The Elegant Mystery of the Hama-rikyū Gardens in Tokyo, Japan

I travelled twice to Japan. Every time I spent at least a few hours in different gardens, strolling, taking pictures or just enjoying the scenery. One of my favourite parks in Tokyo is the Hama-rikyū Gardens in Chūō Ward. The place is surrounded by a massive wall as if to protect it from the urban madness. Most of the gardens, especially those at the Zen temples, are enclosed, and the reason is to frame the scene and stop the mind from wandering. Despite the beautiful urban landscape and the imposing architecture, Japan’s metropolises are densely populated with ants-like crowds rushing through gigantic concrete blocks and noisy boulevards. I could see the city as a symbol of prosperity and consumerism, and the gardens as places of meditation and “presence”. 

 I thought all the Japanese gardens were Zen. But as John Douglil writes in his beautiful book “Zen Gardens and temples of Kyoto” – “There is no such a thing like Zen garden in Japanese. Rather, there are garden types that have been adapted to a Zen setting. Although they come in various forms, they share underlying characteristics to do with a lack of ostentation, an inclination to tranquillity, a tendency for symbolism, and an “elegant mystery.”

“Elegant mystery”- these were the words I was looking for in my mind while wandering around the Hama-rikyū Gardens. I was very much into the photo technique called “slow-shutter photography” which essentially involves using slow shutter speeds to sharply capture the stationary elements of images while blurring, smearing, obscuring the moving details (see the photograph below). This technique was just perfect for the place, so I spent most of my time taking “slow-shutter” pictures. The teahouse in the centre of Shio-iri Pond was especially suitable for that purpose. You can try matcha and Japanese sweets while enjoying the surroundings. Sadly, I didn’t have time to eat or drink. You can find several other tea houses in the garden: (chashitsu) such as the Matsu-no-ochaya, Tsubame-no-ochaya, Taka-no-Ochaya Nakajima-no-nese. The park also has a peony garden, a plum tree grove, and flower fields for every season.

You definitely will notice those tiny Japanese women with big cameras taking unusual positions on the ground in an attempt to capture the flowers from every angle.

The tranquillity, the forms and the design of this Hama-rikyū Garden fascinated me. “These Zen gardens were designed to stimulate meditation. Nature, if you made it expressive by reducing it to its abstract forms, could transmit the most profound thoughts by its simple presence”, Michel Baridon wrote. 

I was busy trying to take as many photos as possible. I just couldn’t afford to meditate here, as I had too little time. I promised myself that someday I will be back without a camera, so I could spend as much time as I wanted to just drink tea and …well just being there. 


Visitors can access the park via either of the two northern gates or via the Tokyo Cruise Ship (water bus) on a 35-minute ride from Asakusa.


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List of hotels in Ueno, Asakusa, Senju, Ryogoku, the nearest districts to the gardens in Tokyo. 

List of hotels in Asakusa, Tokyo only

List of hotels in Tokyo, Japan


Airbnb properties in Asakusa district in Tokyo, Japan

Airbnb properties in Tokyo, Japan

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A pond in Hamarikyu Gardens in Tokyo; skyscrapers are visible in the back


Free delivery worldwide (with no minimum spend) from Book Depository (Amazon), a leading international book retailer. Please click on the title of the book to read the full description and to buy it.

Zen Gardens: The Complete Works of Shunmyo Masuno, Japan’s Leading Garden Designer

Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno – Japan’s Leading Garden Designer

Zen Gardening for Beginners and Dummies: A Practical Guide on Japans Leading Garden Design

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