The Genkyuen Gardens can easily be considered part of Hikone Castle but it is technically a different place. The tickets to get into Hikone Castle are usually sold in sets that include the gardens but a lot of people don’t actually visit the gardens. While the castle was really busy, the gardens were surprisingly quiet. I really enjoyed these gardens but it was somewhat small and too similar to every other garden I had ever visited. It is hard to say that you must visit these gardens but they are something that I do recommend. After visiting the busy Hikone Castle, it is good to get away from the crowds to regain your sanity. Make sure you do so at the gardens as they are good therapy to relax.
I entered the gardens through the rear entrance. The front entrance is often used as the rear entrance as doing a circuit from Hikone Castle means it is more efficient to enter through the rear. To get to the gardens, you head down from the Kuromon Gate. Once you are at Kuromon Gate, you can see signs telling you where Genkyuen Gardens is. Before entering, there are signs telling you to visit Rakurakuen, a small garden and building complex that is currently undergoing restorations. The area available to the public is free but very small. It provides a nice window into Genkyuen Gardens but nothing else. Aside from the view, I didn’t find this area particularly exciting. Make sure you have your original Hikone Castle ticket so you can enter or else you’ll have to pay 200 yen to enter the gardens. Once you do enter the gardens, you are in what amounts to a standard Japanese garden. There is a main pond which you travel around. If you are like me and you like to travel the outer course, you will end up at the front entrance rather than seeing everything. As you round the main pond, you have an option to go over a small hill at the edge of the garden which leads to the main entrance or travel over the small islands in the pond. The islands in the pond are nice to travel over and they lead to the tea house too. The gardens also provide a nice perspective of Hikone Castle that you can’t really find from any other angle around the castle. The view is a bit standard if you have seen similar castles but it can be considered part of the admission to the castle so it is good to enjoy it.
I was with my parents when I visited Hikone and my mother wanted to see a Japanese tea ceremony. I didn’t have the opportunity to prepare for this so we just went to the tea house instead. The tea house is located around the islands of the garden and the system is a bit interesting. There was a nice little bell that you use to get service. Sometimes I have seen machines with tickets pop out when you pay but this one you just ring a bell and a server comes out. You can sit anywhere but they had nice electric rugs on some areas where you are supposed to sit. They promptly get you seated and explain the process. You get a small dessert to start and you have to pay around this time. Afterwards they bring the tea. They told me to enjoy the view both in front and behind the tea house. I mainly enjoyed the view in front. Once I was done it was a simple departure and they said thank you. The experience was refreshing and the tea and dessert was good. As a pit stop, I would gladly go back again. I have started to enjoy going to tea houses, especially in gardens as it is a nice tranquil way to soak up the beauty of the gardens and really enjoy the atmosphere.
Genkyuen Garden is a nice little garden and probably not worth the admission alone. Bundled with the castle admission it is a nice place to visit. Compared to other gardens I have visited, it was neither the largest nor the most interesting, but it was still tranquil. Unfortunately I have very high standards when it comes to gardens, castles, and temples. After seeing countless different gardens in my travels, unless a garden has a very unique feature or I learn something unique about the place, it is hard to get very excited. I do believe that Genkyuen Gardens should be visited because it is a lovely place but I was personally not as impressed. If you don’t have a chance to visit another garden, or you have only visited a few gardens, then you should visit this garden. If this is your 50th garden, you may not want to go but since it is included with the ticket to Hikone Castle, there is no harm in regaining your sanity after being pushed around inside Hikone Castle.
- Genkyuen Gardens (Japan Guide)