It was a slightly drizzly day, but we decided that we would head there anyway, having travelled almost halfway across the globe to see it. We decided to walk from our hotel, and it took around half an hour. As we got closer, we could smell the trees. It was an amazing aroma – almost intoxicating. I wish that I could have bottled it to bring it home with me!
Outside the garden was a statue to local politician Bukichi Miki (Raian), and a haiku stone that I can’t recall the significance of!
We entered the garden by the East Gate and paid our entrance fee.
We paused to read the guide leaflet, to decide on our route around the gardens. As we stood there, lots of people went past and each one gave us a cheery hello. I thought they were friendly staff, as they all had green and white jackets on, but it later transpired that they were volunteer guides. If we’d known, we could have got one to show us around!
Instead, we trotted off by ourselves. First we called into the Sanuki Mingeikan, or Folk Craft Museum. Here we admired a wide range of local treasures, including roof tiles, furniture, ornaments, baskets and kites.
After drinking our fill of the crafts of Takamatsu, we set off around the gardens, spending three hours on our wanderings.
The gardens are a fine example of a daimyo stroll garden, typical of 17th/18th century Japan. The garden was established in the 1620s by Takatoshi Ikoma, who was the daimyo (feudal lord) of Sanuki (the old name for the Takamatsu area). Twenty years later, he was replaced as daimyo by Yorishige Matsudaira, who inherited the garden.
The Matsudaira family retained the garden and added to it over the following century. It was considered complete in 1754, and the Matsudaira family lived in a villa within the grounds until 1870. The garden opened to the public in 1875.
When we visited, the Shoko Shoreikan, built as a museum in 1899, was closed for renovation, but it didn’t detract from our visit.
The first trees we saw were the black pines planted by members of the Japanese royal family, and one by King Edward VII. They had a prehistoric look to them, although they were only around 100 years old.
Nearby was the Tsurukame matsu, or Crane and Turtle pine tree, which has been cultivated to look like a fluttering crane standing on the back of a turtle.
We paused to look out over the Hokko (North Pond) and watched a couple of men feed the carp until they were menaced by a large crow!
We passed Higurashi-tei, one of the tea ceremony houses dotted across the garden, and walked up the path to look inside. Tea ceremony was already underway for a small group of visitors, but we couldn’t work out where to wait our turn, so we carried on round the garden. This turned out to be a good thing!
At the west of the garden is the Sekiheki (Red Cliff). The Seiko (West Pond) is full of water lilies, and we were lucky to be visiting during their blooming season. There were pink and white water lilies, and they were a joy to behold.
Tumbling down the Red Cliff is the Basin and Pipe waterfall (Oketoi no Taki) – so named because it is man-made. Water used to be carried up to the top of the cliff in basins whenever the daimyo passed by on a stroll. These days it flows constantly, fed by a pump.
As we walked on, we passed Kyu Higurashi-tei, an old tea house that had been moved out of the garden at the end of the 19th century, but returned to the grounds in 1945. Originally built in the 17th century, it is preserved as an example of a daimyo-style tea house and isn’t open to the public, other than to look around its garden.
Further on is the main tea house, Kikugetsu-tei, a traditional tea house over 300 years old. Its name means Moon Scooping Tea House, after a line in a Chinese poem. Initially we walked past, until we encountered one of the volunteer guides who stopped us for a chat. She asked where we were from and we discovered that she had been to Blackpool, of all places, because she was interested in ballroom dancing. She recommended that we should head back to the tea house and have some matcha tea, looking out over the Nanko (South Pond). So we did! After I finished my bowl of tea, the foam seemed to make the shape of a tree.
The views from this tea house were stunning. There was a boatman ferrying other visitors around the pond. He stopped for a chat as we stood on one of the verandas to take photographs. When we told him we were from England, he congratulated us on our Big Baby. It took a couple of seconds to realise that he meant the recently born Princess Charlotte!
After our matcha tea, we were hungry so headed to an udon café alongside the Nanko. We ate kitsune udon looking out on a mossy stream, which we crossed after eating, on our way to the arched bridge, Engetsukyo (Crescent Moon Bridge), on the Nanko. We paused for a few moments, looking across the pond to the tea house, before heading off to a viewing point that looked out on the bridge. This hill, called Hiraiho, has been sculpted to resemble Mount Fuji and gives a really good view across the pond to the tea house.
We headed east again, skirting the Nanko back towards the Folk Craft Museum and then on to the Gun’o-chi. This is the biggest pond in the garden and was used for duck hunting during the feudal era. It has a stone building projecting out over the pond, presumably from where the hunters shot at the ducks!
This pond is also a good spot for viewing irises, which are my favourite flowers. There were plenty of yellow irises in bloom while we were visiting.
At the north end of the garden, heading west, is the Fuyo-sho, or Lotus Pond. This wasn’t at its best during our visit, the lotus plants having died back, leaving behind an eerie mass of stems.
We had to imagine how glorious this stretch of water would look over the summer months!
We wandered a little further then headed out via the North Gate.
Entry to the garden is 410円, and matcha tea at Kikugetsu-tei is 700円. If you want to spend less on tea, then Higurashi-tei charges 500円. You can also try red bean soup with rice cakes at Higurashi-tei, which we might do next time we visit. The Sanuki Mingeikan is free entry, and consists of a New Folk Craft Museum (where you can buy examples of crafts created by contemporary craftsmen), the Roof Tile Museum, the Furniture Museum and the Old Folk Craft Museum. Plan to spend at least half a day, because there are so many things to see and whizzing round in less time won’t do it justice. If you want a personalised tour, with key points of significance pointed out to you, then take up the offer of one of the volunteer guides. Many of them are volunteering in order to improve their English speaking, and the couple that we talked to on our way around the garden were excellent. There’s no charge, and you might even come away with a free gift!