In 1695 the fifth Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Tsunayoshi, gifted his chief counsel, Yanagisawa Yoshiyasu, almost nine hectares of flat land. With this gift Yoshiyasu moved earth to create a hill, dug a pond, and constructed paths to build a park that expressed his love of poetry. It took Yoshiyasu seven years of toil to turn his imagination into reality and Rikugien (六義園), which translates as the “six tenets park”, was born. The name comes from the “six tenets of poetry” written in the preface of the Kokin Wakashu, and Yoshiyasu’s idea was to have scenes in the park represent passages in the book.
The park was used as a place of residence for the Yanagisawa family for the next 166 years, slowly becoming overgrown as the years passed. However, in 1868, the year of the Meiji Restoration, the land was purchased by the Iwasaki family—the founders of Mitsubishi—who restored the park to its former glory and built the red brick wall that we see today around the circumference. The park was donated to Tokyo City in 1938 and subsequently opened to the public.
Unscathed by the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 and untouched by the air raids of World War II, Rikugien stands today just as it was first imagined by Yoshiyasu himself over 300 years ago.
From mid-November until early December Rikugien stays open for visitors until 21:00 for its annual “Light Up” show—lights artistically positioned throughout the park to display the autumn colours in all their glory. The route around the park is fixed to have everyone moving in the same direction and takes about 90 minutes. There are also a few stalls and cafes along the trail where you can get food and drinks or take a rest (if you can get a seat!).
|Access||6 Honkomagome, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo 113-0021 | A 10-minute walk from Komagome Station on the Yamanote Line|
|Hours||Open 9:00-17:00 (until 21:00 for the annual Light-Up)|
|Admission||¥300 but free for primary school children and younger|