Happo-en: A Small but Beautiful Haven in Central Tokyo

By Cheryl White
June 10, 2015

I was quite content to wander for an hour or so through the leafy paths and carp filled ponds of Happo-en. The name means "beautiful from all angles," and a short walk through the garden will show you why. I was filling in time before meeting my husband for a drink. I was not really thinking about much, enjoying the views and the relative solitude of this pleasant place. Happo-en does that to you. Its beauty is manicured in that very traditional Japanese way that I love so much. Lost in time, I glanced at my watch and was horrified to see, in front of me, casually gliding away, the most elegant of khaki coloured snakes. I was shocked. This in the middle of Tokyo, not 50 meters from Meguro Dori.

Koi cropped

The snake, of course, was not in the least bit interested in me. It had disappeared into the hedges, no doubt enjoying the afternoon as much as I had been. After inhaling deeply and calming my racing heart, I realized that as much as the gardens are groomed and tended, clipped and maintained, they still are natural things that live and breathe and, yes, teem with life.

I tell this story not to discourage visitors to one of Tokyo’s prettiest gardens, but to actively encourage them!

once you have been reminded that this is a living garden, snake, koi, birds and no doubt other little beasties included, it becomes a richer, more abundant place to be

It would be easy to walk its winding downward path from the entrance gates to the pond, taking in the exquisite bonsai display and the perfect lawns, much as I had done for many years, and not think much about it. But once you have been reminded that this is a living garden, snake, koi, birds and no doubt other little beasties included, it becomes a richer, more abundant place to be.

Bonsai cropped

Animals and plants aside, Happo-en is a famous wedding and event venue that is generously open to the public. On just about any day you may luck out and catch a glimpse of some lovely young couple having their wedding photos taken. There is just something wonderful and sentimental about seeing a bride and her groom, whether they be in western wedding dress or in the more traditional Japanese robes.

The display of bonsai along the path is equally as impressive and inspiring. Pine, wisteria, oak and many other varieties of trees are tended here by a dedicated staff. The ages of some of these beauties is staggering. Of those in the sun on the day I was there, one was 120 years old, another a staggering 260 years old.

Winding further down the hill, the designers of this garden cleverly reveal several small arbors and lawns overlooking the large pond below. Once you reach the pond you realize that you are in a cool, tree-lined depression that hides several small tea houses on one side of the path and provides shade for the edge of the pond itself on the other.

Happo-en cropped

A moon viewing bamboo shelter sits at the water’s edge and provides a great vantage point for watching the carp swim around the beautiful stone lanterns that sit majestically on the pond’s bank. This is particularly pleasant and, depending on the company, quite romantic on a summer’s evening.

The path will take you away up the hill past the small waterfall that feeds into the pond, by the modern wedding halls and coffee shop to the crest of the hill. Turning back, a lovely vista opens up, the perfect garden alive with life yet surrounded in the background by high-rises and office blocks which somehow were not visible from the heart of the garden.

Happo-en is a lovely haven in residential Shirokane. It deserves repeated visits to both refresh the spirit and remind one’s self that whilst nature might be tamed, it can never be truly conquered.

The Deets

Address: 1-1-1 Shirokanedai, Minato-ku, Tokyo

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