Built in 1700 by Ikeda Tsunamasa, the lord of Okayama Domain, as a bastion of relaxation, Okayama Koraku-en is one of the most famous of the gardens of great feudal lords that popped up around Japan in the early modern period. The spacious lawn, pond, artificial hills, and teahouse are connected by paths and waterways, and as you stroll around the garden you can appreciate the shifting scenery: this is the “kaiyu-shiki” type of Japanese garden, with a walking path going around the outside and a pond in the center. The garden was damaged by flooding in the 1934 Muroto typhoon, and then again by fire during the war in 1945, but it was restored based on the drawings that had been left behind. It has, therefore, been preserved down to the present day with minimal changes from how it looked a century ago. Designated as a special place of scenic beauty in 1952, it is, along with Kairaku-en in Mito and Kenroku-en in Kanazawa, one of the three most scenic gardens in Japan.
The garden’s scenery changed over time, as it was modified to accommodate the preferences of each lord of Okayama Domain and the changing circumstances of society. The most important building is the “Enyo-tei,” which grants a spectacular view of the whole garden. Successive generations of the Ikeda family used this structure to gaze out upon their beautiful garden. The spacious garden also includes various other buildings, such as a Noh stage and a teahouse, with each new generation of the lords of Okayama having left their mark. Products grown and harvested in the garden, known collectively as “oniwa-sodachi,” are now popular as souvenirs. You can purchase rice crackers made from mochi rice harvested by the seiden method (an ancient, Zhou-period Chinese rice-harvesting method practiced here since the waning days of the Tokugawa shogunate), plum jam and umeshu made from green plums harvested from a plum orchard, sencha and black tea made from tea leaves harvested from the tea trees, and more. The garden can be accessed from JR Okayama Station, either by car (about 10 minutes) or by direct-route bus departing from the terminal outside the station’s East Gate.
Photographs courtesy of: Okayama Koraku-en