Hamarikyu Gardens: A Park with a Shogun Legacy

Hamarikyu Gardens is one of Tokyo’s most impressive parks. It is fantastic for photography. There is so much to shoot. Enjoy contrasting views, seasonal delights, and a walk on a Shogun’s hunting grounds in one place. Isn’t that cool? When you visit here, a camera is a necessity!

The park is near Shinbashi station. Next door is the Shiodome area, famous for its skyscrapers. You can get excellent pictures of them from a couple of spots in the park (e.g., Fujimi Hill). The buildings soar up over the trees and ponds. It is the most beautiful of contrasts.

Japanese falconer releasing falcon
Falconry at Hamarikyu on January 2 and 3.

You can also explore Hamarikyu’s winding tree-lined and spacious lawns. Do you want to stroll across classic Japanese-style bridges over ponds? That’s no problem. There is also a disused shrine on the grounds. The photo opportunities are almost endless.

If you’ve ever wanted to drink Japanese tea on an island in the middle of a lake, you can do that too! Take a break at the Nakajima-no-ochaya tea house. Have a cup of matcha with a Manju (for 510 yen), sit back, and enjoy the view. Many people take pictures from the walkways. They are picturesque, especially with nearby skyscrapers!

Hamarikyu Gardens cherry blossoms with skyscrapers behind
Spring cherry blossoms.

There is one thing I love about Hamarikyu Gardens. It draws water straight from Tokyo Bay through sluice gates. This allows the appearance of the ponds to change when the tides fall or rise. It is something different. And it has turtles, carp, and birds.

For photographers, there is a lot. The big three are:

  • A big field of flowers, near the main entrance. 
  • Cherry and plum blossoms throughout the park in spring
  • You can see Tokyo Tower from several places! 
  • A bonus: if you walk down to the water, you can see Rainbow Bridge.
Hama Rikyu pond and building reflections
Can you see Tokyo Tower?

Hamarikyu is fabulous, and it has something unique. There are ponds that the shoguns used for duck hunting! They are Shinsenza Kamoba and Koshindo Kamoba.

Koshindo, in the park’s center, still has some of the blinds that hid the hunters. It is the only place in Japan where you can still see them. Ducks aren’t hunted there anymore, but you can see hawking displays on the grounds in early January.

aikidoka sword fight hama rikyu gardens
Aikido demonstration during the New Year's vacation.

A Brief History of Hamarikyu Gardens

Tsunashige Tokugawa was the daimyo of Kofun domain and the brother of Shogun Ietsuna. He needed an Edo residence for when he needed to serve in Edo (as a part of the Sankin Kotai system). Where was it?

You have probably guessed already. It was on the site of Hamarikyu Gardens! But there was a problem in the beginning. It was underwater because it was in Tokyo Bay! So Tsunashige reclaimed it and built his house. Upon his death, it passed to his son, Ienobu, Japan’s sixth shogun. The property stayed in the family’s hands until the end of the shogunate in 1868.

The Imperial Family gained ownership and named it Hama Detached Palace in 1868. In the early to mid-twentieth century it met hardship. The Kanto Earthquake of 1923 devastated it, and during WW2, the bombings of Tokyo ravaged it again. It was taken over by the metropolitan government and opened to the public in 1946.

pink plum blossoms and rapeseed
Pink plum blossoms and rapeseed.

Why do photographers like Hamarikyu Garden?

The gardens have so many great things for your camera. Here is a partial list:

  • Autumn with its wonderful leaves
  • Birds
  • Flowers (Rapeseed, cherry and plum blossoms)
  • Hawking
  • a 300 hundred-year-old tree
  • Rainbow bridge
  • Skyscrapers serve as a backdrop
  • Tokyo Tower.

Photography tips

  • No tripods allowed.
  • If you go in the afternoon, Tokyo Tower will be backlit. In the morning, the sun will light it from the front.
  • The best time is spring (cherry blossoms) and autumn (the leaves!).
  • If you go for the hawking displays, beware of the crowds! 

Hamarikyu Gardens’ details

See the park’s admission fees, opening hours, and location on the official website.

Photo spots near Hamarikyu Gardens

Wrapping up

Hamarikyu Gardens is one of the best parks in the city, if not the best. If you want to learn more about its history, an audio guide is available from the ticket office. These free devices are easy to use and GPS-controlled. You only need to wear them. The commentary starts when you walk within a certain distance of a point of interest. I highly recommend them, and history lovers should borrow one.

Photographers should be delighted with bridges, flowers, skyscrapers, history, and a tower! Each season there offers something different. Hamarikyu is the complete park. Many visitors will surely fall in love with it. Please leave questions and comments below.

English-guided tours

  • Mondays at 10:30 AM
  • Saturdays at 11 AM

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