Get a refined taste of a traditional Edo garden without having to brave the crowds of the Imperial Palace.
Formerly acting as a second residence and villa for the shogun and the Imperial family after the Meiji Restoration, Hama-rikyu’s most distinct feature is its seawater pond, Shiori no ike, the only remaining seawater pond in Tokyo and home to several kinds of sea life.
Be sure to visit the Nakajima no Ochaya (Nakajima Teahouse) situated on an island in the middle of the pond. You can enjoy a cup of matcha (green tea) and a traditional Japanese sweet for only 500 yen but the chance to enjoy the same environment as shoguns and Imperial officials centuries before is priceless.
As with most Japanese gardens, the Hama-rikyu Gardens have been carefully cultivated so that no matter the season, you’ll find beautiful flowers and foliage to admire, even in the winter. In the spring and fall, the flower field is blanketed with 300,000 rape blossoms and cosmos, respectively, while the peony garden next to it houses over 800 kinds of flowers which bloom year round.
And, of course, the 300-year-old pine, a behemoth of a tree planted to celebrate the garden’s renovation in the 1700s, is always worth a visit near the Otemon entrance of the garden.
If you’re a history buff, Hama-rikyu has vestiges of its almost four-century story sprinkled throughout, though many of them are reconstructions of their original forms (devastated by the bombings during World War II and the Great Kanto Earthquake.)
Hama-rikyu also served as duck hunting grounds for shoguns or members of the Imperial family. The two hunting grounds, both almost 300 years old, remain and some of the duck blinds used during this sport have been rebuilt here.
You can also catch a unique view of Tokyo Bay and Rainbow Bridge from the top of the hill, Shinhi no kuchiyama. (Wintertime bonus: you may be able to see the bridge’s special winter rainbow illumination from a rare angle before the park closes at five thanks to the early wintertime sunsets). The gardens offer self-guided audio tours with several courses available ranging from 60-90 minutes long or guided group tours, both free of charge.