Magical Must-Visit Gardens in Japan

By Jessica Russo

Japan is filled with peaceful, picture-perfect gardens. Think: tranquil ponds, orante temples, vibrant greenery, walking bridges, and fragrant flowers. But how do you know which ones to visit? Check out this list of the top gardens throughout Japan.

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The Three Great Gardens of Japan

Okay, more like "the three most famous gardens in Japan." These oases are often referred to as "Nihon Sanmeien" and are well-known as those postcard-worthy, strolling-style landscape gardens designed during the Edo Period (1603-1868).

Kenrokuen • Kanazawa

Justifiably classified as one of Japan's most beloved gardens, this whimsical wonderland opened to the public in 1871. This garden was named Kenrokuen, which translates to "having six factors," because of its six attributes that designers believed would create the perfect landscape: spaciousness, tranquility, artifice, antiquity, water sources, and magnificent views. Check it out for yourself!

Korakuen • Okayama

Located just beside Okayama Castle, this beautiful Japanese landscape boasts a large pond, gentle streams and walking paths. As you stroll, you'll find groves of plum, cherry, and maple trees, tea and rice fields, and an archery range!

Kairakuen • Mito

Over three thousand plum trees? You got that right. Just about one hour northeast of Tokyo by express train, this garden is most famous for its Mito Plum Festival (Mito Ume Matsuri). From February through March, thousands of people flock to Kairakuen to watch white, pink, and red blossoms burst to life! Unlike the Kenrokuen gardens, which were exclusive to the ruling lords for many years, Kairakuen translates to "park to be enjoyed together," and always served as a public gathering space.

Honorable Mentions

Hōkoku-ji • Kamakura

Known as "Bamboo Temple," this old temple (founded in 1334) is in the Kencho-ji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism. It's famous for its fairytale-like bamboo garden that contains over 2,000 Moso bamboos! Get lost in the mystical storybook of this amazing garden and watch the sunshine stream through the tall greenery.

Daigoji • Kyoto

Daigoji is the Buddhist Temple that travelers dream about. The different areas of this spectacular World Heritage Site complex take up an entire mountainside! Stroll through breathtaking cherry blossoms in the spring, and watch Japanese maple trees turn into a warm wonderland of reds and oranges in the fall.

Shinjuku Gyoen • Tokyo

Originally the residence of the Naito family in the Edo period, this lovely garden is just a short walk from Shinjuku Station and its tranquil setting provides a relaxing retreat from the bustling city.

Ritsurin Koen • Takamatsu

It is often suggested that this garden deserves a place on the list of "the three great gardens of Japan." Built by feudal lords in the early Edo Period, Ritsurin is home to a tea house, a picturesque walking bridge, art exhibits, and lush greenery.

Ryōan-ji • Kyoto

Ahh, Japan's most famous rock Zen garden! This unique garden is considered one of the best surviving examples of kare-sansui, or "dry gravel garden." Known for their distinctive rock formations and smooth pebbles raked into linear patterns, these gardens promote purity, peace, and meditation.

Sankeien • Yokohama

This traditional Japanese-style garden is renowned for its jaw-dropping beauty and boasts architectural treasures, cultural masterpieces, and stunning plant life.

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