A snapshot of the Edo period
Rikugien was established in 1702 and features unique landscaping that changes significantly as guests stroll along the garden’s narrow winding paths. An hour-long loop of the garden is meant to evoke the sensation of undertaking a grand journey from the mountains to the sea, all within the convenient confines of Tokyo proper.
Rikugien was also designed to depict 88 scenes from classic Chinese poetry. These scenic viewpoints are marked with stone pillars, 32 of which still exist to this day. Unfortunately, the garden fell into neglect as years and decades passed. It was finally restored in the Meiji era (1868 -1912) by none other than Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi. The Iwasaki family donated Rikugien to the city of Tokyo in 1938, and the park finally earned its esteemed designation as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in 1953.
Rikugien is also known for its historic, traditional teahouses including Takimi-chaya and Tsutsuji-chaya. The latter was constructed in the Meiji-era and is famous for surviving the devastation wrought by war, earthquakes, and fires that ravaged Tokyo throughout modern history.
The present day brings a touch of consumerism to the garden, and there are several places for visitors to enjoy a cup of warm green tea and a light snack while gazing upon the garden’s dynamic yet tranquil landscape.
A canopy of color
Rikugien is consistently ranked as one of Tokyo’s top spots for appreciating the gold and crimson leaves that define autumn in Japan. However, this fame has taken a toll on the experience, as Rikugien draws large crowds, even on weekdays, when fall colors are at their peak. Since the strolling garden is a curated experience, visitors are limited to following the narrow paths that cut through its dynamic landscape. It can be difficult to be present and take in the garden’s splendor when half of your consciousness is distracted by throngs of people and the din of synthetic shutter sounds constantly emitted from ubiquitous smartphone cameras.
Still, if you spend enough time exploring the park, you’ll eventually be able to find spots of silent tranquility. And, if you don’t mind the chill of early December nights, don’t miss the rare opportunity to enjoy the autumn leaves as they bask in the glow of carefully placed lights.
For those who love history and tradition
Fans of history, tradition, and Edo-style gardens will appreciate Rikugien, regardless of the crowds. The fact that you can experience an exquisitely designed garden mere minutes from a Yamanote-line train station (Komagome) makes it the perfect opportunity for Tokyo travelers with tight itineraries.
If, however, you prefer a more free-roaming autumn experience, you may want to consider one of Tokyo’s larger parks such as Shinjuku Gyoen or head out of the city for some hiking in the mountain forests of Okutama.