A Sip Of Matcha

Published: Monday September 20, 2010 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Thursday August 22, 2013 MYT 4:04:05 PM

The tranquillity of Japan's Hama-rikyu Gardens

It is easy to conjure up images of old Japan amid the serene surroundings of Hama-rikyu Gardens.

LIKE Tokyo’s Rikugien Gardens and Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens that we had visited in Bunkyo ward, Hama-rikyu Gardens in Chuo ward was formerly a daimyo (feudal lord) garden during the Edo period or Tokugawa Shogunate (1603-1868).

Situated near the mouth of Sumida River, the 25ha garden was once covered with reeds and used as a falconry ground for the shoguns.

The fourth shogun’s younger brother, Matsudaira Tsunashige, a daimyo of Kofu, reclaimed the shallows to build his villa, Kofu Hama-yashiki (Beach Pavilion), in 1654.

When Tsunashige’s son, Ienobu, became the sixth shogun, the property came under the ruling Tokugawa clan and was renamed, Hama-Goten (Beach Palace). Succeeding shoguns expanded and remodelled the garden. The 11th shogun, Tokugawa Ienari, completed its final form which has remained till today.

In the Meiji era (1868-1912), the property was transferred to the Imperial family and renamed, Hama-rikyu Onshi Teien (Hama Detached Palace) or Hama-rikyu Gardens, for short in English.

Damaged by the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and World War II, the garden was bestowed upon Tokyo Metropolitan Government in 1945. Although renovations were made, some buildings were not restored. It was inaugurated in 1946 and designated a site of scenic beauty and historical significance, in l952.

The garden comprises two main sections: the south focussing on the daimyo garden and the north that was developed after the Meiji era. The surroundings of the ponds are punctuated with artificial hills, trees, shrubs, seasonal flower gardens, stone lanterns, bridges and teahouses.

Oh, another stroll garden, I thought. However, surprises awaited us. This unique garden is surrounded by a seawater moat. To pay the admission fees, we crossed the bridge from Shiodome complex to one of two entrances, Naka-no-gomon.

On the left side of Naka-no-gomon is a lawn dotted with trees and shrubs where once stood a guesthouse for receiving dignitaries. Enryo-kan was Japan’s first western-style stone building. Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th US President and his wife stayed there in 1879 during their world tour.

Due to age, Enryo-kan was demolished in 1888. At present, Suwa-style falconry is demonstrated on this site on Jan 2 and 3.

Towards the middle of the garden is a bronze statue of “Mars” on a plinth. Umashimade-no-mikoto (Mars) was a mythical god of war. The statue was presented to the Meiji Emperor to commemorate his silver wedding anniversary.

Next, a mound with a wooden wall aroused our curiosity. Ko-nozoki is a blind for observing ducks in Koshindo kamo-oba, a duck hunting ground built in 1778. One can view the hunting field from the other side.

Like defunct duck hunters, my son and I peeped through the slits of the wall. A long, narrow gutter with raised banks and duck blinds leads to a pond with a flat island.

“So that’s how the wild ducks were captured!” Ken remarked, after reading the explanation on the wooden board.

Somewhere near Shinsenza kamo-ba (another duck hunting ground built in 1791) lies a duck grave. Kamozuka was erected in l935 to appease the spirits of the hunted ducks. Nevertheless, the royal hunts continued until the garden was damaged and abandoned in 1945. The ponds have now become a refuge for migratory birds.

Another highlight is Tokyo’s sole remaining saltwater pond, Shioiri-no-ike. This tidal pond infuses seawater from Tokyo Bay. The pond’s scenery changes with the tide. Skyscrapers loom over the landscape – an arresting juxtaposition of modernity and days of yore.

Wooden footbridges draped with wisteria trellis span Shioiri-no-ike. Otsutaibashi, a 118m-long bridge connects to Nakajima, an island near the centre of Shioiri-no-ike.

On Nakajima sits Nakajima-no-ochaya, a teahouse where visitors can enjoy matcha (green powdered tea) and a Japanese sweets for ¥500 (RM19), while absorbing the spectacular surrounding views. From afar, Nakajima-no-ochaya appears to be floating over the pond.

We had a glimpse of the remains of Shogun O-agariba, the pier for the shoguns, and proceeded to Yokobori sluice gate which regulates the water level of Tokyo Bay’s incoming tide and draws in various aquatic organisms to Shiori-no-ike. From the promenade, we could see Tokyo Bay against the backdrop of skyscrapers.

Another interesting feature is the waterbus landing which makes the garden accessible. A one-way waterbus trip to or from Asakusa costs ¥720 (RM27).

“Look!” My husband pointed to a waterbus cruising by Tokyo Bay.

While I was taking a snapshot, Koji and Ken had disappeared in the flower field, playing hide-and-seek among the tall, orange cosmos.

It’s amazing that the humongous “300-year-old pine” tree still exists near the main gate, Otemon. Planted in 1709 during the renovation of the garden under Shogun Ienobu, it is Tokyo’s largest black pine.

Due to time constraint, we didn’t explore other parts of the garden. We left via Otemon and Otemon bridge which the Emperor and dignitaries used when visiting the garden. I was overwhelmed by the sudden transition as I faced the concrete jungle.

Sarah Mori, a Malaysian married to a Japanese, has been living in Japan since 1992.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle, Hama rikyu Gardens, Japan, Japanese, Sarah Mori, A Sip of Matcha

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