Great Gardens: Makino Botanical Garden

Japan is well-known for its traditional gardens but I’ve recently discovered that its botanical gardens can be equally impressive. On a recent trip to Kochi Prefecture in Shikoku in late March, I spent an afternoon exploring the vast grounds of the Makino Botanical Garden, which enjoys a superb location on Mt Godai just a short drive or bus ride from the city center.

The garden was named for Tomitaro Makino, the Kochi native who is considered the father of Japanese botany. In his lifetime, Makino traveled all over the country, cataloguing over 400,000 endemic species and naming a further 1500 that had never been seen or previously recorded. He later lectured at Tokyo University and published the still-indispensable reference book, Illustrated Flora of Japan.

A sign for the botanical garden
A sign for the botanical garden

The garden is divided into multiple zones. A good chunk of the northern part of the garden – located on a slope – is devoted to springtime flowering trees. Both plum and cherry blossoms are well represented and there are plenty of spaces to spread out a picnic blanket underneath the trees here on the grassy lawn (one of the few spots in the garden where you are permitted to eat outside food). The view from here is of the mountains of eastern Kochi. If you didn’t bring your own picnic lunch, there is a rather spacious tea house/cafe not too far away that serves drinks and small eats.

A few final cherry blossoms in the North Garden
A few final cherry blossoms in the North Garden

My favorite part of the garden was the South Garden. When we were there, the statue honoring Dr Makino overlooked a whole field of spring blooms, from tulips to pansies to hyacinths and many more. The colors were stunning and my daughter enjoyed darting along the paths with other youngsters we met that day. There are a number of benches here to sit and relax and just take in the surroundings. I spent over an hour here as my daughter played and we were both incredibly content with the arrangement. 🙂

A view of the South Garden with the pagoda of the nearby Chikurin Temple on the horizon
A view of the South Garden with the pagoda of the nearby Chikurin Temple on the horizon
Flowers in bloom in the South Garden's 50th Anniversary Grove
Flowers in bloom in the South Garden’s 50th Anniversary Grove

A garden of medicinal plants near the North Garden and a tropical conservatory with beautiful orchids at the edge of the South Garden are unique additions. We loved the conservatory’s bright orchids, winding paths and terraced waterfall and it made for a nice stop on a chillier spring day.

Inside the conservatory
Inside the conservatory

The conservatory is located right near the garden’s south entrance. Across the street, steps lead up to the Chikurin Temple. There is a pagoda on the hill, as well as a main building with its own small rock garden behind it.

Despite the amount of ground you cover, the garden is arranged as sort of a lopsided semi-circle. The south entrance is actually just a short walk down the hill from the north entrance and the main parking area. Both local Kochi city buses and special sightseeing buses (that leave from the main JR station in Kochi) will drop you off right at the parking area. Parking is free and entrance to the garden is ¥720 (for adults). You can enter from either gate and you can use your ticket to reenter at any time on the same day.

The garden is very wheelchair and stroller accessible, with paved paths covering most of the grounds. However, there is a lot of walking to be done. If mobility (or even time) is a constraint, I’d aim to spend your time in the South Garden only, with the nearby conservatory offering more tropical fare. Even in cherry blossom season, when most of the petals are concentrated in the North Garden, there are still a few pink trees here to enjoy.

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