Since moving to Tokyo, I’ve had the pleasure of connecting with many people who share my interests, particularly in the food and garden category. One of those new acquaintances is Anika, who is part of the team behind Real Japanese Gardens. After exchanging numerous emails and bonding over our mutual love of gardens (though her actual gardening knowledge far outstrips mine!), she kindly sent me a copy of one of their e-books, a guide to Koishikawa Korakuen. So early in September, with e-book in hand (or rather in iDevice), I trotted off to one of Tokyo’s most well-known metropolitan gardens to “road test” the guide.
The e-book is 23 pages and is divided into multiple sections. The introduction takes you through the history of the garden, detailing who owned it and how it was landscaped over time. The second section breaks down each of the main garden elements – bridges, stones, lanterns, waterfalls and structures. There is also a good collection of pictures that show the garden’s flowers in various seasons. The third section actually walks you through the garden (not the usual route as the one marked by the sight itself) and gives hints as to what to look for.
I actually did some pre-reading before I went, spending the previous evening covering the history of the garden and the details of the various garden elements. I definitely feel it made my visit more enjoyable, as I already ad an idea what to look for around the garden.
In the plus column, I loved having the e-book in advance of my visit to truly devote the time necessary to reading up on the history. Normally on a garden visit, I take the proffered pamphlet, maybe use it for the map, and recycle it when I get home. I don’t always take the time to sit down during my visit to read the (often dry) history recitation and if I do, I can’t say that much of it sinks in. I also really valued the breakdown of garden elements. Not many pamphlets bother to tell you the different styles of various lanterns or the purpose of certain unique rocks. I appreciated that there were numerous photos showing me not only the garden elements (various rocks, bridges, etc) but also how the garden looks in the different seasons. For those who may be determining the best season in which to visit Korakuen, these photos would certainly assist. I also found the small section at the end detailing nearby gardens and properties with gardens or landscaped greenery to be a great addition and nice tool for future planning.
There were only a few minor things that frustrated me while using the e-guide. During the garden walk-through, I got lost once or twice because I had to keep flipping back on my e-reader to make sure I was at the right landmark. The names did not easily stick in my head so I needed to constantly reference them. Not having a paper guide made flipping back and forth a bit of an annoyance (or perhaps it is just my lack of experience with e-guides!). I also think the addition of a map in the final section or even at the end of the document that shows the route the e-book uses (rather than the route the garden itself suggests) would be worthwhile. The current map is simply an overview; one with actual lines or arrows marking the route would be useful.
The Koishikawa Korakuen e-book is just one of many the Real Japanese Gardens site offers.There are around two dozen to choose from, varying in topic from gardens themselves to detailed explanations of garden elements (rocks, moss, bamboo). The books range in price from $1.95 to $2.50. For the amount of information contained in these documents, it’s an incredible price and a good buy for both garden lovers and anyone interested in learning more on the subject.