Hakuryu-en, literally meaning the 'white dragon garden', is only 60 years old. I don't know exactly what happened during those 60 years, but clearly the owners and gardeners were rather brilliant. How else would you explain such a garden in such an unlikely place, squeezed between a road, a rail line and a huge quarry?
The current owner (who may be the original one...) is the owner of a kid clothing company called Aono. That in itself is absolutely uninteresting, but I have to give the guy a little hug (== internet link) for opening his private garden. And for spending some good money in keeping this place beautiful, for it costs to have 6 full-time gardeners employed year-round.
Visiting the place was only possible since a couple of years back, so it's still pretty new for most people. It certainly was for me, and I was properly impressed by it. Although I did plan to come back a few days after my first visit to get different autumn colours, I simply couldn't do it due to the limited numbers of issued tickets. But I'll be back...
So... what about the garden? It's great, special and awesome in many ways. For example. it is one of the few places where moss is actually tended to the point where it grows happily, creating patches among the gravel. These patches are cherished and grow larger, progressively eliminating the gravel paths. The moss is also growing between the stones of the main path, where it is expertly trimmed. So thumbs up for the moss.
But there is a lot more than moss of course. Both maple and cherry blossom trees are present, and well placed to that they don't interfere with each other. By that I mean that from a photographic point of view it's a bit disappointing when a "dead" cherry tree is killing the beauty of maple trees in autumn. But here there is no such conflict, so they clearly thought about doing it right. There's also satsuki and other flowers, but I didn't see that in autumn of course.
The next very interesting aspect of this garden is its 5-6 small tea houses and pavilions scattered on the hillside. They each have their character, and one would be lucky just to have one in his garden. Photo-wise, they make great subjects, and allow nice opportunities to frame the landscape.
The only problem with the place is that it's not open very often: twice a year, one week each time. And with a 100 tickets for sale per day it can be hard to get in. But that is actually a great thing: not only does it preserve the place, but it avoids the otherwise massive crowd that would certainly find its way to that remote place. If you want to visit, the best and only way it to get a combined garden+train ticket at the Demachiyanagi station. You may have to be there early for a chance to get one, and you can only get one per person present at the station, so don't think about buying tickets for friends. Also, the tickets are only valid for the day you bought them, so no advance planning! But again, this makes the place quiet and pleasant so in the end it's very welcome.
At the end of your visit, you can have a break at the tea house on the other side of the road, in front of the garden entrance. It's part of the garden actually, and is a nice old house with a neat front garden in itself.
Recommended for: Access:
Nearest location: Iwakura-jinja 石座神社 (2.4km)Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 左京区, Sakyo-ku, 白龍園, Hakuryu-en