Smell the sea at Hama-rikyū Gardens

Hama-rikyū is a garden in Tokyo dating back from the Edo Period (1603-1867) near Ginza, just south of the former Tsukiji Fish Market. The garden has been shaped by the ruling Tokugawa family during the Edo Period. They had a palace on these grounds and a duck hunting ground. It is one of the largest gardens (250,165.81 m2) in central Tokyo and features the only remaining saltwater pond in the city.

I am going to be honest with you. Hama-rikyū is not my favorite garden in Tokyo. I believe that Rikugien and Koishikawa Kōrakuen are unbeatable when it comes to experiencing a Japanese gardens in Tokyo. However, there are two aspects in which this place is unmatched: a sense of space and the smell of the sea.

If you need to clear your head in the middle of the city, Hama-rikyū provides breathing space thanks to the sparse vegetation. There are trees, but not too many. The duck hunting grounds have thicker vegetation, but they still feel somewhat airy.

The Tokugawa Connection

The location at Hama-rikyū was first developed by Tokugawa Tsunashige (1644-1678) (often referred to as Matsudaira Tsunashige), third son (sometimes mentioned as second son) of the well-known shōgun Tokugawa Iemitsu (reign 1623–1651), famous for crucifying Christians and sealing of the country (a policy that would last 200 years!). As the third son Tsunashige was not next in line to become shōgun, so he received the Kōfu Domain (in nowadays Yamanashi prefecture close to Tokyo) when he was 7 years old in order to have some power all for himself.

Bridge connecting the main teahouse on the Shiori saltwater lake

However, in order to stay in Edo (old name for Tokyo), he built himself a beach pavilion in 1654 when he was 10 on this reclaimed land that we now call Hama-rikyū. He was a feudal lord (daimyō) and this was his Edo mansion as there were so many in those days. When Tsunashige’s son Ienobu became shōgun, the property functioned as a palace for the shōgun. It was during this stage that the garden was finalized. At the end of the 19th century it became the emperor’s property and after World War 2 it was given to the city of Tokyo.

Close to the sea

The garden is surrounded by a seawater moat. One of the first things I noticed when entering the garden (from the Otemon gate) was the smell of the sea. The south-east side looks out over Tokyo Bay.

The Shiori saltwater lake (the only one in Tokyo) with the teahouse on the little island in the middle of the lake is the highlight of the Hama-rikyū gardens. The lake contains salt water fish and gets adjusted according to the ebb and flow of the tide. Nakajima-no-ochaya, literally teahouse on the middle island, serves green tea and a traditional sweet, but most of all an awesome view.

Nakajima-no-ochaya teahouse

Nakajima-no-ochaya was reconstructed in 1983. The other three teahouses that you can see on the northern shore are built in respectively 2010, 2015 and 2018. I especially like the bridge connecting the island made from Japanese cypress. It was renovated in 2012 and has a partly shaded walkway (pergola-style).

Hunt for ducks

This garden was foremost a duck hunting ground and has two hunting sites that were built at the end of the 18th century, Koshin-do Kamoba and Shinzen-za Komaba. They are not in use anymore, and there is not much to see here except for a small hunting hut.

One of the duck hunting huts

During the Edo Period, ducks were lured in the side trenches, after which they used hawks to catch them. After the Edo Period they used nets to get the ducks. This hunting-for-fun continued until 1944.

There is a small Duck Memorial (duck grave mound) in order to remember all the ducks that lost their lives on these hunting grounds. It was erected in 1935 by Yoshiro Tobe, a falconer of the Department of the Imperial Household.

Flower garden

In practice

Hamarikyuteien 1-1, Chuo-ku, Tokyo

Entrance/Exit locations:
Naka-no-gomon entrance (west side)
Otemon entrance (north side)
(also accessible through the waterbus landing in the east)

Nearest Station:
Shiodome Station – 6 minutes walk towards Naka-no-gomon entrance (Toei Oedo Line, Yurikamome Line)
Shimbashi Station – 10 minutes walk towards Otemon entrance (Yamanote line, Ginza line, Toei Asakusa line, Yurikamome Line, Tōkaidō Main Line, Yokosuka Line, Keihin-Tōhoku Line)

Entrance fee: JPY 300

Teahouse price (2018):
Yam steamed Bun & Green Tea JPY 510
Nekiri Traditional Sweets & Green Tea JPY 720


Names in Japanese: 浜離宮恩賜庭園