We visited 14 Japanese cities in three weeks; arguably, this was way too much moving. After a week of rest and therapeutic soup dumplings in Taipei, we’re still feeling hungover from Japan!
For future visits (and itinerary recommendations for friends), there’s some key culling we’d do. But as we sit here and discuss what we loved and what we didn’t, we can’t think of single garden we’d remove. And we made a point to see a lot. of. them. Before we left, my uncle Robby advised: “Go to as many gardens as you can. Each one is completely unique.” Added benefit: “You’ll be so exhausted, you won’t notice that you’re sleeping on the floor.” (For the record, we did notice we were sleeping on the floor. 😉 )
A few of our faves, in no particular order:
1. Isui-en Garden: Nara, Japan
After our awesome visit to Nara’s Big Buddha (a “Japan Top 10”, the post we plan to write next), we stumbled upon this gem. We visited late in the day and were literally the only visitors in the garden:
2. Shoren-in: Kyoto, Japan
This is a small garden at the tip of Southern Higashiyama in Kyoto. There was a wedding the day we visited, so naturally, we stalked their photo shoot. How beautiful is the bride in her traditional dress?!?
3. Okochi Sanso: Arashiyama, near Kyoto, Japan
We weren’t going to pick favorites, but this multi-level garden behind the famous Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is our mutual top pick. Like Isui-en, we hit it on a day with few tourists, good lighting, and brilliant fall leaves. We initially balked at the $10/ticket entrance fee, but in retrospect, we would have paid more. Our fave part: the gorgeous tea room, where I tested my hand at calligraphy.
4. Tenryu-ji: Arashiyama, near Kyoto, Japan
The award for best “wow factor” goes to this 700-year-old zen garden’s pond landscape, with its lichen-covered rock features, ancient trees, and raked gravel. If it wasn’t so busy, we would have stared at this scene for an hour.
5. Koto-in: Daitoku-ji complex in Kyoto, Japan
This temple complex was pretty far off the beaten path, but any garden that’s distracting enough to make you leave your Lonely Planet guidebook on its teahouse porch deserves some recognition. The maple leaves were truly stunning.
6. Kenroku-en: Kanazawa, Japan
This garden felt the most unruly of all we visited, yet we saw more gardeners here than anywhere else: a pack of men sweeping the stream and a whole team of guys installing yukitsuri, conical like cages that protect the trees from Kanazawa’s heavy snows.
Taming nature to look wild. Is that what you’d call… postmodern? If someone knows the Japanese term for this, please share it. Wikipedia is not helping me out here.
7. Kōraku-en: Okayama, Japan
Not a common stop on the tourist track, P and I chose to spend a night in Okayama for one reason: our guidebook author’s rave review of this garden. The city was refreshingly calm; this garden was refreshingly different from what we’d seen: lots of open space, views from every angle, a gigantic (gorgeous!) castle as its backdrop. I think if we had to pick a second fave, this would be it.