The 10 Most Magnificent Japanese Gardens

Updated on February 25, 2019
CYong74 profile image

Yong is a Japanophile who has survived 15 solo trips to Japan. His visits now focus on discovering the country’s lesser-known attractions.

Have you been to any of these gorgeous Japanese Gardens?
Have you been to any of these gorgeous Japanese Gardens?

Beautiful Japanese gardens are more than just an art form. Heavily influenced by Japanese religious ideals and conceptualized to complement other forms of Japanese art, Nihon Teien (日本庭園) are the synthesis of the country’s Zen philosophy, cultural accomplishments, and spiritual thought. Not visiting at least one when in Japan is popularly considered akin to tragedy.

The Top 10 Beautiful Gardens to Visit When in Japan

  1. Kenroku-en, Kanazawa (兼六園)
  2. Kōraku-en, Okayama City (後楽園)
  3. Adachi Museum of Art, Yasugi (足立美術館)
  4. Ritsurin Kōen, Takamatsu (栗林公園)
  5. Shukkei-en, Hiroshima City (縮景園)
  6. Suizen-ji Jōju-en, Kumamoto City (水前寺成趣園)
  7. Koko-en, Himeji (好古園)
  8. Tenryū-ji, Kyoto (天龍寺)
  9. Rikugi-en, Tokyo (六義園)
  10. Ashikaga Flower Park, Ashikaga (足利フラワーパーク)

At the heart of Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the world.
At the heart of Kanazawa is one of the most beautiful Japanese gardens in the world.

1. Kenroku-en, Kanazawa (兼六園)

The star attraction of Kanazawa, and one of the most famous Japanese gardens in the world, Kenroku-en has long been recognized as one of the Top Three Gardens of Japan. The name itself means “Garden of Six Sublimities,” and within the expansive grounds, a vast variety of classically Japanese views awaits visitors. Views ranging from majestic to serene, to evocative and nostalgic.

With the garden roughly located at the heart of Kanazawa, a visit of Kenroku-en could also be easily combined with other city attractions, such as the reconstructed Kanazawa Castle and the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art. Of note, one of Kenroku-en’s most famous sights is that of towering pine trees sheathed by triangular winter snow protectors. The city is freezing cold in winter with heavy snowfall. However, this sight alone makes it worth visiting Kanazawa during winter months.

Strolling in peaceful Kōraku-en is akin to taking a mini trip across the Chugoku and Kansai Region of Japan.
Strolling in peaceful Kōraku-en is akin to taking a mini trip across the Chugoku and Kansai Region of Japan.

2. Kōraku-en, Okayama City (後楽園)

Like Kenroku-en, Kōraku-en enjoys the accolade of being one of the Top Three Gardens of Japan. Designed using the “Scenic Promenade Style” of Japanese landscaping, the thoughtful placement of waterways, trees and other landscaping adornments offers a different view at every turn, thus ensuring no visit to the garden is ever the same.

When viewed from the top of nearby Okayama Castle, the overall layout of Kōraku-en also reflects the geography of the region. Most notably, the Kibi Plains and Lake Biwa. Finally, the spacious lawns of Kōraku-en are an unusual feature in traditional Japanese landscaping. Viewed from the right spots, the expansive feeling is emotionally uplifting.

The main garden of Adachi Museum of Art is so mesmerizing, it almost feels unreal.
The main garden of Adachi Museum of Art is so mesmerizing, it almost feels unreal.

3. Adachi Museum of Art, Yasugi (足立美術館)

Traveling to the Adachi Museum of Art from Japan’s major cities can be a hassle. From Osaka, the nearest tourist hub, it’s still three hours by train, followed by a 20-minute shuttle bus ride. Take the effort though, and you’ll be rewarded by what is hands-down one of the most mesmerizing sights in the world.

Named the best garden in Japan by the “Journal of Japanese Gardening” for over 15 consecutive years, the main garden of the museum is a breathtaking panorama that fills the horizon—one in which every shrub, every bush, every tree is itself a masterpiece.

To encourage different perspectives, the museum has installed numerous special viewing windows that magically transform the view from outside into scenic paintings on the wall. Last but not least, the main garden is conceptualized to feature a unique ambiance each season. Appreciating it during summer versus during winter makes for a totally different experience.

Do note that unlike other famous Japanese gardens, the main garden of Adachi Museum of Art is not accessible by foot. Smaller gardens of the museum, on the other hand, can be entered.

Ritsurin Kōen, the pride and joy of Shikoku, and possibly the region’s most beautiful Japanese garden.
Ritsurin Kōen, the pride and joy of Shikoku, and possibly the region’s most beautiful Japanese garden.

4. Ritsurin Kōen, Takamatsu (栗林公園)

The most famous and beloved historical garden of the Shikoku Region, Ritsurin Kōen is an artistic masterpiece exemplifying the landscaping concept of “Borrowed Scenery.” Nearby Mount Shuin isn’t part of the grounds but no matter where you turn, the lush hillside forms a soothing background, its gentle curves often the perfect complement for the features of the garden.

With several sizable ponds and streams, the garden is also a favorite spot for Koi feeding, a particularly enjoyable recreation when the garden is awash with vibrant colors during spring and autumn. Together with Kotohira, Ritsurin Kōen is widely considered one of the two must-visit destinations of Kagawa Prefecture. Takamatsu itself is a railway hub of Shikoku. Easily accessible from the Honshu mainland from Okayama City.

An hour within beautiful Shukkei-en brings you across mountains, valleys, forests, and even a lake.
An hour within beautiful Shukkei-en brings you across mountains, valleys, forests, and even a lake.

5. Shukkei-en, Hiroshima City (縮景園)

Shukkei-en means "the Garden of Shrunken Sceneries". Indeed, there is no better name to describe this delightful oasis located within walking distance from Hiroshima Train Station. A collection of miniaturized sceneries surrounding a central lake, Shukkei-en is said to be modeled after Lake Xihu of China, containing within it a variety of geological formations, panoramic views, and even the reconstruction of a historical teahouse.

For visitors with sturdy legs, Shukkei-en is also the start of an L-shaped tourist route, one that ends at Hiroshima’s most visited attraction—the Peace Memorial Park. Along the way, one can visit other major attractions such as Hiroshima Castle and the Hiroshima Museum of Art. The entire route could easily fill up a day.

Do you see Mount Fuji in the main picture?
Do you see Mount Fuji in the main picture?

6. Suizen-ji Jōju-en, Kumamoto City (水前寺成趣園)

Compact Suizen-ji Garden was damaged by the 2016 Kumamoto Earthquake, with subterranean changes reducing water supply to the main pond. Fortunately, the water level returned to normal within weeks and the garden is now back to its former glory. Renowned for its miniature representation of Mount Fuji, this gem of Kumamoto City is acknowledged as one of the best examples of a classic Japanese strolling garden, its various strolling routes leading visitors through a myriad of traditional sights.

When visiting this lovely Japanese garden in Southern Japan, don’t forget to check out the food stalls located alongside the pedestrian path leading to the main entrance too. You can find classic Japanese snacks such as Manju buns and Matcha soft cream here­. The more adventurous can also try exotic delicacies like Kyushu-style dried horse meat.

The serenity of Koko-en is perfect after a tiring visit to majestic Himeji Castle.
The serenity of Koko-en is perfect after a tiring visit to majestic Himeji Castle.

7. Koko-en, Himeji (好古園)

There are two reasons why you shouldn’t miss skip Koko-en when visiting Himeji. Firstly, it is conveniently next door to world-famous Himeji Castle, with discounted combination tickets for both attractions sold throughout the city. Secondly, the garden, constructed in 1992 to commemorate the city’s centennial, is practically a tutorial in styles of Japanese garden landscaping. Housed within it are no less than nine different mini-gardens, every single one visually splendid and clearly differentiated.

To put it in another way, if you are ever confused by the many terms about Japanese gardens found on travel brochures, this is the best attraction to head to for clarifications. On another note, relaxing beside one of the garden’s waterfalls is always a wonderful way to recuperate after a sweaty climb up Himeji Castle. The experience could be said to be nothing short of therapeutic.

Tenryū-ji during autumn. The gorgeous fall scenery is one of the biggest tourist draws of the Kansai region.
Tenryū-ji during autumn. The gorgeous fall scenery is one of the biggest tourist draws of the Kansai region.

8. Tenryū-ji, Kyoto (天龍寺)

In a city where every other temple hides an outstanding garden, it could be hard to decide where to spend your days at when in Kyoto. If you have time for only one garden visit, though, head right to Tenryū-ji on the outskirts of the historical capital. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, Tenryū-ji’s Sogenchi Garden is celebrated as one of the best surviving examples of Japanese landscaping during the Kamakura and Muromachi Periods, a visual feast especially stunning during spring and fall.

In addition, while the temple is often crowded, the grounds are expansive enough that it isn't hard to find pockets of serenity. Finally, Tenryū-ji is conveniently located beside the world-famous Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. The pathway through the forest is often listed as one of Japan’s most atmospheric sights.

Rustic scenery can be easily enjoyed within Tokyo, thanks to Rikugi-en.
Rustic scenery can be easily enjoyed within Tokyo, thanks to Rikugi-en.

9. Rikugi-en, Tokyo (六義園)

Considered by some to be Tokyo’s most beautiful landscape garden, Rikugi-en is a lush oasis just minutes away by subway from the crowded tourist hubs of Ikebukuro and Ueno. Inspired by 88 scenes from classic Japanese poetry, this lovely garden features large swathes of dense foliage, and at the right spot, it is not at all difficult to imagine oneself lost in the deep wilderness of the Japanese countryside. During November, the garden is also one of the top spots for autumn leaves viewing in the Kanto Region, an activity particularly enjoyable when the garden is atmospherically lit up after sunset. In short, Rikugi-en is a wonderful refuge when one is overwhelmed by the never-ending crowds of Tokyo. Bring with you a bottle of green tea during your visit and you’d instantly be as one with nature.

Ashikaga Flower Park combines the best of the East and West within one "garden."
Ashikaga Flower Park combines the best of the East and West within one "garden."

10. Ashikaga Flower Park, Ashikaga (足利フラワーパーク)

Few Japanese would consider Ashikaga Flower Park a Japanese Garden. To begin with, it’s not even named as so. However, take a quick stroll through the grounds and you’d immediately notice traditional Japanese landscaping techniques harmoniously coexisting with western principles—techniques such as concealed views, reflective ponds, and the “borrowing” of a neighboring hillside as a majestic backdrop for seasonal displays.

Apart from these, the layout of the park also presents a classic strolling route, one that takes visitors through different themes and moods. Of note, Ashikaga Flower Park hosts one of the largest winter/Christmas illumination events each year. An evening visit during the year-end is for many visitors, an utterly magical joy.

A
Kenroku-en:
Kenroku-en, 1 Kenrokumachi, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture 920-0936, Japan

get directions

B
Kōraku-en:
Okayama Korakuen, 1-5 Korakuen, Kita, Okayama, Okayama Prefecture 703-8257, Japan

get directions

C
Adachi Museum of Art:
320, 古川町 Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture 692-0064, Japan

get directions

D
Ritsurin Kōen:
Ritsurin Garden, 1 Chome-20-16 Ritsurincho, Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture 760-0073, Japan

get directions

E
Shukkei-en:
Shukkeien, 2-11 Kaminoboricho, Naka Ward, Hiroshima, Hiroshima Prefecture 730-0014, Japan

get directions

F
Suizen-ji Jōju-en:
Japan, 〒862-0956 Kumamoto-ken, Kumamoto-shi, Chūō-ku, Suizenji Kōen, 8−1 水前寺成趣園

get directions

G
Koko-en:
Koko-en Garden, 68, 本町 Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture 670-0025, Japan

get directions

H
Tenryū-ji:
68 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture 616-8385, Japan

get directions

I
Rikugi-en:
Rikugien Gardens, 6 Chome-16-3 Honkomagome, Bunkyō, Tokyo 113-0021, Japan

get directions

J
Ashikaga Flower Park:
Japan, 〒329-4216 Tochigi-ken, Ashikaga-shi, Hasamachō, あしかがフラワーパーク

get directions

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Kuan Leong Yong

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      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        5 weeks ago from UK

        These types of gardens are also great for photographers. I usually find them very peaceful, especially if we go at a quiet time.

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        5 weeks ago from Singapore

        Hey Liz! Japanese landscaping is really quite a sophisticated art form, isn't it? I would imagine visitors with landscaping experience being utterly thrilled when visiting any of these masterpieces.

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        5 weeks ago from Singapore

        Thanks Poppy! Suizen-ji is definitely a must-see when in central Kyushu. Famous as it is, it's seldom crowded. The neighborhood it's in is also somewhat retro in feel. Just walking from the tram stop to the entrance is quite a pleasant, nostalgic experience.

      • CYong74 profile imageAUTHOR

        Kuan Leong Yong 

        5 weeks ago from Singapore

        Hi Elyn! Thanks for commenting. To answer your question, no, this is not a numbered list of favorites, although Kenroku-en is personally the best one among all. I hope you also get to visit other gardens soon, especially during different seasons. It's really amazing how the same landscapes can feel utterly different under snow or fall.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        5 weeks ago from UK

        These gardens all look interesting places to visit. Quite often when I visit gardens in the UK there are Japanese influences and links.

      • poppyr profile image

        Poppy 

        5 weeks ago from Tokyo, Japan

        What a great article! You did a fantastic job. Shinjuku Gyoen is also a lovely garden in Tokyo. I've never been to Kyushu but I'd definitely like to check out Suizen-ji Jōju-en.

      • Elyn MacInnis profile image

        Elyn MacInnis 

        5 weeks ago from Shanghai, China

        I am so happy to see your list of your favorite gardens! If my husband and I get a chance to visit Japan, we always visit a garden too. Recently we went to Ritsurin Kōen in Takamatsu. It was fantastic. I am curious - is this list ordered from your favorite at the top, or is it just a list of ten great gardens?

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