TOKYO 1: Kita no Maru Koen, Otemachi Forest Garden; Tokyo Station; Koishikawa Korakuen; Shimbashi; Hama Rikyu and Kyu Shiba Rikyu

On Sunday Phil and I returned to Awaji Island after an exciting but very exhausting 10 days in and around Tokyo. We visited so many gardens and saw and experienced so much that I could write a hundred blog posts about our Tokyo trip. I won’t though! Here’s Tokyo post one of five…



On Thursday 26th February Phil and I took an early morning Express bus from the Awaji Interchange to Shin Kobe Station from where we caught our bullet train to Tokyo Station. As this is my fifth Shinkansen ride since arriving in Japan in January you would have thought that the novelty would have worn off somewhat by now. Question –if one insists on getting to the platform a good 20 minutes before ones Shinkansen is due in order to taking copious photos of Shinkansen arriving and departing from the station does this make one a train spotter? I do not own an anorak…yet.

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Right in the heart of the city of Tokyo, close to Tokyo Station are the gardens of the Imperial Palace, which comprise Kokyo Higashi Gyoen (Imperial Palace East Garden), Kokyo Gaien (Imperial Palace Outer Garden) and Kita no Maru Koen (Imperial Palace Park). As Kita no Maru was the first garden on our Tokyo itinerary it was to here we headed just as soon as we found our way out of the vast labyrinth that is Tokyo Station. The fact that it was pouring with rain and rather cold and neither Phil nor I had brought a waterproof coat or umbrella with us shows just how dedicated we are to the TRIAD programme! Still, the park is magnificent even in the rain and the reflections of the skyline on the paths were rather atmospheric.

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Surrounded by the historic Chidori-ga-fuchi moat and imposing stone walls Kita no Maru Koen originally formed part of the grounds of the former Edo era castle, once the largest castle in Japan and the administrative centre of the Tokugawa period. After World War II air raids destroyed most of the original castle buildings a new Imperial Palace was built and the Kita no Maru was reborn as a forest park, open to the public for the first time in 1969. With its skyscraper backdrop, wide paths and vast, tree-studded lawns the park has a distinctly modern feel.

However, contained within the park are many features which date back to the days of the old Edo castle.

The Tayasu-mon and Shimizu-mon were originally part of a large gate system through which one entered the city. Constructed in the mid-17th century these gates are some of the oldest surviving structures at Kita no Maru Koen and have been designated as national important cultural assets.

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The Chidori-ga-fuchi moat was the castle’s first line of defence against attack. The moat is said to be shaped like a chidori (a type of bird), hence the name. Today Chidori-ga-fuchi is a famous cherry blossom viewing spot, but sadly Phil and I were too early to witness this particular spectacle.

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A copy of Kyoto’s Fushimi Castle Bridge, Niju Bashi was constructed using stones from the old castle walls to provide the main route into the inner palace. The view of Niju Bashi from Kita no Maru Koen is popular with artists, photographers and tourists alike.

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Next stop was a small forest garden which Hirata sensei recommended we visited in the Otemachi business district.

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By now soaked through to the skin, there was nothing for it but to head inside nearby Tokyo Station, which this year celebrates its 100 year anniversary. The iconic Maranouchi station building was constructed in 1915 and has miraculously survived the attempts of two World Wars and the Great Kanto Earthquake to destroy it. This ‘Gateway to the Capital’ sees more trains pass through it than almost any other station in Japan and today more than 500,000 people use Tokyo Station on average each day. It’s such a magnificent building that I had to return later in the week to photograph the building without the rain.

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Inside the station it was good to see a little taste of home, even if it is in unfamiliar colours and flavours. Nobody in Japan believes me when I tell them that KitKats are a British invention (‘isn’t Nestle Japanese?), but I have checked the Nestle website so I know that I’m right. The Japanese are crazy for KitKats though and they have definitely turned this humble wafer biscuit into a work of art.

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Finally we made our way on the train to our hotel in Higashi-Jujo for an early night in preparation for a busy 10 days ahead.





Our first garden of the day was the beautiful Koishikawa Korakuen, one of Tokyo’s nine Metropolitan Cultural Gardens and designated as a ‘Special Places of Scenic Beauty and Special Historic Sites’. Koishikawa Korakuen has its origins in the early Edo period when a garden was first built by Yorifusa, founder of the Mito branch of the Tokugawa clan. However the garden wasn’t completed until the reign of the second domain lord, Mitsukuni. Mitsukuni had a taste for all things Chinese and invited advisors from Zhu Zhiyu to assist in the design of the garden. Even the name ‘Korakuen’ is Chinese in origin – it comes from the ancient Chinese text, Gakuyo-ki, and means ‘worry before all worries in the world and enjoy after all enjoyments in the world’.


The views around the central and side ponds were one of the highlights for me. I took so many photos in my attempts to capture the ambiance of the garden. Strangely the backdrop of skyscrapers seems to work with this traditional kaikyo (circuit) style Japanese landscape garden. They add height to Tokyo’s otherwise flat landscape, replacing the mountains and hills found in the background of landscape gardens elsewhere in the country. It is worth mentioning here that Tokyo was is a flat landscape reclaimed from beneath the sea, much in the way that England’s fenlands were.

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Another highlight for me was the bridges, including:-

Engetsu-kyo, or the ‘Full Moon Bridge’ – a name given on account of the moon-shape created when the hollow of the bridge is reflected in the water.

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Tsuten-kyo- an attractive red-orange coloured bridge which reminds me of the one in the Chinese Garden at National Trust Biddulph Grange.

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Another interesting feature in the garden was the use of Nobedan paths – natural Chinese-style stone paths made of differently-sized cuts of a range of stone types.

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You may be wondering, as I was what these strange but attractive tree supports are. They are called yuki-tsuri and their original purpose was to protect the branches of pine trees from damage caused by the weight of snow. Of course it does not actually snow in Tokyo these days so the yuki-tsuri have more of an aesthetic value than an ergonomic one. I think they’re quite wonderful.



We timed our visit just right for viewing the Ume Grove, which was alive and kicking with plum blossoms in every shade of pink and white. Apparently Mitsukuni loved Ume so much that he took the name ‘Bairi’, meaning ‘Village of Plum’, as his symbol name.

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Next it was back to Tokyo Station to meet Professor Hirata. En route to our second garden of the day we stopped off at Shimbashi.

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Here Hirata sensei treated Phil and me to a very reasonably-priced and delicious bowl of ramen. Incidentally, did you know that ramen is actually a Chinese import, adapted and popularised in Japan? Someone should probably tell Wagamama back home in the UK.

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Our next garden was Hama-Rikyu, another of Tokyo’s Metropolitan Cultural Heritage Gardens and a designated ‘Special Places of Scenic Beauty and Historic Sites’. Hama-Rikyu dates from the Edo period when it was constructed as the outer fortress of Shogun Tokugawa’s Edo castle. Typically Edo in style the gardens were significantly modified by subsequent Shoguns, some of whom also added further gardens to the site. The gardens were originally called Kofu Hama-Yashiki, (‘Kofu Beach Mansion’) and were later renamed Hama-Goten (‘Beach Palace’); the name Hama-Rikyu was given when the gardens became a Detached Palace of the Imperial Family after the Meiji Restoration.

Many of Hama-Rikyu’s buildings and trees have been lost over the years due to the adverse effects of war and earthquakes. In 1945 the gardens were donated to the city of Tokyo and, following significant restoration work, were opened to the public.


Here are some of my favourite parts of the garden.

The Otsutaibashi bridge and island teahouse.

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The meandering paths over and between the artificial mountains provide impressive views out over Hama-Rikyu’s lakes. As at Koishikawa Korakuen I felt that the skyscrapers in the background enhanced rather than spoilt the garden’s beauty. Perhaps it is the contrast.

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From the hill Shin Hinokuchi Yama there were also impressive views out over the River Sumida and the Rainbow Bridge.

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Konozoki – found at the end of the watercourse in the kamoba (‘duck hunting ground’) people would scatter bird feed and hit the wooden planks to entice the ducks towards the watercourse where people would be waiting net-in-hand ready to ensnare them.

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Here’s Hirata sensei demonstrating his duck-hunting prowess.



The tidal pond – interestingly this is Tokyo’s only remaining seawater pond dating from the Edo era. These locks are opened and closed according to the rise and fall of the sea level on Tokyo Bay.

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This 300 year old pine was mightily impressive.

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As was this beautiful bright yellow field of nanohana (a type of rapeseed eaten as a green vegetable in Japan).

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Our third and final garden of the day was Kyu Shiba-Rikyu Gardens which, along with Koishikawa Korakuen, is one of the two oldest extant ‘daimyo’ gardens (gardens belonging to the feudal lords). Kyu Shiba-Rikyu has a typical ‘kaikyo’ (circuit) style, with a central pond encircled by a series of paths which meander over and between artificial hills and rock formation. Like much of Tokyo the site which Kyu Shiba-Rikyu occupies was reclaimed from beneath the shallows of the old Edo Bay in the late 1650s. In 1678 the site became the official residence of Tadamoto Okuba, a high ranking official of the Tokugawa Shogunate, although Tadamoto’s garden was originally named ‘Rakujyu-en’, meaning ‘the garden of pleasurable longevity. After several changes in ownership the garden was eventually acquired by the Imperial Household in 1875 and from thenceforth became known as Kyu Shiba-Rikyu, or the Shiba Detached Palace. The gardens opened to the public for the first time in 1924 and in 1979 were designated a ‘Special Places of Scenic Beauty and Historic Sites’.

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Garden features which I found particularly interesting at Kyu Shiba Rikyu include:-

Sensui – this central pond is around 9000m² and contains four islands, representing the Japanese islands of Nakajima, Ukishima, Oshima and Yukimi-toro.

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The manmade hills and meandering paths.

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The bridges, rocks and propped-up old pine trees.

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But really it was just such a beautiful setting to watch the sun set over the lake – a perfect end to the day.

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  1. Pingback: TOKYO 4: Sankeien Gardens, Shinjuku Gyoen, Meiji Jingu, Yoyogi Park, Tokyo Skytree, Tsukiji Market, Imperial Palace East Gardens, Jindai Botanical Gardens, Tonogayato Gardens, Kiite Rooftop Garden, Ginza | Triad Fellowship

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