Japanese culture has long had a special respect for gardens. The beautiful and serene style of Japanese gardens has found its way throughout the world and is found prominently featured in many parks and monuments. However, these gardens were all inspired by the real thing found in Japan.

Japanese gardens take gardening to the level of an art. Many of them are centuries old, tended carefully from the days of the samurai. Here are the ten best gardens to visit in Japan, every one of them a unique manifestation of Japanese art and culture.

1) Kenroku-en (Kanazawa)

Kenrokuen garden in winter! It’s considered one of the most beautiful traditional Japanese gardens. Photo Credit: pelican at Flickr.

This lovely Japanese garden covers an area of 11.4 hectares in the central area of Kanazawa right next to Kanazawa Castle. It dates back to feudal times and has since been maintained for generations by the Maeda family, rulers of the Kaga clan. The garden has a prominent artificial pond called Kasumigaike.

There are many hills and houses dotted throughout the garden. The symbol of Kenrokuen garden is a stein lantern carved in the shape of a Japanese harp (or koto). There are plum blossoms and cherry blossoms to be found in the spring, irises and azaleas in early summer, and brilliant fiery leaves in autumn.

Every year in November, you can see yukitsuri snow hanging in the garden, which are a traditional way of protecting the branches of pine trees from the weight of newly fallen snow. A visit to this garden at any time of year is a spectacular experience.

2) Kairaku-en (Mito)

Plum blossoms at Kairakuen garden in early spring. Photo credit: M Murakami at Flickr.

Kairakuen garden is ranked among the three finest in Japan. You can find it in Mito, one hour northwest of Tokyo by train. The gardens as built in 1841 and, unlike many other Japanese gardens, it has always been open for public enjoyment.

It is best known for the more than three thousand plum trees on the garden grounds. Many visitors come to Kairakuen in the early spring (February to March) when the plum blossoms bloom. The Mito Plum Festival is held during this period and always promises to be a delightful time.

3) Koraku-en (Okayama)

Korakuen garden. Photo Credit: Daderot at Wikimedia Commons.

This lovely landscape garden is the main attraction of Okayama. It is considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. It sits just beside Okayama Castle. The local lord ordered the garden to be built in 1687 as a place to hold gatherings for his family and receptions for important guests.

It is a wide and spacious garden, with lawns not like the some found in any other Japanese garden. You can find plum, maple, and cherry groves, as well as tea fields rice fields, even an archery range and a crane aviary! A visit here is a window into Japanese culture and history.

4) Adachi Museum of Art (Shimane)

Garden of Adachi Museum of Art. Photo Credit: Matsue at Wikimedia Commons.

The garden of Adachi Museum of Art (Adachi Bijutsukan) is a very popular place to visit in Shimane Prefecture. This is one of the newer Japanese gardens on this list. It was founded in 1980 by Adachi Zenko to combine his love of Japanese art and his passion for garden design.

This garden has been named as the best garden in Japan in the Journal of Japanese Gardening since 2003. The feel and character of this garden changes with the season. The only way to access it is through the Adachi Museum of Art. If you’re looking to spend an afternoon in this garden, be sure to take a look at some of the amazing pieces inside, as well.

5) Byodoin (Uji)

Byodoin temple, Uji. Photo Credit: bethom33 at Flickr.

Byodoin is a Buddhist temple with a beautiful Pure Land Garden. Be sure to visit the wonderful Phoenix Hall that stands on the grounds. It is one of very few standing wooden structures dating back to the Heian Period. There are also cherry trees and reflecting ponds on the grounds during spring.

It is a lovely and peaceful destination, sure to bring you a measure of peace during your busy trip to Japan.

6) Ryoanji (Kyoto)

Ryoanji’s rock garden in Kyoto. Photo Credit: Kimon Berlin at Flickr.

Here you can find the most famous rock garden in Japan. Hundreds of visitors come from across the country and around the world to see it. No one is quite sure of when the rock garden was constructed or who its designer was. No one really knows for certain what the meaning of the garden is intended to be.

From any vantage point, at least one of the 15 rocks laid out in the garden is hidden. The garden has been interpreted and reinterpreted by many people. Should you get the chance to visit, you can do the same. This garden can get quite crowded and an early morning visit will be less busy.

7) Katsura Imperial Villa (Kyoto)

Garden of Katsura Imperial Villa in autumn, Kyoto. Photo Credit: Kimon Berlin at Flickr.

Katsura Rikyu originally was the residence for members of the Japanese imperial family and sits in western Kyoto. You can only visit it by joining a tour. The tour is in Japanese, but English language audio guides are available. This tour goes along the circular walking path of the garden around its central pond.

Palace buildings are not open for entry and photos are only allowed in certain areas. As you can see, this place is held as a real treasure to the Japanese people.

8) Rikugien Garden (Tokyo)

Rikugien Garden is one of the popular autumn leaves spots in Tokyo city. Photo Credit: Raita Futo at Flickr.

The name of this garden means “six poems garden”. It was built around 1700 and reflects the art of Japanese gardening at the time very well. It is a lovely strolling garden, with a large central pond and a number of man-made hills and small forested groves.

It takes around an hour to walk through the entire network of trails that run through the garden. At the Fukiage Chaya teahouse, you can relax and enjoy some tea. The garden is best known for its wonderful autumn colors as well as the many flowering trees and bushes that bloom in the spring.

9) Sankeien Garden (Yokohama)

Historical Houses of Sankeien Garden, Yokohama. Photo Credit: Raita Futo at Flickr.

The large Classical Japanese garden has an area larger than 175,000 square meters. Besides its lawns and ponds, there are a number of historical houses on the grounds, all brought here from areas all over Japan.  It was once a private home but was opened to the public in 1906.

There are many lovely things to see here, including streams, small waterfalls, and bamboo groves. In late March or early April, the garden’s cherry blossoms are in full bloom, while you’ll see Japanese pink lotus blossoms in July and August. In the autumn, the trees in the garden change their leaves. It is an amazing place to visit in any season.

10) Ritsurin Koen (Kagawa)

Ritsurin Koen is a Japanese landscape garden. Photo Credit: Rob White at Flickr.

This spectacular Japanese landscape garden is found in Takamatsu City and dates back to the early Edo Period. Many consider it one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan.

There are many ponds, hills, and groves found throughout the garden, as well as several beautiful pavilions. The forested Mt. Shiun is a background to the tire garden, making every view a great one. The garden is a 5-mintue walk from JR Ritsurin Koen Kitaguchi Station.