Japan Gardens: Kairakuen Garden Mito
Kairakuen Garden Mito 偕楽園
Kairaku-en dates back to 1842. The 18-acre strolling gardens are Mito city's biggest attraction and are particularly well known for their plum (ume) blossoms, which bloom in late February to early March. The Mito Ume Matsuri (Mito Plum Festival) is held at this time from February 20 to March 31.
The Kairaku-en gardens were laid out by the ninth feudal lord of Mito, Tokugawa Nariaki (1800-1860), and unlike Kenraku-en and Koraku-en, were also made available for the enjoyment of the general public not just the lord and his family, thus effectively making Kairaku-en one of Japan's first ever truly public gardens. The name Kairaku-en literally means a "park that can be enjoyed together" or "a garden for everyone's pleasure."
Kairaku-en garden is situated on a small hill and contains around 3,000 ume trees from 100 different species with pink, white and red blossoms. There is more than just plum blossoms to admire at Kairaku-en, the garden is also known for its cherry blooms in spring, azaleas and wisteria in early summer, and bush clover (hagi) blossoms in the autumn along with extensive bamboo groves, cedar trees, lovely wooden gates, lawns and the Kobuntei pavilion - a recreation of a traditional feudal lord's villa.
Nariaki, who helped in the design of the villa, would invite writers and artists to Kobuntei ("kobun" means Japanese plum) for parties composing traditional Japanese verse. The annex was used for private quarters and housed the daimyo's wife and entourage. The original was destroyed by American bombing in 1945 but rebuilt from 1955-1958.
Admission is charged to enter Kobuntei, which has views of Lake Senba from its 3rd floor, called Rakujyuro.
Kobuntei and some areas of Kairaku-en were damaged in the huge earthquake of March 2011 but are due to reopen in February 2012.
Tel: 029 221 6570
Admission: Free; 190 yen for entry to the Kobun-tei pavilion
Hours: 6am to 7pm (February 20 to September 30); 7am to 6pm (October 1 to February 19)
From JR Mito Station it is a 15-minute bus ride to Kairakuen iri-guchi bus stop. Buses to Kairaku-en run from bays 4 and 6 outside the south exit of Mito Station. Buses to Kairaku-en run to Tokiwa Shrine and the Ibaraki Prefectural Museum of History. From the south exit of Kairaku-en cross over the main road and railway line to see the gardens of Gokoku Shrine and the Tokugawa Museum up the hill. Senba Lake is also close, on the way back to Mito Station. Tokiwa Shrine stands opposite the East Gate (Higashi-mon) and is a popular place for Shichi-go-san festivities.
From Tokyo and Ueno Station take the Joban Line to Mito (1 hour, 5 mins) on the Super Hitachi express. Local trains take over 2 hours but you don't have to pay the express supplement. During the Mito Plum Festival Joban Line trains stop at the temporarily open, one-platform Kairaku-en Station. From Tsukuba take a bus from outside Tsukuba Station to Tsuchiura (about 30 minutes) and then a train to Mito which is also about 30 minutes by the Super Hitachi express or an hour by local train.
1-3-3 Tokiwa-cho, Mito
Tel: 029 244 5454