Japan is a land of diverse and unique culture, wherein its sense of aesthetics makes a mark in ordinary daily details and even in its rich history. This sense of aesthetics and history is very evident and alive in its traditional gardens, such as Ritsurin Park.
Ritsurin Park is considered one of the most beautiful parks in Japan. Also known as Ritsurin Koen or Chestnut Garden, the park is located in Takamatsu City, Kagawa Prefecture, in the very picturesque Shikoku Island, southwestern Japan. According to a legend, the park was named as such due to the chestnut trees which were given as gifts to the then ruling feudal lord.
History and scenic beauty
Cited as a “masterpiece of Japanese landscape gardens,” Ritsurin Park is designated as a National Scenic Area by the Japanese Government. The park also received a rating of three stars by the “Le Guide Vert Michelin.” What makes Ritsurin Park especially beautiful are the elaborate daimyo-styled gardens, some of which were constructed during the early Edo era, and its setting against Mt. Shuin makes the park very striking.
A portion of the current Ritsurin Park was originally built by a ruling family in the 16th century. Expansion and development of Ritsurin Park was carried out by succeeding ruling families and was completed a hundred years after its original construction in 1745 by the Matsudaira family. It was considered the family’s private estate until the Meiji Restoration. Finally it was opened to the public as a prefectural park in 1875.
Spanning 74 hectares, it is divided into the formal Japanese-styled South Garden and a more meandering naturally-styled North Garden. With various footbridges, and walkways, six small lakes, 13 artificial hills, a highly celebrated and cherished centuries-old tea house and various folk art-and-crafts exhibit stalls, Ritsurin Park is designed so that for each season of the year it has a different beautiful appearance. During spring, plum and cherry blossoms give the park a delicate air. Irises and lotuses bloom during summer. Autumn ushers in leaves with hues of rusty orange, deep reds, and vibrant yellows. Winter is as provocatively beautiful with camellias in season.
What to do
It takes two and a half hours to stroll the entire park, unless you decide to stay for a few more hours just to sit on park benches under the huge centuries-old trees or feed the colorful koi in the lakes. Aside from numerous beautiful photo opportunities, you can also attend the various year-round activities such as tea ceremonies, sake tastings, garden illuminations, concerts, and festivals. You might even chance upon witnessing a traditional Japanese wedding ceremony or walk past lovers holding hands and families out for a stroll or a quiet celebration. It is tempting to get lost and sit still in Ritsurin Park’s pocket gardens to meditate upon its beauty and write a haiku or two. In fact, while strolling inside the park, one cannot help but imagine what it was like to live in such beauty during the days of the feudal lords.
How to get there
Getting to Ritsurin Park is not difficult considering the efficient public transportation system in Japan. You can take a plane to Takamatsu City from any of Japan’s main airports. You can also opt to take the ferry crossing the Seto Inland Sea to Takamatsu City, or go by train via the Marine Liner, or by the Foot-Bus from the Kansai area. Once in Takamatsu City, you can take the JR train to the nearest station, then it’s a short walk, cycle or scooter ride to the Park’s entrance.
Ritsurin Park is open from 7am to 5pm, depending on the season. Admission fees are around 400 yen with additional fees for various activities.