Top 10 Japanese Zen Gardens You Should Visit (2018)

zen gardenWhenever you hear the word garden, you may have thoughts about flowers, fountains, butterflies, trees, streams of water, or just natural beauty, and that’s because it’s all about nature!

But what comes to mind when you hear the word zen garden? Maybe that term is even new to you or you’ve heard of it before, but not quite sure what makes a garden, a “zen garden”.

Well let’s quickly talk about what they are, why they are becoming more and more popular over the years and take a look at the Top 10 Zen Gardens In The World. Hopefully this will give you some inspiration to create your very own zen garden in your backyard!

Some Background On Zen Gardens

Zen Gardens have another term that people use to describe them, and that is “japanese rock gardens”.  They got that name because these gardens are mainly decorated with stones and rocks of different sizes to create a calming design. It is important to note that zen gardens are not natural and are created by humans for a specific purpose.

The traditional Japanese zen gardens are quite famous throughout the world, but they are the most popular in certain areas of Japan, like Kyoto and Hiroshima. These gardens are basically designed to highlight the beauty of nature, by using man made nature components and avoiding the artificial things in it wherever it is possible to. As far as the first garden of this kind is concerned, we come to know that they were started around 600 A.D. on the island of Honshu.

It’s amazing how these astounding gardens are able to capture the aspects of the traditional Shinto religion, with Buddhism and Daoism. They were first designed by the Japanese and they incorporated water features, bushes, ferns, mosses pruned trees, rocks and sand. Gravel is used to create ripples in the water to make it look natural and calming. After all, the purpose of these gardens is not just to create beauty, but to calm the mind and spirit and make you feel much more relaxed.

Whenever you will visit these places, you will find new things about Japan’s culture and tradition. These places can be very interesting and eye opening for someone who has never seen one in person. The design and landscape will make your time and visit well worth it.

In the United States, there are many beautiful zen gardens that are definitely worth checking out, especially in Florida, but none of them come close to the one’s located in Japan! As far as the Japanese Zen gardens are concerned, they are something more than just a casual and simple garden. They are integral to the history, landscape and the culture is depicted thoroughly in these mesmerizing gardens.

If you are planning to visit Japan and have not put these gardens in your “go-to” list, then you are not doing it right! You really ought to pay a visit if you love history and culture. These gardens are usually associated with temples as well and can really add to the experience. Many of the zen gardens were designed centuries ago and have been restored and maintained to their current beauty, so that you can experience the history in the present.

We have compiled a list of the most amazing and best gardens in Japan, with their locations, and something about each of them which will make a visit there worth it for sure. After reading this, you are surely going to make these gardens a part of your next trip so that you can be mesmerized by the beauty and history of Japan.

Okay, here is our list of the:

Top 10 Japanese Zen Gardens You Should Visit

1. Kenrokuen in Kanazawa
If we think about the back feudal times of Japanese, this Kenrokuen Garden, which is located in Kanazawa was styled for that time period. If you are interested in Feudal times then you are going to love this zen garden as this garden was set up and maintained for the lords of the Maeda clan.

As far as the area is concerned, this garden is designed on 28 acres and styled with many of Japanese cultural and traditional features. You can spend all the day roaming around and exploring the Japanese tradition while you are in this garden.

The word, “Kenrokuen” means “six attributes” and these are the 6 main designing features of Japanese style garden. These attributes are history, intrigue, and flow of water, great views, tranquility and space.

All these things make a special and complete view of any outstanding natural place ever in the world. Let us move on to the next Zen garden!


2. Korakuen

The word “Korakuen” means “garden of pleasure” and happiness. This amazing garden is located in Okayama.

This astounding garden was also created in the Feudal era garden, and the name comes from the Confucius saying which states that “a wise rule will go for the subject’s needs before going from his own interests”.  

The views in this garden will take you to the Okayama castle and will make you feel hypnotised by its gorgeous views.

This garden is especially suitable to visit in the cherry blossom season because during this time you will be presented with a beautiful scene of Sakura trees. This garden is also styled with water features which really compliment the greenery and make it look more beautiful and natural.

You can use the bullet train from Kyoto and it will take only an hour to reach the next zen garden.


3. Kairakuen In Mito Prefecture
This beautiful maintained garden is located in the area of Ibaraki prefecture, the city of Milto is like ninety minutes by the fast train, from Tokyo. One of the most amazing fact is that this feudal age garden is never closed and is always been open for the public. It looks just as lovely at night as it does during the day.

The garden looks beautiful in every season and there is nothing that should be left unseen in this area. The garden is basically popular because of the plum blossom trees that add more nature to the garden, the trees flower before the sakura and many people just go over there to see that.

If you are a fan of anything Sakura, than this should definitely be on your list.

Gardens of Kyoto

It is well known that Kyoto has some of the most stunning gardens on the planet.

An important fact about this place is that the area of Kyoto in the Heian time period was the capital of the Japan. The Heian period is known for its art and culture, and it is said that it was an era when culture and art was at its peak.

The culture that is existing today in Japan is evolved in that period because it was the beginning period. All of the gardens that are in the city are beautiful and have their own charms, they are full of natural beauty and sights. If you get the chance you should set a goal to visit each and every garden for a soothing and relaxing trip to Kyoto.


4. Ginkakuji – The Silver Pavilion
It is basically popular because of the artistic temple, many of the art forms of Zen that includes the design of the gardens have evolved from here and they can trace their origin back to this temple.

Talking about its historical significance and cultural point of view, the place has always been a favorite for the people visiting. This is mainly due to the history tied with the temple as well as the landscape surrounding the temple.

The gardens in the area are also very different and special because the landscape designs are truly impressive. The immaculate Gishadan dry sand garden and the slopes steps that are being built, along with the forest vistas across the ponds are an art to watch.


5. Ryoanji
The temple of Ryoanji is popular among the people due to the Zen garden that is mostly made from dry sand and rock. This garden has been known to have been built in the 15th century and is known as a giant meditation platform. One can sit and spend quite a long time here. There is a part of garden that is older than the Zen garden, which actually dates back to the 12th century and is known as the part of the Fujiwara estate and the earlier Daiju in temple on the site.


6. Ninomaru Gardens of Nijo Castle
This garden is one of the best ones to visit but please note that this garden should not be visited in the time of spring or cold weather because the trees over there stay bare around that time.

Along with that the grass is dried off too in that season, and it is preferred to visit that in the year when new growth of trees is taking place.

The ninamaru is situated in between the inner moat and the outer moat and fortification. Talking about the three gardens at Nijo castle, the Ninamaru is the most ancient, because it was built in the period of Edo.

The islands are connected with each other with beautifully structured bridges. The central Horai is known for representation of eternal happiness and joy, the other two islands are surrounding it and are known as Turtle Island and Crane Island.

Both of the other islands are known to represent longevity.

 

7. Tenryuji Temple in Arashiyama
Arashiyama is a district type area in the western side of the Kyoto. The surrounding area by the riverside is full of nature and beauty in the time of fall and spring especially. There are numerous temples and gardens that add more beautiful sights for the people visiting the area. Tenruji is an important Zen temple, the history behind this temple is that it was built in 1339. The design of the garden belongs to the Muso Soseki who has created many other temples and their gardens in the area. He is also known as the first head priest at the area of Tenryuji, the gardens over there are large enough that if  you leave via the back exit, you will be able to walk through the Arashyamas most famous bamboo groves, where you can take the most creative photographs.


Gardens of Hiroshima

One can really enjoy time with friends and family at the gardens found in Hiroshima. The city is not very difficult to get around because of the flat structures, Hiroshima is a compact city and the garden there is an easy walk.

 

8. Shukkeien
If you are lucky enough to visit this place at the right time when the trees have bloomed, then you won’t feel like going anywhere else.

The gardens that are in Hiroshima are very versatile that it is okay if you are not able to see the blossoms because they are pretty and beautiful in every season.

One can say that it is comparatively smaller but the design is more to the traditional side that makes it look elegant. An important fact about this garden is that it was stripped of some of its beauty by a bomb blast in World War 2, but the original design has been recreated and it’s really something worth taking a look at.


Gardens of Tokyo

The city of Tokyo is known for the life that is full of neon lights, crowds of people, new electronics and modern architecture that has inspired many visitors. There are two truly stunning gardens here that you won’t regret visiting!


9. Imperial Palace East Gardens
The grounds and sites here are secured and the only access to them is through an organized and planned tour. The east side gardens are publically open and the visitors can go over there and enjoy the sites.

This area is well known for the oasis of greenery in the midst of the city and for the fact that Edo castles inner circle of defense used this area as the main site. While none of the buildings of the said castle are still standing, the foundations of the tower that was originally built are still there, along with numerous walls, and gates.

It is huge garden that consist of 51 acres with a lot of area to explore and discover. If you have that much time in your hands then you must explore this place!


10. Rikugien
Last but not the least in our top 10 list is Rikugien Zen garden in Tokyo. As far as the time and year is concerned, then autumn is the best time to go to this wonderful garden, because in autumn you will be able to see the fall colors in this garden.

It is known that this garden was built around 1700 it was designed for the 5th Tokugawa shogun. This mesmerizing garden has been weaved around a central pond which has the natural elements such as tree groupings, and small hills to make it as natural as possible. Much more has been done in order to make it beautiful, while at the same time keeping it natural.

End note: Now, you know more about these 10 Japanese Zen gardens. Please keep one thing in mind, these gardens are not only the ordinary gardens, they are made to show the Japanese history and culture. As you will experience that whenever you are going to visit any of these gardens you will see people meditating there, so these gardens are also known as Japanese Meditation gardens. You can feel free to meditate there and the peace you find in these zen gardens can’t be found anywhere else in the world.

Try to not just go to one of them, you ought to try as many as possible in your visit. But even one visit to one of these gardens will make your entire trip worth it and you will love it anyways.

You will not find anything as peaceful and as beautiful as these Japanese gardens!

zen garden
Side note: The good thing about these gardens is that if you are not able to make the trip to Japan, you can always create and design one in your own backyard! It may not have the history behind it but it will definitely bring peace and relaxation to your home! Not to mention that they are arguably one of the most gorgeous things you can possibly add to a backyard. If you don’t know where to start, you can always contact a landscape designer and they can create one for you or help you come up with a design! If you want some ideas, take a look at some of our designs and installations for zen gardens. Hope this gave you some inspiration!