Koishikawa Botanical Gardens is another of Tokyo's lesser-known spots to visit. Located in one of Bunkyo ward's quiet residential areas it is operated by the University of Tokyo's Graduate School of Science. So, even though it is open to the public, it is a place for academic research and a place for serious botanical work. While the gardens aren’t that big, Shinjuku Gyoen for example is far larger, it is large enough for a decent walk and in some parts of it you might even forget that a big city is only a short distance away.
My favourite part of Koishikawa is the building that once served as the Tokyo School of Medicine's headquarters and the area immediately around it. It has a nice lawn with paths through it, a pond stocked with carp and turtles, benches and pergolas. It is a great place for picnics.
Other areas are like ... walking into a forest that is far from the big city, complete with muddy trails and some hills, similar to Todoroki valley but on a smaller scale? Then there are some areas are almost farm-like in appearance with long lines of trees all neatly lined up like they are ready for harvest with university buildings nearby. That is only natural I think though, as it is run for scientific research.
As the University of Tokyo runs the garden, so it has a greenhouse. The original one was demolished in the late 2000s and a new structure was started. In May 2019 the building seemed to be basically finished, but the heating and irrigation systems were not, so no plants are yet inside. I’m not sure when it will finally be up and running, but the glass structure does look good. Luckily they have kept the pools of the old structure which are beautiful. Hopefully things will be back to normal in a year or so.
Koishikawa Botanical Gardens is home to some history too. As mentioned earlier it holds the former headquarters for the Tokyo School of Medicine. A hospital, Koishikawa Yojosho, was also established there by the eighth shogun, Yoshimune Tokugawa, in 1722. That hospital no longer exists but its well, which was famous for the quality of its water is still there. Isaac Newton even has ties to the gardens as a graft of the very apple tree from which his apple fell, was gifted to the garden and is still there today.
Being a botanical garden, it has literally thousands of plants and trees, some of which you can't see anywhere else such as the Metasequoia, a fossil tree that was rediscovered in China in 1944 and some seeds were given to Japan in 1947. There is also a ziziphus jujube, a medicinal tree brought over from China in 1727.
It is hard to compare Koishikawa to other parks and gardens in Tokyo as it is fairly unique, park and research station. Also, parks like Shinjuku Gyoen and Hama-Rikyu Gardens, are surrounded by skyscrapers that can be seen above the trees; while others, like Kiyosumi and Rikugien, have a big central pond or are completely manicured gardens. This place is a little different. Go to it, enjoy the walk and forget that you are in a big city for a little while. It really is a most pleasant experience. You can see its website here.
How to get to Koishikawa Botanical Gardens
There are two subway stations nearby. One is Hakusan (use exit A1) on the Mita line and the other is Myogadani on the Marunouchi line. From either station, it is about a 10-minute walk. Here is a Google map to show you the way:
Koishikawa is open from January 4th to December 28th from 9am to 4:30pm with last entry at 4pm. It is closed on Mondays, but if the Monday is a public holiday it will be closed the following day.
The Shibata Memorial Annex (gift shop) is open from 10:30am to 4pm and closed on Thursdays.
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