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The best photography guide to Kiyosumi Gardens

I call Kiyosumi Gardens Tokyo’s king of parks.  I call it that because a man, who was extremely powerful and wealthy, built it.  He created it as a playground for Tokyo’s rich and famous over a hundred years ago.  Spend some time there, and you might even feel a little of what they felt when they walked it long ago.  It is another excellent place for photography.

Kiyosumi Gardens Ryotei seen beyond stepping stones

Who built it?  Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of Mitsubishi.  During his day, he would have been one of the wealthiest men in Japan.  He wasn’t a king, but he was as rich as one.  

Today, Kiyosumi Gardens is another favorite of Tokyo’s photographers.  There is so much to capture with a camera.  And fortunately, much of what was created in the old days remain for us.

The first is the Ryotei.  It is the guesthouse that Iwasaki built for Britain’s Lord Kitchener.  Kitchener visited Japan in 1909, and he got the royal treatment. 

Constructed like the teahouses of the time, it is the park’s centerpiece.  It’s visible on the pond’s far side from the entrance, floating over the water.  Well, that is a slight exaggeration as it sits on piles!  It provides that old-world charm.

Hydrangeas at Kiyosumi Gardens

Another building is one with very classical Japanese architecture.  It is the Taisho Emperor`s memorial hall, built for his funeral.  Most visitors will never use it, but it looks at home on the grounds.

The air raids of World War 2 destroyed it, but it was rebuilt in 1953.  I’ve seen it open on occasion.  Once it was a café, and another time a meeting hall.  Even if it is closed, you can still admire it from the outside, and its roof looks excellent. 

Japanese Iris at Kiyosumi Gardens

Between the two buildings is the pond.  Every Edo-period garden in Tokyo has one, but this one might be the biggest?  Its narrow paths, stepping stones, and islands are captivating.  The views over the water are spectacular.  Also, if you make your way to the far side of it, near the Ryotei, you can see Tokyo Skytree.  There is plenty of wildlife, such as carp, turtles, and birds.

And last, each season has a flower or a tree!  You’ll find gorgeous cherry blossoms in spring.  Beautiful azaleas and hydrangeas in summer.  Camellias and Japanese apricots in winter.  Of course, there is autumn when the tree leaves change color.  This park is very popular with flower lovers.

Woman walking over stepping stones

A brief history of Kiyosumi Gardens

  • A 17th-century merchant, Kinokuniya Bunzaemon, first owned the land upon which Kiyosumi stands.  It then passed into the hands of the Daimyo of Sekiyado domain (in modern-day Chiba).  He built a mansion on the site.  History also says he brought stones from all over the country to decorate it. 
  • In 1878, Yataro Iwasaki, the founder of the Mitsubishi corporation, bought the area.  He made it into a recreation area for his employees and company guests (e.g., Lord Kitchener).  It was from that time Kiyosumi became a circuit-style park. 
  • During the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, the park escaped significant damage.  The area’s citizens used it as a refuge.  
  • In the years after the earthquake, the Iwasaki family donated its eastern half to the city.  Finally, in 1932, it became a  public park.  
  • In WW2, it again took up the role of refuge for local residents.  It provided them with a haven during the Tokyo air raids. 
Turtle on rock

Why do photographers like Kiyosumi Gardens?

  • Flowers (for every season)
  • rocks (they became the art of the park)
  • Ryotei (teahouse)
  • Taisho Kinenkan
  • Wildlife

Where is Kiyosumi Gardens?

Located in Koto ward, it is about 3 minutes from Kiyosumi-Shirakawa station.  Kiyosumi-Shirakawa station is on the Hanzomon and Oedo subway lines.  It is easy to get to from Shinjuku or Shibuya (roughly 30 minutes from both).  Here is a Google map:

Admission costs

150 yen.   But, on weekends you must also present a numbered ticket. You can do that through this website.

Tokyo Skytree seen from Kiyosumi Gardens

Opening hours

Kiyosumi is open from 9 am to 5 pm, with the last entry at 4:30 pm.  Just be aware that at the end of the year, it closes from December 26 to February 7, 2021. 

Other photo spots near Kiyosumi Gardens

  • Eitai Bridge

Best time to photograph there?

Like most parks in Tokyo, spring and autumn are great. That is when most of the best flowers will be in bloom.

Wrapping up

Kiyosumi Gardens was once the place to hang out for Tokyo’s rich and famous.  It would have been a great place to relax when the big city was going through tremendous changes.  We can only imagine who would have strolled around its grounds during its heyday.  It indeed would have been society’s elite of the time.

Stone lantern on island in Kiyosumi Gardens pond

Today, it is an excellent place for photographers. Its beautiful flowers, wildlife, pond, and history have everything they need. And when you walk around the shores of that pond, you can still feel that old-world lifestyle. You can see its website here. If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below.

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