The garden at Korakuen, long considered one of the top three gardens in Japan, has been awarded three stars by the Michelin Green Guide Japan and is a designated Historical and Cultural Heritage site. The park truly lives up to its revered reputation as a beautiful place to spend time all year-round. A visit here will bring you a little closer to the era in which noble lords strolled through sculptured gardens with traditional teahouses and past ponds filled with Japanese carp.
It's a 25-minute walk from JR Okayama Station to Korakuen Garden.
If you prefer to travel by tram, depart from JR Okayama Station and ride for eight minutes to the Shiroshita Stop. From the tram stop, the garden is a 10-minute walk away.
The spacious garden grounds offer a great many areas to explore and discover. It covers about 14 hectares and includes a tea plantation, aviary, several ponds, and original tea houses and resting buildings where the daimyo—the Japanese feudal lord—would sit, contemplating the pressures of his role as leader of the area.
You will also find small pockets of space that offer an explosion of color and fragrance. Between March and mid-April, the plum grove of one hundred trees welcomes spring with soft shades of white and pink.
During the summer, you will see the Japanese iris garden that comes into full bloom in early June, with colors of white and purple. This blanket of color is broken with an artfully inserted wooden planked bridge that zigzags over a stream.
Summer also brings the opportunity to visit the park during the early evening hours. The garden is lit with beautifully carved bamboo lanterns that sprout out of the ground. The lanterns guide you throughout the garden, where you can to see the trees, flowers, and creatures of the garden in a very different light.
You can visit Korakuen during full moons from August to October. The fall season brings a rich palette of reds, oranges, browns, and yellows that are acutely realized in the Chishio-no-mori Grove. Here, you will see the maple trees as they change their colors, then fly away in the crisp fall breeze.
One of the key spots around the garden is the lookout point on Yuishinzan Hill, which has a picturesque view over the Sawa-no-Ike, the largest pond, and also faces Okayama Castle just across Asahi River. This location is a perfect place for photos.
Another outstanding area is the Crane Aviary where you see these majestic birds. On New Year's Day, they are released in celebration into the garden. Korakuen Garden has been rearing cranes since 1956 and Okayama is the prefectural champion in Japan for breeding these beautiful birds.
Korakuen has many events throughout the year. In May, you can see ladies dressed in traditional kimono harvesting tea from the on-site plantation. This is followed in June by a ceremony to plant rice.
For those interested in Noh theater, you can see a performance on the first Saturday in October or on November 3, which is a national holiday in Japan called Culture Day.
Korakuen garden is truly a magical place filled with the beauty and culture of a bygone era.
Instead of merely visiting the garden, it is better to purchase the Okayama Castle and Korakuen Garden Pass. With the pass, you can also visit the castle, which is visible from spots in the garden and a short walk away. There is a bridge that will take you from just outside the garden to the palace grounds.
Okayama Castle, called the Crow Castle for its black exterior, has a six-story main keep. The size of the castle and its majestic location next to the river make it a grand place to visit.
While you can walk around the Korakuen Garden in a couple of hours, it is worthy of a more lengthy, leisurely stay, with time to take in the scents, sounds, and silence.