Okayama’s Korakuen and its Night Illumination

Date:  18th November 2018

I had my reservations about writing on my trip to Korakuen. You know how your mind sometimes play a trick on you. When you have a low expectation on something and yet it turned out better than expected, you tend to think it’s great (greater than it actually is). Yet, when you have higher expectations and it turned out to be “meh”, you find it . . . well, meh. Anyway, my point is – I went to Korakuen with the expectation of seeing what is ranked as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens. And I was disappointed, not to the point of saying “meh”, it was more of something along the line of “how was this ranked as the best three?”. But whether or not that is due to my expectations, I have no idea. So to those who are going there, probably put that “one of Japan’s three best landscape garden” behind when going to this garden. Maybe you will be able to appreciate it more than I did. Looking at the pictures now, the garden is really pretty after all.

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Korakuen (後楽園) is a kaiyu-style (circuit style) Japanese landscape garden and as mentioned above – ranked as one of Japan’s three best landscape gardens alongside Kenrokuen in Kanazawa and Kairakuen in Mito, Ibaraki Prefecture. Ikeda Tsunamasa, daimyo of the Okayama domain ordered the construction of Korakuen in 1687 to Tsuda Nagatada. The garden was completed in 1700 and retains most of its original appearances in exception of a few changes by other subsequent daimyos. Located across the Asahi river from Okayama Castle, this garden was used to entertain guests of the daimyo and there were also times when the public were permitted to enter the garden. The garden was initially named “Koen” (back garden) but was later renamed to Korakuen in 1871 since it was built in the spirit of “sen-yu-koraku” (grieve earlier than others, enjoy later than others).

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Korakuen was opened to the public when Okayama Prefecture took over the garden in 1884. The garden suffered severe damages during the floods in 1934 and during the air-raids of the 1945 WWII but has been restored based on old paintings.

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Entering from the South Gate, the Kayo-no-ike is seen on the left. Lotuses bloom between June and August here. From this pond, the Enyo-tei House can be seen, which was used to receive daimyo during visits to the garden.

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Enyo-tei and Eisho-no-ma seen from Kayo-no-ike
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Enyo-tei
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Enyo-tei

Walking away from Enyo-tei House towards Sawa-no-ike and towards the back of the garden gives a good view of Okayama Castle which is used as a borrowed scenery for the garden. Colourful wagasa (oil-paper umbrellas) adorned the carpet grass, beautifying this scene further.

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Okayama Castle seen from the back of Korakuen

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The Sawa-no-ike is the largest pond in Korakuen, having three islands – Jarijima, Minoshima, and Nakanoshima.

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Koi fish in the pond

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Nakanoshima

On the left of the pond is Seiden (rice fields), home to the Oga Lotuses which are said to have returned to life after 2000 years. They are best viewed in June and July.

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Seiden

Further left is the Chishio-no-mori grove with over 100 maple trees. There is also a plum grove nearby which will see over 100 blooming ume blossoms in early spring.

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The Ryuten Pavilion was one of my favourites, listening to the quiet stream under the shade was truly peaceful.

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Ryuten Pavilion
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Achieving tranquility in Ryuten Pavilion

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The Yushinzan Hill can be a bit crowded since it is small, but it was worth it since it gave a panoramic view of the garden. The view is said to be even more spectacular when azaleas are in full bloom.

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View from Yuishinzan Hill
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An obviously famous garden for wedding photos

Similar to Okayama Castle, I was also here during the night illumination. It was more difficult to get the pictures right in Korakuen, I’ll blame the excessively bright lights – but you know it’s because of my lack of skill.

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Ryuten Pavilion at night

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Renchi-ken Rest House

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Info

Opening hours:

  • March 20 – September 30: 07:30 – 18:00
  • October 1 – March 19: 08:00 – 17:00

No closing days.

Admission fee: 400 yen (garden only), 520 yen (combined with museum), 560 yen (combined with castle), 960 yen (combined with castle and Hayashibara Museum of Art)

Events:

  • January 1-3: New Year Festival
  • Early February: Grass Burning Ceremony
  • Late February: Protective straw coverings are removed from pine trees and burned
  • March 2: Commemoration of the Opening of the Garden
  • 1st Sunday of April: Goshinko Festival
  • Late April: Eisai Tea Ceremony
  • 3rd Sunday of May: Tea Picking Festival
  • 2nd Sunday of June: Rice Planting Festival
  • 1st Sunday of July: Lotus Flower Viewing
  • August: Garden Illumination
  • August 15 (lunar calendar): Moon Viewing Ceremony
  • 1st Saturday of October: Noh Theater Performance
  • Late October: Pine trees are fitted with protective straw coverings
  • Late October – Mid November: Chrysanthemum Exhibition
  • November 3: Koraku Noh Performance

Official Website

Access

From Okayama Station, below are the several options to reach Korakuen:

  • Take the Okaden Bus bound for Fujiwara Danchi to Korakuen-mae (10 mins, 140 yen), in which the garden is just 500m away from the bus stop.
  • Take the Okayama Denki (Electric Tramway) Higashiyama Line to Shiroshita Station (4 mins, 100 yen) in which the garden is a 10-mins walk away.
  • Take the Ryobi Bus bound for Saidaiji and alight at Kencho-mae bus stop (10 mins, 100 yen) where the garden is a 10-min walk away.

Alternatively, it is possible to walk from Okayama Station – only 25 mins, 2km.

Korakuen is also just a short walk across the river from Okayama Castle, thus making it a good combined visit.

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Author: Jennifer

Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.

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