiba Detached Imperial Villa. In 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed the garden’s buildings. Thereafter, the garden was presented to the city of Tokyo and its people by Emperor Hirohito in 1924. Later in 1979, the Government of Japan designated the garden as a Place of Scenic Beauty and Special Historic Interest. In fact, it was once regarded as the most beautifully designed garden in Tokyo.
At the center of the garden is a big pond – a path around the pond invites to stroll around and enjoy the pond from different angles.
With the change of the city, the garden also changed
Since the garden was originally constructed, Edo (and then Tokyo) has grown gradually – and the garden had to make way for constructions in its surroundings. Originally, the garden had a beach adjacent to Tokyo Bay: this beach was lost when the sea was reclaimed to gain more land. Also, the big pond in the center of the garden was filled up with salty seawater – making it rise and fall with the tides!
Unfortunately, the pines surrounding the pond suffered from the salt water and died – today only two trees are still alive. The pine trees you can enjoy today have been planted recently and are more resistant to sea water (and changed the water in the pond back to freshwater).
A stroll in the garden
As the pond is in the center of the garden strolling around, you can enjoy many different types of bridges on your path. There are arched bridges, zigzag bridges, wooden and stone ones!
To get an overview of the garden and its surroundings, I recommend to go on top of “Ohyama” hill – a man-made hill. When the big pond was constructed, the earth dug out was used to produce this hill: the Japanese style of recycling!
Visiting the garden, I was impressed most by the gap between the calm, traditional Japanese garden and the busy, futuristic city surrounding it. In the distance you can see Tokyo Tower, large television screens, tall office buildings and the Shinkansen bullet trains racing by.
I keep wondering, why, even though I have lived in Tokyo, I haven’t visited earlier. Kyu-Shiba-Rikyu Gardens is a hidden gem in the city, a must-see.