Friday, July 21, 2017

Visiting The Rikugien and Kyu-Furukawa Gardens for a Side of Culture and Relaxation!

The tulip garden at the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens in Tokyo, Japan.

Most people think of Tokyo as a densely-populated, high-intensity city. It's easy to imagine hundreds upon thousands of Japanese rushing up and down the streets in every hour of the day, busy queuing outside restaurants and stores, or briskly walking or urgently running to catch their train or bus. But let me tell you this: there are places found in the gigantic, bustling metropolis where there are little to no people and visitors looking for retreat can enjoy the temporary delusion of being far away from the city while physically still being smack-dab in the middle of it.

I decided that a change of pace with a little tweak in my itinerary was in order when my family and I grew weary from visiting attractions in Tokyo that were too mainstream and chock-full of people (i.e. Tokyo Disneyland and Disneysea, the Hello Kitty theme park Sanrio Puroland, and the One Piece theme park in Tokyo Tower among others). I figured that the ideal place for an idyllic visit would either be a park or a Japanese garden. By a show of hands, we finally decided on the latter option because we've never visited a Japanese garden before.

A "metropolitan garden" is a nature zone in the city that showcases various flora and fauna. These zones are maintained and regulated by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association. The city of Tokyo has nine metropolitan gardens in its vicinity, with each garden having its own distinct and unique feature. 

We visited two out of these nine metropolitan gardens because they were just a few minutes of traveling time away from our apartment in Arakawa: the Rikugien Garden and the Kyu-Furukawa Garden. There's a combination ticket that grants entrance to both gardens for only JPY 400 each but we must have missed it somehow, we had to pay separate entrance fees for the gardens!

(Related post: Is the Japanese Tourist Visa application process giving you a headache? Maybe my easy-to-follow guide can help you!)

Literal name meaning: "Six Poems Garden"
Other known name/s: The Feudal Lord's Garden
Distinct feature: The weeping cherry tree; The 88 Views of Rikugien

From the Komagome station in the Yamanote Line, the Rikugien Garden is around a ten-minute walk away (fifteen to twenty if you're traveling with a princess who whines whenever she gets tired of walking). It's easy to miss even with the help of Google Maps, as the entrance is located in an alleyway from the main street.

(Related post: The One Piece theme park in Tokyo Tower guarantees fun for fans of all ages!)

Rikugien Garden has an entrance fee of JPY 300 per person for Japanese citizens that are adults and all foreigners regardless of age except for children 7 years and under (JPY 150 for Japanese citizens who are school-age and 65 years old and above). Depending on the season of your visit, you may be able to see full-bloom magnolia trees and cherry blossoms (springtime at March-May), a wide range of hydrangeas (summer, June, July or August), Maple trees (autumn), and plum blossoms (winter, specifically February).

The Rikugien Garden Flower Calendar. Image from the Rikugien Garden digital pamphlet.

A notice board for visitors to the park.

A notice board (pictured above) states, among others, that the Rikugien Garden was named after "the six principles of composing Waka poetry derived from an ancient Chinese book" and that the garden "has 88 spots of literary significance arranged along a path surrounding a pond with an islet". The standing challenge is to visit and take note of the aforementioned "88 views" in the garden.

The first noteworthy spot that we encountered during our stroll in Rikugien Park is the Feudal Lord's weeping cherry tree, which is usually in full bloom on the last two weeks of March. Since we visited on the first week of April, we didn't get to see the tree before it lost its colorful petals.


Reality. *sad face* This is what the weeping cherry tree looked like after it lost all of its petals. We were too late to witness the tree in peak bloom condition.

An ancient Japanese-style wooden tea house.

"Kokoro no Izumi" traces. 

Rikugien View #22: the Nakano Island's Boathouse.

Horaijima is the arched stone formation in the water pictured above made to resemble a "crouching tiger", hence the name. It is located right next to the Naka-no-jima boat house. It is based on the main theme of Taoist immortality.

Takimi-chaya, literally meaning "waterfall viewing house". There are cute little stepping stones around the wooden house and in the waterfall and stream that our little girl loved to leap around in (with our full-force supervision, of course).

A little waterfall and a beautiful stream run beside Takimi-chaya. 

Big, brightly-colored fish gaily swam around in the man-made pond beside Takimi-chaya.

A beautiful somei yoshino cherry blossom tree beside Fukiage-chaya.

The Tsutsuji-chaya is a small wooden hut that sits on top of a small hill.

One can watch the flowing of the Zenkei no Nagare river from Tsutsuji-chaya.

The view of the whole Rikugien Garden from Fujimi-yama, a spot located on top of Fujishiro-toge, which is a man-made hill standing at 35 meters tall. It's funny how you'll be reminded that you're still in Central Tokyo by all the tall buildings in the backdrop.

Before leaving Rikugien Garden, you need to stop by either the souvenir shop or Fukiage-chaya which is a quaint and fully-operational outdoor tea house and gift shop overlooking the pond. They sell bottled beverages and cute little sweets that come in little boxes. As for us, we didn't miss the chance to sample their green tea and traditional sweet (jo-namagashi) set for just JPY 500.

Outdoor seating overlooking the pond at Fukiage-chaya. (Image from this link.)

Two sets of green tea and traditional sweet for JPY 500 each. Eaten by itself, the jo-namagashi tasted too sweet; drunk by itself, the matcha tasted really bitter. We've figured out that the correct way is to munch on a little piece of the sweet in your mouth before taking a sip of tea to achieve the perfect harmony between the two polar tastes.

Jo-namagashi are traditional Japanese sweets.

Souvenir shack near the entrance/exit of the garden. They sell pretty trinkets and little teacup sets.

Literal name meaning: The Western-style mansion central to the garden was built by a man named Toranosuke Furukawa.
Other known name/s: N/A
Distinct feature: Western-style mansion, rose garden (May-June, October-Novermber) 

From the Rikugien Garden, it was a fifteen to twenty-minute walk up a straight path to the Kyu-Furukawa Garden (or 10-15 from Komagome Station). The nearest train station would have been Kai-Nakazato if we'd decided to take the train.

Again, the garden had an entrance fee. This time, we paid JPY 150 per person for Japanese citizens that are adults and all foreigners regardless of age except for children 7 years and under (JPY 70 for Japanese citizens who are school-age and 65 years old and above).
Kyu-Furukawa Garden's flower calendar.

We were enthralled by the dark Western-style mansion built with bricks that were covered with slate and surrounded by a garden of tulips in a variety of colors! It was absolutely lovely. For a split second, we were fooled into thinking we weren't in Japan any longer. Our only regret was that we couldn't visit the garden when the roses would be in full bloom.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association, "The currently existing western-style residence and garden was designed by the English architect, Josiah Condor who made many contributions to the development of architecture in Japan. Ogawa Jihei, (alias Niwashi-Ueji), a designer of Japanese gardens from Kyoto, created the Japanese garden renowned for its beauty that matched the level of the residence. The Furukawa garden is regarded as a valuable and typical example of the gardens of the Taisho Period."

Now, the mansion is being maintained by the Otani Art Museum. There's also a tea house on the ground floor. The only way to tour the interior of the mansion is to join a guided tour (conducted only in Japanese), but you need to make an advanced reservation. The Tokyo Metropolitan Park Association website only states that "you must apply in advance in writing, using a send/reply postcard." In addition to the JPY 800 registration fee, you are still required to pay the garden's entrance fee. For more inquiries, visitors are encouraged to contact the Otani Art Museum (03-3910-8440). You can also enter by ordering from the tea house (which is only open during certain times of the day), but I doubt the possibility that you'll be allowed to tour the rest of the mansion.

Down the steps is a Western-style garden with the hedges fashioned like a maze where my little one and I found a lot of fun in trying to chase each other.

More downward steps lead to the elaborate Japanese garden. From one of the signposts, I've learned that the garden was purposefully arranged in a unique circuitry using shapes, contours, and lines to induce calmness of the mind. So it's not just a garden for aesthetic purposes!

"Kuro-boku" stone wall.

A yukimi-toro meant to act as "a fine contrast to the surrounding greens, giving deeper atmosphere to the garden."

The shinji-ike (pond) shaped like the Chinese character for "mind" in cursive script is said to have the ability to mentally comfort you.


The path to the otaki (waterfall).

There are wooden seats near the otaki where we lingered for about twenty minutes or so, just watching and listening to the gentle tinkling of the water.

"Kuzure-ishizumi" wild stone wall.


An ancient tea house.

"Okunoin-type" garden lantern.

Plum tree grove.

Peonies starting to wilt.

A freshly-fallen peony that I picked up from the ground.

It was almost 3:00 in the afternoon by the time we decided to head back to our apartment, feeling refreshed from countless hours of slow, aimless walking and looking at Japan's lush greenery. Sometimes, all you'll ever need from a life in the fast lane is a break in the pattern and a slowing of pace-- the same goes with the concept of traveling, especially if you're going to be staying in one unfamiliar place for longer than a week. Eventually, weariness will take the fun out of your trip. Resting between itineraries is also important.

As for the conclusion of our day-out: while on the train, we were surprised when all our stomachs unanimously growled in protest and we realized we haven't had lunch yet! On yet another impromptu decision, we decided to alight at Ikebukuro station to gorge ourselves in one of the city's well-known depachika's.

A depachika is a whole floor of delicatessen and foods for take-out usually found on the lowest floor of a department store. This is one of the things that we sorely miss in Japan. The world obviously needs depachika's! (More on Japan's depachika culture in a future post!)


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