I recently visited Suirakuen Gardens, which are located in Nanko Park in Shirakawa City.
I visited the park a couple of years ago during autumn, when the leaves looked amazing. At that time I wasn’t able to visit the gardens due to time restrictions. So I was really glad to have the chance to take a step inside the gardens this time!
Nanko Park is thought to be the oldest public park in the whole of Japan. Situated in Shirakawa City, the park was built at the request of the 12th leader of the Shirakawa Clan during the Edo Period (in 1801).
This was the first park built for the specific aim of creating a place without the barriers of class which had previously stopped people from different statuses in society from meeting.
Clan leader Matsudaira said he wanted to create a place for all people to be able to talk and relax together – which is pretty amazing!
Beautiful Autumn Leaves Spot
Here are a couple of photos from my trip to Nanko Park two years ago – I think you can see why I was so moved by the beauty of the park! See here for the full blog.
Suirakuen Gardens lies in the north-most corner of this historic park. These traditional Japanese gardens really encompass what Matsudaira felt was so important about Nanko Park – it being a place to relax and be at peace.
Suirakuen Gardens is another popular autumn leaf-viewing spot, and is also known for the tea ceremony events that it holds throughout the year at the traditional tea house.
During my visit last week (in mid October) the leaves were just beginning to turn red, but by early November, the colours should really start to pop.
My Thoughts on Visiting
The Suirakuen Gardens are just as picturesque and relaxing as I had hoped.
The layout of the garden and the variety of the plants and trees is amazing, and I felt like I could spent a long time walking around, exploring, and taking in the beauty.
I loved how wherever you are in the park, you can’t hear the sounds of busy traffic or cars, only those of the wind in the trees and of water moving around the garden.
I also felt really relaxed due to the park being surrounded by lush hills full of evergreen trees – you really do feel surrounded by nature.
Even though I visited in mid October, the leaves of the beautiful maple trees were already beginning to turn red.
During my visit, I remembered how during my visit 2 years ago to Nanko Park I also noticed just how tiny the maple tree leaves were – they are so dainty!
I think the park is definitely worth the visit (and the entrance fee), especially if you have plans to visit Nanko Park, Nanko Shrine, or the Daruma Workshops nearby.
Tea Ceremony Experience
At Suirakuen, you can try traditional matcha tea while enjoying the seasonal views.
Matcha tea in Japan might be a bit more bitter than the matcha drinks available in other countries. I know in the UK matcha lattes have become quite popular, but these are much sweeter than the standard matcha tea you find in Japan.
Matcha can actually be quite bitter, which is why it is usually served paired with some kind of sweet. But, the matcha at Suirakuen had a really light, refreshing flavour.
In tea ceremony, the sweet served with matcha tea is often called wagashi (for example, the one pictured in the photos below). These are sometimes filled with sweet red bean paste.
At Suirakuen, the staff change the design of the wagashi depending on the season of your visit, so that the confectionery is always appropriate to the time of year! They are tiny and super detailed – really impressive.
The wagashi tasted absolutely amazing after drink the matcha tea – being in Japan has really shown me that the balance of something slightly sweet after something a tiny bit bitter tastes just as good as a big bar of chocolate.
One thing that’s special about the tea ceremony experience at Suirakuen is the fact that you can enjoy drinking the tea from a tatami room, open to the elements thanks to the moving doors that surround the room.
After our visit, we had lunch near Shirakawa Station at a traditional Japanese restaurant called Bashotei (see here for a map).
Shirakawa is actually famous for Shirakawa ramen, which is known for its chewy, crimped noodles, soy-sauce based soup, and baked pork fillet topping.
However, on the day of my visit, I was being filmed for a TV news story, and knowing my (in)ability to eat noodles without creating a mess, I opted for one of my favourite Japanese dishes: sauce katsudon.
Nearby Suirakuen Gardens
There are a few more places to visit just a stone’s throw away from Suirakuen Gardens which sit on the edge of Lake Nanko.
Nanko Dango Shop
Confectionery store Suigetsu (map) sells sticky rice balls on a stick, covered in thick, sweet soy sauce.
Very picturesque shrine, especially in Autumn.
Lake Nanko (Nanko Park)
Beautiful in Autumn and Spring
Information for Visiting Suirakuen Gardens
- Opening Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm
- Closed Days: The 2nd Wednesday of Jan., Feb., Mar., Jul., Dec.; End of year holidays
- Park Entrance Fee: 310 yen
- Park Entrance + Matcha Tea Experience Set: 780 yen
Around 15 min by bus from Shirakawa Station to Nanko-koen-mae Bus Stop. 14 min walk from the bus stop to Suirakuen Garden.
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