How to plan a trip to Japan including gardens.

giouji

Giō-ji in Kyoto

Today I want to write down some steps for planning an individual trip to Japan. Especially for those interested in gardens!

I guess the first thing to plan is when to go and for how long..

After that, where to go, what to visit and where to sleep.

Japan has some seasons when everyone in Japan has holidays and will probably use this time for a vacation.
This is probably not a good time to travel to Japan, because hotels are booked out or are very expensive and trains, airplanes and sightseeing spots are full.

This seasons we experience in late April / early May during Golden Week, during Obon in Mid-August and after Christmas into the New Year.

It sometimes happens, that there is a fourth season in September (around the 20th) when the national holidays create a „Silver Week“.

You can easily check Japanese national holidays on Wikipedia when you plan your trip.

The rest of the year is all up to you and what preferences you have.
The weekends during Cherry Blossom or autumn foliage time are very crowded as well, but manageable. Cherry Blossom Season is Early – Mid April and autumn foliage in Late November (for Kansai area).

hamarikyu

Hamarikyū garden in winter

Sometimes we have snow in Tokyo and Kyoto in January or February, but the temperatures seldom drop beneath 0 °C during the day.
The grass in the gardens will appear yellow at this time of year.

 

In June we have a rain season with great humidity, which may cause problems for people not used to it. You might already need more pauses during the day. And of course it can happen that it will rain for one week in a row.
Advantage: Locations are not so crowded and Japanese gardens are beautiful even in rain.

After the rain season the hot summer starts. In July and August we can get up to 40 °C! The sun in Japan is very strong. It is better to use sun lotion or long sleeves and wear a hat.
If you are in Japan during this time, be prepared for a lot of mosquitos in gardens and rural parts of the country. Please always carry a bottle of water and rest a lot.
The moss in Japanese gardens is a little bit yellow during this time, because of drought.

Katsura-Rikkyu-(2)

Katsura Imperial Palace in early autumn

Leaving spring and autumn as ideal travel time… But you will not be the only one who knows about this ^_- Most people decide on this seasons.
To avoid the masses in these travel periods, visit famous sightseeing spots during the week and not on weekends. Also visiting very early in the morning might help to avoid the masses.

The length of your stay depends most likely on your budget for the travel. Nevertheless, I advise to visit Japan for at least 3 weeks if you are sure you cannot come back for some years.

It is very easy to travel in Japan on low budget. However, this is not very comfortable.
Airbnb is available in Japan but semi-legal. Couch surfing also exists in Japan.
This option is nice to get into contact with locals and learn typical customs of this country.

Guesthouses and Minshuku are available as well. Here you can choose on a private room or dormitory.
Some private rooms may have an own toilet but normally toilets and shower rooms are for share.
I would recommend traditional Minshuku, which have a typical Japanese bath like a Sento. You will have Ryokan feeling on low budget then!

Yes, Ryokan will be next. Here the price varies a lot. Ryokan are on a higher level than Minshuku and normally have a typical Japanese bath and providing a Japanese dinner menu.
Here you might find a beautiful Japanese garden attached to your hotel.

After these options normal hotels are left. The low budget hotels are so-named Business Hotels. They are very simple hotels but every room comes with shower and toilet and a western style bed.
Some chains like the Toyoko-Inn provide a breakfast buffet included in the price.

All other hotels are more expensive and start around 7000 Yen per night.

Depending on what kind of accommodation you prefer, the hotel might be the most expensive on your trip.

Ritsurin-(26)

Ritsurin garden in winter

Don’t be afraid to travel around a lot. There is something very nice called the Japan Railway Pass.
With the right rail pass, only available to foreigners visiting Japan, you can hop on almost every JR train without paying extra. It is so easy to travel from Tokyo to Kanazawa, have a look into the Kenrokuen and from there continue the travel to Kyoto and go down to Okayama!
In Tokyo you will find a great network of JR operated trains you can use with your JR Pass and which connect the major sightseeing spots.
In Kyoto however, it is better to use the 500 Yen Day-Pass Ticket for Busses to get from temple to temple.
If you don’t want to rely on JR services, you can choose night busses as a low budget option to travel from city to city.
The Seishun 18 kippu gives you nice opportunity to travel as well. However, it is limited to special seasons and you have to use local or rapid trains.

Ok, finished with the basics. Lets come to the main point: including gardens into your travel plan!

Maybe you already have a bucket list or you might want to use our Garden Finder for deciding on gardens you want to visit.
You can easily find gardens by area, by style or by time period.
The gardens are divided into Calming gardens and Exiciting gardens.
Most of the gardens where you can stroll around are listed within the Exiting gardens, while gardens where you can sit down and contemplate are listed within the Calming gardens.
Every link to a garden provides you with extra information like history, opening hours, admission fee and address.
There are more than 100 gardens in our database.

Kamakura--Meigetsu-in-(29)

Meigetsu-in in early spring

The highest concentration of gardens can be found in and around Tokyo and in Kyoto.
But maybe you want to include some more lonely placed gardens as well.
For a tour through Japan with enough time I would recommend visiting Tokyo, going to Kanazawa, from there down to Kyoto, further to Okayama and maybe make a short visit to Shimane prefecture.
There are a lot of nice spots on that route, not only gardens!
Kanazawa has wonderful roads full of traditional houses. The feeling of the Edo period can be experienced here on its best.
The famous Shirakawa village (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is not far either.

On the way from Kyoto to Okayama lies Kobe with a beautiful harbour and an old European village.
Himeji with Japan’s most famous castle is also on the way.
From Okayama city, which hosts a very nice castle as well, it is only a short trip to one of the other main islands of Japan – Shikoku – where we find the Ritsurin Garden.
If visiting Shimane with the famous Adachi Museum of Art, only one of the gardens which can be found there, it is only a short distance to the Japanese sea and down to Hiroshima.

Now lets dig into the greater garden areas around Tokyo, Kamakura and Kyoto.
I am sure these three spots are almost on every bucket list!

Korin-in

Kōrin-in in autumn

It is not possible to visit all gardens in Tokyo in one day. It isn’t possible for Kamakura either.
Here you should decide on your preferences!
Do you want to visit open and wide gardens or more enclosure ones? Among the gardens of Kamakura: are you interested in Dry Landscape Gardens? Or in the temple architecture?
I am sure you want to visit the Daibutsu (Great Buddha) as well, so spare some time for this one too.
Because the gardens in Tokyo are quite large or are lying far apart, I think it is reasonable to visit only two gardens a day. If deciding on two which are lying next to each other like Hamarikyu and Kyu-Shibarikyu or Kyu-Furukawa Garden and Rikugien, a third garden is possible as well.

For Kamakura it really depends on the gardens and temples you want to visit. However, because Kamakura is far more compact, it is possible to visit 4 to 5 temples a day with a strict schedule.

maingarden_zenrin_logo

Zenrin-ji in autumn

In Kyoto it is hard to say which garden or how many to visit!
Last year I planned in a way where it was possible to visit as much gardens as we could.
A result was: no great time to relax! Of course we sat down from time to time to breath in the beauty of a garden, but after that we hurried to the next one…
If I had been alone, it would have been able to visit up to six gardens a day!
However, that was work. For a relaxed holiday I would recommend to visit only 4 gardens a day. You can prepare optional ones if you feel to visit more afterwards!

I would also recommend to make pauses between pure garden visit days or to mix gardens with other attractions like museums.
Although we all love Japanese gardens, it is possible to get fed up with them! At one stage you will not remember how the first garden you visited the day looked like and what you thought was special about it…
To keep every garden special, it is important to lead the eyes to something other than green or gravel grey from time to time.

For planning your final routes, check which gardens or temples, which lay in the same area.
You can use our map for that purpose. It includes all gardens listed on our website with links.

IMG_4762

Hamarikyū garden in spring

To check how long it will take from one garden to the other, I recommend using Googlemaps.
I am always planning garden tours with the „My Maps“ Application, where I can choose on different train or bus lines and can add ways for walking. Google then shows the time needed. I found them almost always correct.
You can see an example here: It is our garden tour to Kyoto in 2015.
Please have in mind that most gardens open at 9am and close at 4:30pm. You won’t have a “full day” when visiting them.
Don’t forget to include lunch times and coffee breaks into your schedule! Being on the road all the day is more exhausting than you might think .

Further, in each of our garden guides we not only provide detailed information about the gardens you may visit, we also give recommendations about other gardens around, other sightseeing spots around or where to have a good meal in the area.
Check them out!

I hope you got some hints for a trip to Japan and what is possible to visit during your stay in Japan.
If you have any further questions regarding garden visits, feel free to mail us or to comment!
I am waiting ^_-


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