November is near its end, and we have reached the thick of autumn. Japan is full of fantastic autumn sightseeing spots, but not many of them are easily accessible from the city of Tokyo.
This time, we will introduce Japanese gardens with beautiful autumn colors, where you can have a taste of the Japanese concept of "Wabi Sabi". These five Japanese gardens are all lit up at night for a limited time, giving their natural beauty a whole different face.
Tips On Viewing Japanese Gardens
What is Japanese Garden Style? (Picture: Showa Memorial Park)
Before going to see a Japanese garden with beautiful autumn leaves, let's first learn a little about what a Japanese garden is.
A Japanese garden is a garden style that was born and developed in Japan, as the name implies. Here, we will introduce areas to look out for, and the three beautiful Japanese garden styles.
The 3 Styles of Japanese Gardens
Although the word “Japanese garden” is all encompassing, there are actually various names depending on the viewing method and the elements of the garden. Japanese gardens can be generally divided into three styles: Chisen Garden, Karesansui, and Chatei.
■ Chisen (Pond) Garden
Kinkakuji Temple is a famous example Japanese chisen (pond) garden
“Chisen” refers to a Japanese garden with a pond and a spring at the center of the garden. This is the scenery imagined by many people when they hear “Japanese garden”.
The beauty of the garden is expressed through the usage of water, such as a pond. Trees and stones are reflected on the surface of the water, illustrating a magical scene.
The Chisen Garden is further divided into three forms, depending on their intended viewing method. These are viewing by boat, sitting, and walking.
The Boat ceremony was born during the Heian period, when the culture of garden visiting began to emerge. Aristocrats took in the scenery of the garden from a boat in the pond. From the late Heian era to the Kamakura era, visitors began to view the Chisen by sitting down in the study room and looking at the pond and garden. This gradually changed to the “walking ceremony” where visitors could enjoy the scenery while walking on the land around the pond.
■ Karesansui (Rock Garden)
Ryouan Temple’s Karesansui, Kyoto
The "Karesansui" style is often seen in the gardens of temples. It is said that this style developed around the Muromachi period to express the beauty of Japanese gardens without the use of water.
The main feature of this style is the idea of depicting water from a mountain, without using any actual water. Patterns are drawn on the white sand laid in the garden to express the flow of water, while stones and moss are used to depict the state of the mountain. Representing nature as it is in the garden is the most appealing point of Karesansui.
The most common way to enjoy Karesansui is to sit down on a porch in the garden and quietly take in its beauty.
■ Chatei (Tea Garden)
The Japanese tea garden of Chiaki Park
One of the styles of the Japanese garden, "chatei", is a garden set up on the path from the gate to the tea room. This scenic depiction of nature on the way to the tea house plays a role in healing the hearts of the visitors.
The tea garden style was born in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Sen no Rikyu, a leader of tea culture in Japan, played an active part in its popularity. Before visiting the tea ceremony, you can take in the “wabisabi” view of the tea garden.
Learn The Components of Japanese Gardens!
The Chisen garden, which is mainly focused around water and ponds, is the most common style of Japanese garden found in modern times. Next, we will introduce the elements that make up the Chisen garden, and things to look out for.
The true pleasure of Japanese garden viewing is found in connecting with the Japanese spirit while appreciating the beautifully arranged scenery. With these tips, your garden visiting experience will be made even better.
The pond of Shiratori Park's Japanese garden
The pond is the center of the Chisen garden. Surrounding this pond are plants, flowers, and stones that craftsmen have designed and arranged. Ponds and streams in these gardens generally represent the sea and rivers, and if a rock is set in the center of the pond, it represents an island. However, if there are cornerless stones around the shallow pond, this represents shallow coasts. By looking at the pond and its surrounding land, as well as how the pond and land are connected, you gain a fuller understanding of what they are representing, and the intentions of the artist.
The garden stones of Ryoanji Temple in the autumn
When walking in a garden, you may think sometimes, “Why is there a stone placed here? In fact, these stones have a variety of meanings in a garden and play a very important role. There are two main methods of expression using stones. "Suteishi", which portrays meaning by placing one stone, and "Ishigumi", which portrays meaning by using two or more stones and combining them.
Here, we’ll explain three expressions of garden stones commonly found in Chisen Garden.
A garden stone placed on land. This method of assembling stones is based on Buddhism, and portrays the three Buddhas with the placement of the stones.
・Funeishi (Ship Stone)
As the name implies, it is a stone that resembles a boat, and is placed in a pond in a Chisen garden. The appearance of this stone depicts a scene of leaving or entering the sea. If the stone is sinking, it means that a ship carrying many treasures has returned after completing its journey.
・Inyou Stone (Yin and Yang Stone)
Another garden stone that is placed on land, standing stones (yang stones) and sideways stones (ying stones) are arranged side by side to represent men and women respectively. Two stones are arranged together in order to pray for prosperity.
There are many other ways of assembling garden stones. Stones are always placed with an intention, so don’t just walk past them!
3.Trees & Plants
Plants and Trees Display The Beauty Of All Four Season （Picture：Mejiro Garden）
The beautifully colored plants around the pond are one of the most important features of the pond garden. The types of plants grown differ according to the times. In the old days, evergreen trees (cedars and camphor trees), which were said to house the gods, were used. From the Nara period onwards, seasonal pine and flowers were planted.
Now, Japanese gardens are one of the main methods of enjoying Japan’s four seasons, and many gardens have planted vibrant plants and deciduous trees.
Enjoy Autumn Leaves in Tokyo's Japanese Gardens
Now that you've learned the styles and features of the Japanese garden, it’s time to actually visit and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The five Japanese gardens introduced here are famous sightseeing spots in Tokyo that are known for their beautiful autumn colors. During the fall season from late November to early December, all of these spots are lit up for a limited time. We recommend checking these gardens out at night as well to enjoy the fantastic views.
Showa Memorial Park
Park Built In Dedication To The Showa Emperor (Picture: Showa Memorial Park)
“Showa Memorial Park” is a large national park with a total area of 1.8 square kilometers, built in commemoration of the 50th year of Emperor Showa. The park is located in Tachikawa City, Tokyo. The “Japanese Garden” here is a Chisen garden that encompasses a section of the park. The Japanese garden, built in commemoration of the Emperor and Empress's marriage, allows you to enjoy a beautiful natural scenery while walking around the pond, waterfalls, streams, and wooden bridges.
The autumn leaves of Showa Memorial Park
There are various sights on display here, but be sure to pay attention to the various plants.
In principle, Japanese gardens often use evergreen trees, but they also use deciduous broad-leaved trees such as maples. In autumn, the trees take on a vibrant orange not unlike the vast forests of Musashino.
This year, the Japanese garden at Showa Memorial Park was lit up for the first time. An illumination event called "Autumn Night Walk" was held from November 2nd to 24th.
Coordinating the lighting is the Tokyo Camera Department, a group quite active on Instagram. The lighting here was set up to create great shooting conditions for those looking for photographs.
Illumination on Display（Picture: Showa Memorial park）
Illumination was carried out not only at the Japanese garden but also at the park's gingko tree road. In this scene, a row of ginkgo trees is illuminated into a a “golden tunnel”, where everything from the feet to the top shines golden.
・Event Period: November 2nd to 24th
・Time: 16:30〜21:00 (Lighting: 17:00/Lights Out 20:30)
・Fee: Entrance Fee（Entrance From All Gates）Adult ¥450 / Children Free
*The “Autumn Night Walk” has an extra fee (¥160/Adult). See the Official Site
Autumn leaves of Otaguro Park
Otaguro Park, located in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, is a park that was created by renovating the former residence of Motoo Otaguro, a music critic who set up his residence here. In addition to the Chisen style Japanese garden, a Sukiya-style tea room and resting space are available. The brick-colored building used by Otaguro as a work room is preserved as a memorial. This kind of Western-style memorial was quite an unusual style at the time, and retains the Stanway piano and phonograph that Otaguro used.
The gingko tree-lined path in Otaguro Park
The spacious Japanese garden is set up to face the Western-style memorial, creating a gorgeous landscape with giant trees, such as zelkova and red pine, centered around a pond with koi carp. Water flows to the pond through a pipe from a well in the the tea house courtyard, powered by the height difference between the two points. The calming sound of the stream further adds to the atmosphere of the garden.
At the back of the pond, there is a Gazebo where you can take a break, and on the pillars, you can see the sharp, hand-crafted finish of Sukiya-style architecture.
See The Magical Illumination Scenes On Display (Picture：Otaguro Park)
Autumn leaves are lit up in late November when the maples around the gardens begin to redden. During the illumination period period, opening hours are extended so that this beautiful scene can be fully enjoyed until deep into the night.
・Event Period：November 22, 2019 ~ December 1st, 2019
・Illumination Period: Monday - Friday: Sundown till 20:00 （Last Admission：19:45） / Saturday and Sunday、Holidays: Sundown 〜 21:00（Last Admission：20:30）
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum
Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum Main branch（Picture：Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum）
The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum opened in 1983 in Minato-ku, Tokyo. The main building of the museum was originally built in 1933 as the residence of the Japanese Imperial Family member Asaka and his wife. This building features a modern Art Deco style. The Art Deco style is an architectural style that was born in the 1930s, mainly in Europe and the United States. It was eventually transformed into decorative Art Nouveau style, which features linear and geometric patterns. The main building is a modern and elegant mansion that reflecteds the ideals of Mr. and Mrs. Asaka, who were fascinated by the Art Deco style.
The autumn leaves of the Tokyo Garden Museum's Japanese garden
Inside this Western-style architecture, a Japanese garden has remained on the grounds since the time of the building’s construction. It is a Chisen style garden with a pond in the center, and a mountain is conveyed through the placement of plants and stones. Take your time and take in the contrast between the peaceful pond and the tight construction surrounding the area.
“Kouka”, the tea house set up in this Japanese garden, has been designated as a national cultural property along with the former Asaka residence.
Autumn leaves reflect vividly in the pond’s surface to create a gorgeous scenery (Photo Courtesy: Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum)
The museum will hold an "Autumn Night Opening" for extended periods of time on weekdays. At this time, the maples of the Japanese garden are beautifully lit up and the operating hours of the museum are extended. The museum, which is normally closed at 18:00, will remain open during this period until 20:00 (last entry at 19:30).
In addition to the illumination of the autumn leaves, the exhibition “Asian Image: Enthusiasm for Japanese Art ”, which is being held at the museum, is open until 20:00. Be sure to use this opportunity to enjoy art at night, and let the illuminations brighten up your long autumn nights.
・Event Period: Fridays and Saturdays From November 22nd, 2019 ~ December 7th, 2019
・Illumination Period: Sundown〜20:00（Last Admission：19:30）
・Fee; Garden Entrance - Adults ¥200 / College Students ¥160 / Middle School Student/High School Student/65 Years And Older: ¥100
*Students Free After 17:00, General Admission/65 Years And Older Visitors Can enter Via Group Fee
*Elementary/Junior-high School Students from Tokyo: Free
*Group Fee Also Available
*Visit the official website.For More Details
Toshima Ward - Mejiro Garden
Rokkaku Umido Stands In a Chisen Garden（Picture：Toshima Ward - Mejiro Garden）
Mejiro Park was made in Toshima Ward, Tokyo, in order to create a more affluent city. You can see carp and ducks swimming gracefully in the pond of the Chisen style garden. The "Akatorian” building that stands before the pond is the symbol of the Mejiro Garden. In 1918, it was named after the children's literary magazine "Akatori”, which was launched in Toshima Ward by the writer Miekichi Suzuki. This wooden one-story building is built in the Sukiya-style, using Kitayama cedar from Kyoto Prefecture.
The Akatorian Can Be Seen Behind The Azalea, Which Bloom in May (Picture: Mejiro Garden, Toshima Ward)
One of the highlights is the view from the small rest area, "Hokugaku Ukimido", that floats on the water. From this view, one can observe how this magnificent pond represents the ocean. The hexagonal roof has Mashiko-yaki decorations made in the image of red birds.
Mejiro Garden lit up at night
The “Autumn Garden Lightup” is being held in Mejiro Garden for its seventh year.
This light-up event will be held for 9 days only from late November, when the autumn leaves will be at their best. By using not only warm colors but also blue lighting effectively, the event presents you a fantastical illumination.
During the light-up period, events such as concerts and rakugo shows will be held at Akatorian. Please check out the official website for details.
・Exhibition Period: November 23, 2019 ~ December 1st, 2019
・Lightup Period: 17:30〜21:00（Last Entrance: 20:30）
・Admission Fee: ¥200 *Infants and Young Children Are Free
When thinking of a Japanese Garden in Tokyo, the first place on everyone’s mind would be Rikugien. A Japanese garden that was built over the period of seven years in the Edo era, it has become one of the two major gardens in Tokyo, alongside Koishikawa Korakuen.
One Of The Gardens of Edo, “Rikugien”（Picture：Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association）
Rikugien Garden is a Tsukiyama fountain garden with pond decorations that represent mountains. A Tsukiyama Izumi Garden is classified as one of the Chisen Gardens as it has a pond at its center. However, in addition to the pond, mountains, forests, tea ceremonies, etc. are set up in the garden, and each is organically connected. The type of garden that uses all of these connected elements to bring balance in its appearance is called a "Tsukiyama Izumi Garden”.
Visitors walk around this garden in order to appreciate its beauty. Take your time to enjoy the pond, garden stones, mountains, and plants arranged in delicate forms here.
Rikugien Togetsukyou（Picture：Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association）
In Rikugien Garden, 88 famous spots and historic sites (known as the “Eighty Eight Borders views”) described in the "Manyoshu" and "Kokin Wakashu" (two ancient Japanese poetry collections) have been reproduced. Details are available in the garden guidebook (¥310), which can be purchased at the Garden’s counter. This is your window to the mysterious world of ancient Japanese poetry.
Read more about the Rikugien Gardens↓↓
Rikugien: Tokyo's Tranquil Garden for Sakura and Fall Leaves
Trees Being Illuminated In The Garden（Picture：Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association）
At the end of November, when the fall season begins, Rikugien will hold a light-up event, "Fall Leaves and Daimyo Garden Light Up". During this period, the “Somei-mon”, which is a two minute walk from the normally closed Komagome Station, will be open for better access. You can enjoy the soft shadows of the trees in the garden, illuminated softly by the lights. Go and see the night views of this Edo Period garden!
・Event Period: November 20th 2019 - December 12th 2019
・Light Up Time: Sundown - 21:00
・Fee: Entrance Fee General Admission ¥300 / 65 And Over ¥150
*For details, see the official website.
Rest your Wings in Tokyo’s Most Beautiful Japanese Gardens.
The beautiful colors of autumn only come once a year in Japan.
The sight of the autumn leaves shining in the sun are wonderful, but the aesthetic of the night time illumination will create long-lasting memories. Make sure to spend some time walking through a Japanese garden, and taking in the meticulous harmony of pond, stones, and autumn leaves.