Kairakuen is one of the 3 Great Gardens in Japan. It is a personal mission of mine to visit all of these gardens and I have so far visited 2. I had visited Korakuen, in Okayama, a year ago and I plan to visit Kenrokuen in the future. Kairakuen is a garden that I had seen from afar but never had a real chance to visit it. Due to my visits to Mito being very short, I never had even an hour to quickly check it out. This time, I had a full day to explore the entire area.
Kairakuen is not as big as they make it out to be. There is the official garden and there is the park. For this post, I will focus entirely on the official garden area, which is a walled off section of the park. Kairakuen is located on the side of a hill and at the top of the hill as well. It is right next to Tokiwa Jinja, which is dedicated to the Tokugawa family. I entered through one of the side entrances rather than the “front” entrance, although wherever you enter will be interesting enough.
Kairakuen is very unique in that this garden is completely free. Almost every other garden in Japan requires an admission fee. It felt very strange to enter the gates of the garden as I was expecting someone to come up to me and say that I had to pay to get in. Once you enter, you are immediately hit with the sense that you are no longer in a regular park.
The first area I entered was the plum tree grove. This plum tree grove is called the Tozai Plum Trees and it was a wonderful place to visit in June. The trees were full of colour and the plums were just ripening. Next to many of the trees you could see the ripened plums had fallen off and you could smell the wonderful plums. I just wanted to pick one up and eat it, but I figured it wouldn’t be safe to eat. I also didn’t have my personal ume taster, Rurousha. 😉
The plum tree grove is a little difficult to navigate as the trails tend to go in a less linear fashion. The paths tend to move in a general direction but they wind a little left and right at times requiring you to double check the map. Thankfully they have many maps within the grove itself so finding the exit again won’t be too difficult.
After I found my way out of the plum tree grove, I found myself at a small set of hydrangeas before I found myself at the Omotemon Gate facing the Mousou Bamboo Forest. When I was in this area, there was an older gentleman giving a single woman a tour, but as me and E were heading into the bamboo forest, he started calling out to “everyone”. He said, “everyone, come here!” so that he could explain something. We weren’t really interested in the tour that was in Japanese, so we just ignored him and headed down the hill through the forest.
As you head down the forest, you are also next to an old cedar forest. Many of the trees are huge and it took us back to the Pacific Northwest. I remembered the huge trees I would see hiking up the North Shore Mountains next to Vancouver. The trees were majestic and you could easily enjoy the peace and quiet, except for the tour guide who was explaining things.
The whole point of us heading into the forest, downhill I might add, was to find the Togyokusen. The Togyokusen is a natural spring that comes out of a very unnatural rock. There is what appears to be a white marble rock where the water comes out. It has a basin and small channels to let the water flow out to the sides. E and I took a break enjoying the fresh spring water. While there were signs that said “no drinking”, we used it to clean up as it was a hot day. A little fresh spring water on the face is a great way to feel refreshed.
We headed back up the hill and past the Koubuntei and reached the Miharashi Hiroba, or officially translated as the “Plaza where commanding is good”. That phrase deserves to be on a T-shirt or a videogame. It is also where the Senekidai is located, a Japanese chess ground. E and I just chilled out at the edge of the hill and enjoyed watching the trains pass by, the sun on our faces, and the peace and quiet of the park. It was still pretty warm but it was nice and comfortable. Probably the best place in the park, if you ask me.
From there, we headed back to the Koubuntei where we were rewarded with the beautiful views of paintings in every room. I’ll elaborate a lot more about the Koubuntei in a future post, but let’s just say that it was beautiful and well worth the 200 yen entrance fee.
Kairakuen is a beautiful park but I’m not sure I would consider it a top 3. It is lovely to visit and if you are in Mito and have the time, I definitely recommend you visit. It isn’t very cheap as the Super Hitachi train costs more than local trains but it is very fast. Kairakuen is also not the only thing to see in Mito as getting away and enjoying the small city atmosphere is a great way to remove the stresses from the big city. Kairakuen is also very peaceful and a wonderful way to find your inner zen.