After touring Himeji Castle, take some time to explore Koko-en Gardens. It’s a short walk from the castle and only costs ¥300 (~Php140) to enter. If you plan to visit both, you can get a combination ticket for ¥1,050 (~Php500) and save ¥250.
Koko-en officially opened to the public in 1992. It gets its name from Koko-do, a school for literary and military training originally located in Maebashi City. The school opened in 1692 and was moved to Himeji in 1749 – specifically, in the west area of the castle grounds. This is where the gardens sit today.
Be sure to visit all nine gardens as each one has unique features. Their designs take inspiration from landscaping themes popular during the Edo Period (1603 and 1686). The biggest garden is called The Garden of the Lord’s Residence (Oyashiki no Niwa). Take your time here. It’s an enormous 9,200 square meters.
There is a building on the grounds where you can enjoy the views from indoors. You can also take a look at the photo exhibit to see professional shots of the flora, among other memorabilia.
When we went to see the gardens, it was early February – the tail-end of winter. Not all of the flowering bushes and trees were in bloom, but we did see a few as we walked around. One of the less impressive but highly important gardens houses saplings and some trees that haven’t reached full maturity yet.
This Edo-style nursery (nae-no-niwa) contains raised flower beds for easy access to the caretakers and visitors who want to take a closer look. If your feet are tired from all the walking, you can rest for a while on the shaded benches inside this garden.
There are also numerous water features, including fish ponds and waterfalls. Some of the best spots for photo ops are on the little bridges and rock paths that cut across the water.
If it suits your time and budget, you might also want to check out the Kassui-ken restaurant and Souju-an tea house, both of which can be found on Koko-en grounds.
From April 27 to August 31, the gardens open at 9:00 am and close at 6:00 pm. From September 1 to April 26, they open at 9:00 am and close at 5:00 pm. For more information, visit their website.