Rikugi-en: A Must-See Tokyo Garden During The Holidays
Vivid red maple leaves illuminated by the subtle lighting and perfect reflections in the still water below; these are the exceptional views you can experience in the Japanese garden of “Rikugi-en” in Komagome, not far from central Tokyo. It’s usually open till 5 PM, but in the late fall, because of the stunning autumn foliage and impending spring cherry blossom season, this majestic garden remains open until 9 PM.
Dual Protagonists under the Spotlights: Autumn Leaves and the Japanese Garden
The first thing you notice upon entering the garden is the darkness. The footlights showing the path are extremely dim, and it’s easy to get entranced by the sensation of stepping into another world. As your eyes got accustomed to the darkness, the red hue of the dimly illuminated maple leaves begin to glow against the pitch-black night sky, as if they were floating in air.
There are several unique things to see. For example, stone lanterns, ornate bridges, pine trees, bamboo forests and ropes connecting branches with the treetop (this is an ancient technique to protect trees from the weight of the winter snow). All these items in this massive Japanese garden are all beautifully illuminated along with the autumn foliage.
Originally a Feudal Lord’s Garden in Edo Period, its ownership passed on to a rising millionaire at the Dawn of the Modern Era. Rikugi-en was built more than 300 years ago, in 1702. It was one of the gardens that Daimyo feudal lords competed fiercely to control. Later on, in the Meiji era, Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of the Mitsubishi Group bought it as his second house. In 1938, the family donated it to the City of Tokyo so it could be enjoyed by all.
During these special “late hour” periods, Japanese matcha (powdered green tea), confectioneries and dumplings are available at the teahouse in the garden. Alcoholic beverages, including Japanese sake, shochu, beer and highballs (the Japanese name for whisky and soda) are also available, providing the perfect accompaniment to the mesmerizing view of the large pond and a bewitching island in the middle of the pond. Along with the perfect ambience the garden provides, we also saw reflections of the moving shadows of visitors, as if ghosts of cultured men from the past were revisiting the grounds.
Encapsulating the Sceneries from the Classic Japanese Poems, Waka.
This garden by no means loses its charm during the day. Rikugi-en was originally designed to represent the sceneries from famous Japanese poems in the Man’yoshu collection (circa 8th century) and Kokin Wakashu. Each step along the garden path leads to a different scenery, each with its own subtle Japanese beauty.
Spots such as “Tamamo no Iso,” describing a coastline from a poem, the view from the highest hill in the garden, “Fujishiro Toge,” and the night view of “Suiko-noe” pond lit in blue during the night are a photographer’s dream, and a visitor’s paradise, making this a must-see Japanese garden at night or day.
Rikugi-en is located at: 6 Cho-me, Hon-komagome, Bunkyo-ku Tokyo
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Photography by Yosuke Suzuk (Erz)
Original text by Akihiro Tajima