Yorifusa Mito, founder of the Mito Tokugawa dynasty, began creating the gardens in 1629 as part of the residence for the clan’s feudal lord in Edo (as Tokyo used to be called). The gardens were landscaped in a circular style and completed during the reign of his successor, Mitsukuni. The area that is now occupied by the Tokyo Dome, on the other side of the now closed eastern gate, once used to be the residence of the Mito clan. At their largest the grounds were huge, measuring around 88,000 tsubo (approx. 290,400㎡) but the current Korakuen is about a quarter of that at 20,000 tsubo (66,000㎡). The garden was created around a large pond surrounded by four themed landscapes—sea view, river view, mountain view and rice field view—in order to enjoy a changing landscape as you walk around. When Mitsukuni chose the garden’s name, he followed the advice of Ming Dynasty Chinese Confucian scholar Shu Shunsui. Shu Shunsui chose the name Korakuen (meaning to ‘enjoy after others’), based on a Chinese teaching in Yueyang Lou Ji, a literary work by Chinese literary figure and politician Fan Zhongyan. The teaching can be translated as ‘Bear the hardship and bitterness before others, enjoy comfort and happiness after others’. Engetsukyo (round moon) Bridge is believed to have been designed by Shu Shunsui, and derives its name from the fact that it looks like a full moon when reflected on the water.
An illustrated map, drawn in the early Edo period, of the Mito Koishikawa residence and garden (from the Meiji University Museum collection). Extensive renovations are believed to have been carried out at some stage because of the Noh stage and Kawahara shoin shown on the upper right hand corner of the map, as well as how the shape of the lake differs greatly from its current configuration.
Elementary School Students Plant Rice
In the northern landscape of the garden, which is built on the theme of rice fields, is a field built by Mitsukuni to teach the wife of his heir, Tsunaeda, about the hardships of farmers’ work. In keeping this tradition, since 1975 local elementary school students have planted rice in May and harvested it in September. When the children experience going barefoot into the muddy field for the first time they make a lot of noise. Under the guidance of the garden staff they learn how to plant the rice and harvest it, getting a small taste of how hard a farmer’s work can be.
Location: Koraku 1-chome, Bunko Ward
Closed: December 29 to January 1
Hours: 9 am to 4.30 pm (gates close at 5 pm)
Admission: 300 yen, 150 yen for those 65 and older, free for elementary students and Tokyo middle school students