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Hamarikyuu Garden

The Hamarikyuu Garden, in Japanese the hamarikyuuonshiteien is an Edo period stroll garden near Shimbashi in Tokyo, a short walk from the new development area at Shiodome. The Hamarikyuu (sometimes written as Hamarikyu in English) has the only seawater pond remaining in the Tokyo area, and though extensively damaged by fire during the last year of WWII is a good representative of a Tokugawa era garden.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
sanbyakunennomatsu - the 300 year old black pine tree.
It was first built in 1654 by Matsudaira Tsunashige, daimyo of Kofu. Matsudaira was a relative of the shogun (the Tokugawa being essentially the core branch of the Matsudaira families) and as part of the sankinkotai system spent 6 months of the year in Edo, with the rest of his time administering the feudal domain in Kofu. Looking for somewhere to relax, Matsudaira decided to fill in some of the tidal flats near the mouth of the Sumidagawa river, and laid out the original garden and buildings. The garden was called the Kofu Hama-yashiki (Kofu Beach pavilion).

When his son Ienobu succeeded Tsunashige as daimyo of Kofu, the garden became an important location for meetings, since Ienobu was the shogun's nephew (and somewhat more sane than the 5th shogun). In 1709, the "dog shogun" Tsunayoshi died without a male heir, and as Ienobu was the only lineal descendant of Tokugawa Ieyasu he was made Shogun. The garden was relaid, named the Beach Palace (Hama Goden), and remained the possession of the main branch of the Tokugawa house until appropriated by the new rulers after the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when it was renamed Hama Detached Palace.

Various shoguns made changes to the garden, often adding tea houses, and it wasn't completed until the time of the 11th Shogun (Tokugawa Ienari 1787-1837). No further changes were made during the period of imperial rule. Heavily damaged during the great earthquake of 1923, and scorched in the firebombings of 1944-45, the destroyed garden was donated by the imperial family to the City of Tokyo in November 1945. In 1946 the 25,000 square meter garden was opened by the Allied Occupation Forces and subsequently became a public park.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
Sluice gate separating inner moat from Tsukijigawa
When you enter the garden crossing the Otemonbashi bridge one of the first things you see is the 300 year old pine tree (sanbyakunennomatsu) planted during the extensive renovations ordered by Tokugawa Ienobu. It is the largest black pine in Tokyo and believed to be the oldest. Directly after the pine you cross a small bridge leading you over the inner moat. As you cross the bridge the river on your left is the Tsukijigawa (the famous Tsukiji fish markets are on the other side of the river). This is a sea water moat, but is not connected to the famous seawater pond Shiori-no-ike, nor to the two duck hunting ponds. Within the area surrounded by this moat, the former site of the villa used by the Shoguns and their successors but destroyed by fire, there are extensive flower beds and a field. The peony field is the more famous, comprising around 800 plant species of which 60 are varieties of peony. Spring is usually the best time to visit the garden, as this is also when the main field is seeded with some 300,000 rape flowers creating a blaze of color. In the Autumn it is mainly cosmos that is planted, however the variety of plants, the plum tree grove, and the densely forested areas around the duck hunting ponds make the garden enjoyable all year round as an oasis of greenery compared to the mass of high rise concrete and steel nearby. The amazing contrast between the Edo Period garden and the high-rise buildings of the new Shiodome business area and the Tokyo Tower provides a wonderful contrast - these days this view is more interesting and more photgraphed than the view of the sea. The high rise development has effectively reversed the visual orientation of Hamarikyu.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
Shiori-no-ike tidal seawater pond
Shiori-no-ike The key feature of the Hamarikyu Garden is the saltwater pond with its islands, graceful bridges and teahouse. The water in the pond rises and falls slightly, with a sluice gate regulating the water level so that the tidal range is not as much as it is with the open water outside the gate. As the seawater is refreshed twice daily, there are many types of fish swimming in the pond (and waterbirds hunting them) such as black mullet, striped mullet, crabs, some sea bass, as well as eels and gobies. Built in the early stages of the garden's history, this is the only tidal garden pond left in the city, and one of only a handful in Japan that remain in their original state of design.

There were several teahouses adjoining the pond. As you approach you first encounter the site of the Matsu-no-chaya (pine tea house), which was one of the chaya constructed during the reign of Tokugawa Ienari, the 11th shogun. A thicket of pines was planted around the tea house, and images of pines, a favorite Tokugawa motif due to their longevity, were painted on the paper shouji doors inside the structure. Also named "Suishou-tei", this tea house was one of the buildings lost during the heavy air raid on November 29th 1944. If you stand on the site of the tea house and face the center of the pond, the forested mound to the left is called Mt Fujimi, named because from the top of the mound it was possible to see Mt Fuji on clear days - unfortunately this is no longer possible due to air pollution and tall buildings obstructing the view.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
The path to Mount Fujimi
In the center of the pond, connected by wooden pedestrian bridges, is the small island called Nakajima. The teahouse on this island is naturally enough called Nakajima-no-ochaya. First built in 1707, the shoguns and other members of the Edo and Tokyo elite would come here to relax and contemplate, escaping the noise of the city and enjoying the ocean view (little of which remains). Damaged several times by fire, and totally destroyed in 1724 and 1944, the tea house was restored to its original state in 1983, and you can enjoy tea and macha for 500 yen. Many guests of the shogunate were entertained here, and after it became a detached palace of the imperial family it was also used to entertain foreign guests, including notable Meiji period visitors such as former US President Ulysses Grant.

Duck Hunting: Another key feature is the two kamoba, these are freshwater (though brackish due to the high water table) ponds designed specifically for hunting ducks with nets. There are two ponds Koshindo, which was built in 1778, and Shinsen-za, built on the other side of Shiori-no-ike in 1791. In the center of each of these ponds is a small flat island called a tame, densely vegetated, and ideal for nesting. The water around the island protects the birds from cats, and the on all of the banks there are thickets of evergreen trees, bamboo strands and reeds. The shogunal family members also used the garden for falconry, so to some extent the thick vegetation was also there to protect the young chicks from the falcons and goshawks. Even today, there are falcon and goshawk hunting techniques demonstrated on a regular basis. The effect of the design is to create a perfect refuge and environment for wild birds, and many species can be observed here - however the kamoba are basically designed for ducks.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
hikibori - duck blind
Duck hunting was surprisingly simple, needing only patience, rice, and decoy ducks. Leading from each of the ponds there are dozens of small narrow duck blinds called hikibori. Koshindo has 14, several of which have been restored, and Shinsen-za has a further 6. These are water channels about 1 meter wide and 20-30 meters long, each leading to a dead end. On each side of the narrow hikibori there were small earthen banks built, designed so that a duck could not see the hunters crouching silently in wait. At the end of the duck blind there is a small shed with a narrow slit for an observer, this is the ko-nozoki, and only one example remains. From the ko-nozoki, rice could be fed into the blind while beating a wooden board, making a noise to attract the decoy ducks, who were accustomed to finding rice in those blinds where the noise could be heard from. The decoy ducks were basically domestic ducks, raised in the ponds and returned safely to the water after each hunt. When wild ducks would follow these into the hikibori, the observer would signal for a small iron door submerged near the entrance to the tiny creek to be raised, and when the startled wild birds took flight they were caught in the nets thrown by the waiting hunters.

So many ducks were successfully captured (and lovingly roasted and eaten) that to assuage guilt a duck grave was built in November 1935, to comfort and console the spirits of the ducks. Having built the memorial, duck hunting by the nobility continued in the garden until 1945. When during the Allied Occupation the imperial family abandoned the considerably damaged garden, the royal duck hunts moved to duck blinds inside the grounds of the Imperial Palace (the former Edo Castle). Participating in royal duck hunts was enjoyed by senior officers of the US and other Allied forces who considered it quite a prestige.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
ko-nozoki as seen from hikibori side
If you cross the pond via the O-tsutai-bashi, you can wander around the 2nd duck hunting pond (Shinsen-za) which is quieter than Koshin-do and has another 7 duck blinds, and is separated from Shioiri-no-ike by the site of the horse exercising area. From this area if you walk towards Mt Fujimi, and then towards the Water bus landing, you come to an area where you can see across the bay to Odaiba, the Rainbow Bridge and other harbor facilities. It is not as good a view as in the past due to the sea walls. Here you will find the site of another lost teahouse from the 1707 garden of Ienobu, the Umite-chaya, was lost during the 1923 earthquake. Named for its views of the sea, it was built as a rest house for watching the fishing, and for recreational boating. On your left just before you get to the sluice gate, there is a bridge crossing the pond to the best preserved example of a duck hunting ko-nozoki, well worth a look.

Next to the sluice gate, on either side of the narrow channel joining the saltwater pond of Hamarikyu to the sea, two historically important sites. As with Mt Fujimi, a large mound was constructed on each side of the sluice gate to provide some topography for the garden (all of this area used to be underwater) and also to provide a viewing platform for guests. Because of the sea wall, both Hi-no-kuchi-yama and Shin-hi-no-kuchi-yama provide better views across the Sumidagawa river than the site of the lost Umite-chaya. Until the 1850s, the view was of the vast estuary and open water of Edo Bay. After the US fleet of black ships commanded by Commodore Perry forced the Tokugawa Shogunate to open several treaty ports, an action soon expanded to include other powerful western nations, more ports, and unequal treaties, the shogunate decided to fortify the bay. From this location a series of square island forts were constructed across the mouth of the river, each called a daiba, and numbered in sequence. A handful of these daiba survive, and the name survives in the form of the Odaiba development, built on landfill dumped into the sea between the 18th century fortresses.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
ko-nozoki from observer's side
Next to the Shin-hi-no-kuchi-yama, there is a small stone staircase edging down to the water. This is the Shogun O-Agariba, the landing where the shogun would board or disembark river boats, or in the dying years of Shogunate rule, from the steamships unable to head further upstream. Part of the stairs collapsed into the bay due to wave action during a severe typoon in 1949, and the gate was lost, but otherwise it remains intact. In early 1868, the last shogun Tokugawa Yoshinobu arrived from Osaka in the Dutch built frigate Kaiyo-maru, after the Aizu and other pro-shogunate forces were defeated in battle along the Fushimi-Toba highway south of Kyoto. Just after dawn, Enomoto Takeaki, the captain of the Kaiyo-maru and a student of Dutch naval warfare, fired a cannon salute towards Edo, notifying those in the know of the return of the shogun. Tokugawa Yoshinobu, who outlived Enomoto by 5 years, living as a virtual recluse, summoned Katsu Kaishi, the former commissioner of warships to the Beach Palace. It was to Katsu that Tokugawa Yoshinobu announced at a meeting on one of the lawns adjoining the villa in Hamarikyu, that the Satsuma and Choshu forces were "carrying the brocade banner" of the emperor, and that all was therefore lost. Instead of returning to Edo Castle by river boat, Yoshinobu returned galloping on horseback, leaving Enomoto remaining on his ship awaiting orders. When Yoshinobu abandoned the castle in early March, Enomoto was to become known as the last Tokugawa loyalist, as he refused to hand over his fleet of ships to the Satsuma and Choshu clique, and sailed to Hokkaido with a handful of holdouts, some brave French military advisers including Jules Brunet and became the President of the short lived Republic of Ezo. He survived the brutal civil war and was imprisoned for treason, but was pardoned and rose to high office during the Meiji years.

Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
View of Rainbow Bridge from the Shogun O-Agariba
The last point of interest is the waterbus landing. The Tokyo Bay waterbus system has wharves in several locations, and the journey across the bay to Odaiba or upstream as far as Asakusa is well worth the time and money. The trip upstream to Asakusa costs only 720 yen, crossing under numerous bridges and passing many interesting buildings including the Yomiuri newspaper and the unusual Asahi Beer building.

Opening hours: The garden is open from 9am to 5pm (last entry at 4:30pm). Closed for holidays from 29th December to 3rd January (inclusive).
Admission fee is 300 yen (adults). The garden is a 2 minute walk from Shiodome station (Oedo-line), a 7 minute walk from Tsukiji-Shijo station (Oedo-line) or from Shimbashi station (Ginza, Asakusa and JR lines)

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visit the Hamarikyuu Gardens
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

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Hamarikyu garden, tokyo
View of Tokyo Tower and Shiodome.
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