Spotlight: Korakuen Garden (Okayama)

Japan is known for its “lists of three” – the top three views, the top three mountain castles, the top three onsen towns. Surprisingly, for as much as I love Japanese gardens, I had never set foot in one of Japan’s top three gardens. Thankfully, on my trip to Okayama prefecture early last month, I was able to remedy that oversight.

Korakuen Garden sits on an island in the middle of Okayama city, just across a long wooden bridge from the black-walled Okayama Castle. The garden was laid out in 1687 and the work was finished in 1700. For many years, the garden was used by the ruling daimyo (local lord) for entertainment purposes, though the grounds were opened to commoners on certain days throughout the year. In 1884, however, ownership of the garden was transferred to the prefectural government. Korakuen was mostly leveled during bombing raids in World War II but thanks to detailed blueprints of the garden layout, Korakuen was restored to its Edo-era state by the late 1950s.

A view of Korakuen Garden
A view of Korakuen Garden

Unlike some smaller Japanese gardens, Korakuen has an abundance of open grassy areas. In occasional sections you can walk over the sod, but mostly these lovely-looking areas are off-limits. Still, there are plenty of paths that criss-cross the garden, leading past groves and patches that bloom in various seasons. When I was there, the lotus flowers were just opening their petals to the sun, while other sections promise plum blossoms, irises, a rice paddy and cherry blossoms.

Rice paddy in Korakuen
Rice paddy in Korakuen

Take your time wandering around Korakuen, as the paths have so many little intersections, it’s hard to see everything in just one easy loop. The highlight of the garden for me, however, is the way Okayama Castle forms the perfect backdrop. Well worth a visit if you’re in the area!

Okayama Castle in the background
Okayama Castle in the background

8 thoughts on “Spotlight: Korakuen Garden (Okayama)

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  1. My favourite Japanese garden along with Kenrokuen in Kanazawa. Korakuen Garden was designed in the Kaiyu Style (scenic promenade), where the gardens are landscaped around a large pond. This style presents the visitor with a new view at every turn of the path that connects the vast lawns, ponds, hills, tea houses and streams.

  2. Thanks for the post on Korakuen. Ironically, I did not visit Japan’s three great gardens will on a study abroad in Japan for landscape architecture students. Another good reason to return to Japan one day!

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