Last year, my friend Felicity (constant travel companion and fabulous videoegrapher at Where Next Japan) invited my daughter and I to Kyoto for a visit to a rather special garden. Her Osaka-based photography club had gotten permission to visit a private garden in northern Kyoto and she wanted to know if I would like to join them.
Hmmm … garden, Kyoto, foliage …. ummmmm, yes????!!!!!
I didn’t quite realize at the time just how fortunate we were to have such “VIP” access to the Hakuryuen Garden. This hillside garden, whose name means “white dragon garden” is privately owned. However, twice a year for one week at a time – in April for sakura season and in the autumn for the foliage – the garden opens up to a mere 100 people per day. Tickets can be purchased at the Demachiyanagi railway station in northern Kyoto and are time-stamped for entry, so you might get your ticket at 8am but have to wait until 3pm to actually enter. It certainly keeps the crowds away, which in a garden as stunning as this one was highly appreciated.
The Hakuryuen garden has only been in existence for 60 years but the exceptional work the gardeners have put in makes the place feel timeless. It is particularly known for its varieties of moss. (My daughter almost gave a gardener a coronary when she unearthed a small piece of moss while my back was turned. Parental mortification at its finest.) Moss protrudes from cracks in the stone paths and fairly carpets certain sections of the garden. It’s lovely, nearly as lovely as Saiho-ji.
The garden presents itself in tiers, with paths and wooden stairs that wind up the hillside. About half a dozen pavilions and tea houses are scattered throughout the grounds and a small waterfall is hidden away in the back corner of the property. Despite having a toddler to mind, I wandered happily for over an hour, taking in the changing leaves from below and from on high and from the perfect frames of the pavilion windows.
The Hakuryuen Garden is located on the Eizan line, the electric railway that runs from the northern Kyoto station of Demachiyanagi to its terminus at Kurama. Parts of the rail line are actually atmospherically lit on certain autumn evenings, making for a rather unique train ride.