The Koko-en or Koko Garden is located just west of Himeji Castle in Himeji City. If you’re walking from the main train station, it is to the left of the castle grounds on the other side of the moat. According to the visitor’s pamphlet, the garden was completed in 1992 and is situated where the samurai beholden to the local domain once lived.
The day I visited, the weather was overcast, but I found the expansive garden a great place to wander. Throughout the garden grounds there are actually 9 distinct garden areas all built with Edo-era techniques. While tours are available, I wandered on my own. The diverse gardens enable you to find your own path or follow set courses. Before the Entrance to the grounds, I found many flowering trees, and cuttings of sakura and plum were displayed throughout.
I skipped past the kassui-ken restaurant and moved through the roofed corridor that gave me the first glimpse of the largest garden. Named ‘The Garden of the Lord’s Residence,’ it had a huge pond with carp, waterfall and stone bridge. The corridor passed into the Choonsai guest house in which were displayed miniaturized sakura trees.
Past a garden with square beds of various plants and flowers was the entrance to the tea ceremony garden and house. The garden was meticulously maintained, and I stopped for green tea and a snack (an extra 500 yen). Unfortunately, when I went they did not actually conduct a tea ceremony, but simply served the tea which was prepared in some other area. I believe they will conduct it with a large enough group.
After leaving the tea house, I wandered down the walled path bisecting the garden grounds. To the north is the main garden, while six other gardens lie to the south. Some were completely walled off from the others, while some were divided by rush stalks tied to poles for a less imposing divide. Most of these gardens have water running through them.
Gardens to the south include
- Flatly landcaped garden
- The garden of summer trees
- The garden of pine trees
- The garden of flowers
- The garden with a hill and pond
- The garden of bamboo
Overall I found the gardens almost as rewarding as Himeji Castle. If you enjoy Japanese gardens it is definitely worth the walk. If you have young children it might not be as engrossing. I went in early March and found many flowers and cool weather. I’m sure the gardens will present new sights throughout the seasons.
The cost is 300en for adults and 150en for children with hours of 9-5 (9-6 in May through August). There is an additional fee for the optional tea ceremony or restaurant.