Rikugi-en, a Poetic Landscape
Not far from Ueno Park, Rikugi-en was my favorite garden in Tokyo. Completed around 1700, it was created for the mansion of a high-ranking samurai.
Rikugi-en means Garden of the Six Principles of Poetry. The six principles are associated with a form of classical Japanese poetry called waka, which predates haiku by several centuries. I don’t understand the six principles myself, but if you want to know more you can look here.
Gardens and nature are integral to Japanese poetry. In fact, there are today 37 Japanese botanical gardens devoted to displaying plants from the Manyoshu (meaning ‘Collection of Myriad Leaves’), which is the most ancient of Japanese poetry anthologies.
In its 21 acres, Rikugi-en contains 81 scenes drawn from classical Japanese and Chinese poems.
It is similar to Koishikawa Korakuen and other strolling gardens in that it is organized around a small lake, islands, and hills. For me, though, Rikugi-en’s poetic scenes combined the most satisfying mix of drama, mystery, and tranquility.
A bridge over peaceful waters.
This part of the garden is modeled on an actual place called the Bay of Poetry. In fact, it is held that the whole topography of Rikugi-en is a miniaturized version of the landscape in a province then called Kishu, in the southern part of the main island of Japan.
I thought that the small arch contained in the stone above was very eye-catching.
Gazing across the water toward cloud-pruned trees evokes a dreamy sort of feeling for me.
And this scene with the small boathouse was suggestive of deep tranquility. I’d try to get in that boat if I didn’t get seasick so easily.
A very different sort of landscape is found in this corner of the garden.
This is some kind of Liriope, I think. The plant, which is native to Japan, is extensively used in parks and gardens here.
Though small, these flowers and purple berries stood out near the stones and rushing water.
You come upon this view as you cross a stream on stepping stones.Though everything is of modest size, to my eye it really did suggest a much grander and more dramatic landscape.
There’s a small waterfall at the far end – here’s a closer look.
We are not alone.
Here’s an interesting foliage plant. No idea what it is, but I like the mix of variegated and non-variegated leaves. Is it one plant or two, I wonder.
A small hut at the top of a rise is a good spot for taking in the surrounding woodland.
Another bridge. This scene suggests woods inhabited by magical creatures.
Emerging from those woods you come upon this expansive view.
We are still not alone. Japanese gardens seem to be very popular with turtles.
Another bridge, this one of stone.
This bridge is edged with Liriope on both sides.
So many lovely ferns.
I was getting tired (and hot), and I was going to skip climbing up the small hill called Fujishirotoge, from which you can see most of the garden and beyond. However, a very fit-looking Japanese woman about ten years my senior insisted that I go up. So I did, partly because I was afraid she might drag me up there.
In springtime flowers are plentiful at Rikugi-en, but not in August. I did, however, come across this Lily, no doubt the last of its siblings to flower.
There are plenty of Tokyo gardens I haven’t seen. However, based on my limited experience, Rikugi-en is the place I’d suggest if you could visit only one garden in Tokyo. It is a garden that can take you out of yourself, a poem written in plants, stone, and water.