A testament to the philosophy of the Vice Shogun of Mito, the great Komon-sama.
Korakuen in Bunkyo Ward is now home to Tokyo Dome and a theme park; even Tokyo locals do not always take note of the expansive Japanese gardens which gave the area its name.
It is also not widely known that these gardens were established by the “Vice-Shogun of Mito”, Tokugawa Mitsukuni or, as he is commonly known, the great Komon-sama. But step one foot inside, and you will come face to face with a view into the landscape of his soul, a manifestation of the great Mito Komon as a historian and thinker.
Korakuen began life as gardens attached to the residence of the Mito Clan, one of the Three Houses of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
The founder of the clan, Yorifusa, envisioned a Japanese-style garden and maintained it as such, but his successor Mitsukuni made bold additions that added a Chinese influence, very much in line with his philosophical roots.
Of the Chinese influences seen in various parts of the garden, the most notable is the Engetsu Bridge.
The bridge itself is made of stone and draws a wide curve; such bridges are rare in Japanese style gardens. It is said to draw its visual design from how the semi-circular shape is reflected in the water, making it look like a full moon.
Shozo Tanaka, an expert in garden culture, has the following to say about the influence of China on the scenery.
Stone bridges like this can be commonly seen in the riverside cities of Jiangnan, China. ... The placement of such a bridge in this garden is similar to how some tea practitioners took vessels from Korea and lovingly applied them to tea ceremonies. In other words, there is less significance in the bridge itself, more in the landscape that is newly created by placing the bridge in the garden.
The garden is home to numerous other features which recreate scenes from China and became popular in gardens in Edo; these include Shorozan Hill and the West Lake Bank.
Shorozan Hill on the left. It is said that there was a waterfall here before the great earthquake of the Genroku Period.
One of Tokugawa Mitsukuni’s great opuses was a historical text, the Dainihonshi, which itself was heavily influenced by the Chinese Records of the Grand Historian. The Dainihonshi would pave the way to Mitogaku, a school of scholarship unique to Mito, and the “Sonno-Joi” movement, both of which would have a vast impact on the last days of the Shogunate.
Since the Korakuen was built in the early days of the Edo period, it is obvious that the Vice-Shogun of Mito wasn’t thinking about overthrowing the Shogunate. This was clearly a space born out of pure admiration and respect for China; looking back now, the garden can’t help but make us appreciate history in a new light.
When you visit, we would urge that you be aware of Tokyo Dome.
If we refer to the lonely planet guide, one of the world’s foremost guidebooks, the presence of Tokyo Dome in the background is certainly not treated unfavorably.
It's among Tokyo's most attractive gardens, although nowadays the shakkei (borrowed scenery) also includes the other-worldly Tokyo Dome.
But we would like you to note the issue of noise.
Tokyo Dome is often host to professional baseball league games and other events which produce a lot of noise. This is clearly an unwanted element in the serenity and beauty of Korakuen.
If it is possible, we recommend that you visit in quiet periods, when there are no major events in Tokyo Dome.
- Koishikawa Korakuen
- 1-6-6 Koraku, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo