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Hama-rikyū-onshi-teien, or the Hama Detached Palace Garden, was inaugurated as a public garden on 1 April, 1946, but like so many large Edo-period (江戸時代 Edo-jidai, 1603-1868) stroll gardens in Tokyo, its history is long and convoluted. Originally a family garden of the Tokugawa shogunate, it began its life in 1654 when Matsudaira Tsunashige (松平綱重), the younger brother of the fourth shogun, Tokugawa Ietsuna (徳川家綱 1641-1680), embarked on a reclamation project along the marshy shores of what was then a very rustic Edo Bay to create warehouse space to store rice from his Nagoya estates. Later, using the proceeds from the sale of surplus rice, he was able to erect his Edo mansion, Kofu Hama-yashiki (甲府浜屋敷, “Kofu Beach Pavilion”) on the newly-created land. Matsudaira eventually passed the land on to the sixth shogun, Tokugawa Ienobu (徳川家宣 1662-1712), who, in 1709, erected a villa and set out the ponds and gardens that would eventually become Hama-rikyū-onshi-teien. The eighth shogun, Tokugawa Yoshimune (徳川吉宗 1684-1751), used parts of the grounds for experimentation in the cultivation of new crops, and the garden saw completion in its current form under the eleventh shogun, Tokugawa Ienari (徳川家斉 1773-1841).
Tokugawa Ienobu’s garden featured pavilions, cherry orchards, pine forests, and duck ponds, together with a large tidal-fed pond. He was inordinately fond of duck-hunting - a singular shift in policy from the animal-loving former shogun - so he had no fewer than three ponds (Kamoba 鴨場) dedicated to the pleasures of the hunt.
With the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1868, the gardens passed to the Meiji Foreign Ministry. The villa burned to the ground, but was rebuilt in brick in 1869 as a guest house for foreign dignitaries. American history buffs might find it interesting that this villa housed President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) and his wife during their official visit to Japan in 1879, and Emperor Meiji (明治天皇 Meijo-tennō 1852-1912) took his very first carriage ride to visit the president there. However, the Hama-Rikyū guest house was not a resounding success due to its detached location, and foreign dignitaries soon after found themselves housed in the romantically-named Rokumeikan (鹿鳴館 “Deer Cry Hall”) near Hibiya Park, opposite the Imperial Palace grounds. When the Imperial Household Agency took over Hama-rikyū-onshi-teien, the grounds were used for receptions and outings for Meiji nobles and foreign guests, but the brick mansion was demolished. After the Pacific War, control of the grounds passed to the Tokyo metropolitan government, and were officially opened as a public park in 1946.
There are a great many things to see in this roughly square 60-acre park, but chief among these are the tidal pond (Shioiri-no-ike 潮入の池) with its massive floodgate, the duck-hunting blinds, the staggered bridges shaded by wisteria trellises, and a 300-year-old pine cascading down a stepped trellis. Groves of cherry trees and Japanese apricots provide additional seasonal color. The pavilion at the center of the tidal pond in which Emperor Meiji entertained President Grant is no longer extant, but one can still enjoy whisked green tea in the pavilion built to replace it (Nakajima-no-O-chaya 中島の御茶屋). One pleasant route to the garden involves a 35-minute waterbus journey along the Sumida-gawa River from Sensō-ji (浅草寺) in Asakusa. The boat docks at a jetty at the north-east corner of the garden, and a pleasant stroll along a broad pine-covered berm provides excellent views along the Sumida River and out towards Tokyo Bay. In the past, the gardens looked directly onto the bay, but a large man-made island and massive concrete flood walls now obscure some of this vista.
The delights of any garden are seasonal, and Hama-rikyū-onshi-teien is no exception. The lakes bring seasonal water foul, and the tide brings gobies, black mullet and sea bass into the tidal pond. Duck-hunting is no longer practiced here, and the garden is now a protected habitat. In the past, the ducks were lured up narrow canals branching off the fresh-water ponds with grain and caught in large nets. A mound, known as Kamozuka (鴨塚 “duck mound”) was erected in 1935 to appease the spirits of the slain birds. The ancient black pine (kuromatsu 黒松; Pinus thunbergii) near the north-west corner of the garden was planted in 1704 when Tokugawa Ienobu was remodeling the garden. Miraculously, this venerable tree has survived earthquakes, fires, remodeling trends - even bombing raids. Legend has it that Tokugawa Yoshimune even kept an elephant that he had received from Vietnam on these grounds. A list of the flora for which this garden is known includes over 600 varieties of peony, cosmos, irises, spider lilies, black pines, wisteria, cherries and Japanese apricots.
- Mansfield, S. (2009). Tokyo: A cultural history. Oxford: Oxford University Press; pp.75-76.
- Martin, J. H. & P. G. (1996). Tokyo: A cultural guide to Japan’s capital city. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.; pp.106-107.
- The Yamasa Institutes page on Hama-rikyū-onshi-teien can be accessed here: http://yamasa.org/japan/english/destinations/tokyo/hamarikyuu.html.
- Hama Rikyu Onshi Teien Japan Walk-Caster & Stephen Mansfield, an audio tour, is available from: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/hama-rikyu/id338212132
- Web: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/en/hama-rikyu/outline.html (Japanese site: http://teien.tokyo-park.or.jp/contents/index028.html)