Interested in Japanese culture, but not prepared to hop on a flight just yet? Why not head to a Japanese Garden in London, and enjoy a tranquil piece of Japan in the middle of the city.
We’ve covered many of London’s parks, but the Japanese gardens are really special and deserve a separate post. The historical gardens from Japan originated in simple, gravelly-covered forest clearings where gods could manifest themselves. The careful use and integration of stones, water features, trees, plants, and moss transformed the gardens into a realistic representation of nature over the centuries.
They are places of beauty and elegance, where the eye is taken to breathtaking views. Trees and plants are carefully selected for their particular qualities of form, texture, and colour. These characteristics create a sense of calm and contemplation. Highly prized are spring and autumn foliage.
Kyoto Japanese Garden, Holland Park
Kyoto Gardens stands out because of its unique design and feel. It’s almost as if the designer created a little piece of Japan right in the middle of London. The garden has traditional Japanese ornaments and a stunning carp pond. A serene oasis of authentic design and rich history, it’s easy to close your eyes and feel like you’ve been transported to Japan.
History of the Kyoto Garden
Holland Park, a 22-hectare park located in west London, is built around Holland House. The original name of the house was Cope Castle and was once a magnificent house that was home to powerful families and diplomats throughout its history. It was constructed in 1605 but unfortunately destroyed by the Blitz in 1941. London County Council purchased the grounds in 1952.
In 1991, the Kyoto Garden was inaugurated. The Kyoto Garden was given to Great Britain by the city of Kyoto as a token of their long-standing friendship. But it’s not only the Japanese garden here; The Fukushima Memorial Garden opened in July 2012 and is dedicated to the British people’s support after the March 2011 natural disasters.
If you are bringing kids, don’t forget to pay a visit to the free Holland Park Playground with its many natural play elements made of wood. We recommend visiting Kyoto Garden during spring, ideally mid-April to enjoy the beautiful cherry blossom trees.
The Japanese Garden, Kew Gardens
The Japanese landscape at Kew Gardens forms a double-circle around the Chokushi-mon (the Gateway of the Imperial Messenger), a four-fifths copy of the Gate of Nishi Hongan-ji in Kyoto. Professor Masao Fukuhara of Osaka University of Arts designed the garden in 1996 and adapted garden styles from Momoyama when the Chokushimon original was constructed.
Japanese gardens aim to replicate the Japanese landscape’s mountains and rivers on a smaller scale. They often use gravel as water and cut plants as rocks and boulders. Gardeners first look for unusual pine trees and then transplant and prune them into shape.
The Garden of Peace
The Japanese landscape is composed of three gardens. The garden of peace is the first. It is based on the traditional design that a garden leads to a tea room. But, first, a lantern will help you find your way, which will help you focus on your steps and forget about the outside world. Kew does not have a tearoom, but you can find a hinoki plant that the Emperor of Japan planted during his reign as crown prince.
The Garden of Harmony
You will then reach the second garden, which is the garden of harmony. It has a view up a grassy slope with closely-clipped Azaleas.
A granite block with a haiku written at Kew by Kyoshi Takahamaa, one of Japan’s most talented haiku poets, is located to the side of the garden harmony. It says Even Sparrows, Freed From All Fear of Man, England in Spring.
The Garden of Activity
The garden of activity is where you will find raked gravel, pebbles, and other materials that symbolize flowing water or tumbling waterfalls. The rocks amongst the gravel are symbols of luck and longevity. The second section of the garden comprises hilly, wild plants (called Dragon’s Breath) used to depict flowing rivers.
For families with young kids we also recommend a visit to Children’s Garden at Kew Garden which is included in the ticket-price (but must be booked separately). This is truly one of the best playgrounds in London.
Hidden Waterfall and Japanese Garden Island in Regent’s Park
A benefit of living in London is the many hidden gems to discover. Tucked away in Regent Park’s inner circle is an obscure oriental oasis: the Japanese Garden Island.
The island is not officially designated a Japanese Garden (Nihon Teien), but it has many traditional aesthetics and old ornamentation. The Queen Mary’s Garden area is also located here, named after King George V’s wife and was first created in the 1930s. A mysterious mound lies amongst the 12,000 roses. It is reminiscent of the Ninomaru Garden (Chiyoda), located in the Imperial Palace East Gardens, Tokyo.
A tranquil waterfall can be reached by gurgling streams or placing stones in the middle of shrubbery or towering trees. Miniature waterfalls in Japanese gardens represent Onmyodo, the Buddhist symbolism of yin (or yang), two opposites (water or stone) that complement one another.
A Grade II listed building, the bronze Eagle Statue, can also be found on the island. The perching sculpture was presented to the Royal Parks in 1974 by Felix Greene in memory of Edward Greene. It is believed that it is early nineteenth-century and Japanese in origin.
Hammersmith Park Japanese Garden
The Hammersmith Park Japanese Garden in West London is the oldest Japanese garden in a British public park. So how did it get there? It’s the only remnant of a more extensive garden that was the centerpiece of the Japan-British Exhibition in White City in 1910. The Japanese plants were all brought over to Japan for the exhibition garden and featured extensive pools and cascades made from puddled clay and stone blocks from Derbyshire, Devon.
Unfortunately, all of the exhibits were closed in October 1910, but the original Garden of Peace survived to the 1950s when it was partially demolished and reconstructed in a new style. Hammersmith and Fulham Council ordered a restoration of the garden in 2010 by Yoshihiko Uchida, a Japanese landscape architect, and Satoru Izawa (an engineer and traditional Japanese Garden expert).
They reverted to the old emphasis on the arrangement of rocks as the garden’s heart and soul, which was designed to encourage quiet reflection and contemplation. It features cascades and a meandering path made of stepping stones that leads you through the landscape.
The ‘forest area’ is home to ferns, shade-loving grasses, and rhododendrons. Azaleas bloom in spring.
SOAS Japanese Roof Garden
A small but well-formed Japanese garden is hidden on top of a roof at the western corner of Russell Square. It is located above the Brunei Gallery at SOAS, which is part of the University of London. It’s a quiet space enclosed from all sides; however, you can still peek at it.
There’s a small section of gravel and wisteria above benches which will be beautiful in spring. The garden is dedicated to forgiveness, represented by the kanji character carved into the bottom of the water basin. It is perfect for contemplation.
The Japanese Garden in Peckham Rye Park
The Japanese Garden in Peckham Rye Park opened its doors in 1908. It was the result of several gifts from the city of Tokyo to London at the time. Unfortunately, much of the original bamboo and exotic plantation has disappeared, although the shelter and bridge still survive. The old garden was constructed around an old pond and now has a series of stream-fed ponds with Japanese plants and shrubs.
Facts Japanese Gardens
- The gardens are simple and minimalist in design
- They express the beauty of nature in miniature
- A natural setting is used to inspire reflection and meditation
- Rocks, trees, ponds and running water play key roles
- The elements are placed to harmonize with nature
- Each element used has a different meaning