Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: Wabi-Sabi

Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden

As I was looking at my list of things to do in Tokyo, I realized I still had one garden to visit from the article about finding wabi-sabi in Tokyo. I hadn’t had the chance to visit the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden in Tokyo. The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden is located on the north side of Tokyo, near Ueno Park.

It took about an hour and 20 minutes to get there on the train. With the rain gone, it was such a beautiful day, I was happy to be out and about.

The Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Garden was built in 1896. The main residence is a western style building that was owned by Iwasaki Hisaya, the third president of Mitsubishi. The entrance to the Garden leads directly to the western residence. Currently, scaffolding was covering the front of the residence.

The inside of the residence was spectacular. The route to explore the residence allowed visitors to go throughout the two floors.

There is a large two-story porch on the southern side of the house. The east side of the porch is enclosed.

The wallpaper in the house is valuable Japanese leather paper. I took a close up picture of the paper and the large stamping tool.

The western residence is connected to the Japanese residence. Only a small portion of the Japanese residence remains. Tatami mats covered the floors and intricate drawings adorned the walls. The views of the gardens looking out were so serene.

The third building within the garden is the Billiard Room. The Billiard Room is detached from the Western Residence. However, there is an underground passageway connecting the two buildings. The Billiards Room was designed and built like a mountain lodge found in Switzerland. Notice the high ceilings!

The grounds of the garden have been reduced to only a third of the original size. Urbanization has claimed the other two-thirds. The grounds are a blend of Japanese and Western styles. As I walked the grounds, it was easy to be transported away from the bustling city. The garden is distinctively Japanese.

My favorite structure in the garden was the gigantic lantern. It had to be at least 12-15 feet high.

Looking back at the buildings and viewing the large lawn, it is easy to see the western influence. Simultaneously, you can see how close the encroaching buildings are to the garden.

This picture might be my favorite from the day. I like it because it captures the eastern and western gardens and the western residence is in the background along with the urbanization of Tokyo. I think it nicely captures the wabi-sabi of the Gardens.

I imagine this garden isn’t visited very often, because of its proximity to Ueno Park. Most tourist want to visit the many attractions at Ueno – zoo, museums, etc. I have visited Ueno Park (during Sakura season) and honestly, I enjoyed the quiet and serenity of this park much more. I definitely found my wabi-sabi.

Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden

The second garden I was able to visit on my Wabi-Sabi list was the Kyu Shiba Rikyu Garden. The garden is located on the south side of Tokyo and only about an hour and fifteen minute train ride. 

On my walk from the train station to he garden I was passed several times by the Shinkansen. Seeing the train still makes me happy. I can’t wait to plan another trip! 


Also, on my walk to the garden, I passed several beautiful hydrangeas blooming along the street. The hydrangeas alternated blue and purple. They were stunning. 


The garden was a bit smaller than the Hamarikyu Garden and again nestled in the middle of the surrounding city. The garden centers around a pond with a designated path to travel around and across the pond. 


Along your journey around the pond, there are many beautiful land and rock formations to look at and perhaps contemplate the passing of time. 


There was also one beautiful hydrangea blooming in the garden. 


As I was walking through the garden, I came across these interesting rock stairs. 

Originally, I thought they were just a cute path to follow. While reading the brochure, I realized they were there to simulate a “waterless waterfall.” The intention was to remind visitors of water coming off the mountains and flowing into the pond. Can you see it? 


On the far side of the pond was a group of artist painting the garden with watercolors. For every artist you see in this picture, there are two tucked in somewhere else. They obviously found their wabi-sabi. 


There were so many different features along the path. I enjoyed the stones and islands. 

Can you see the turtles? 

A beautiful view! Without a doubt, I was able to experience wabi-sabi in this lovely little garden. When you visit, if we need a quiet break from the hustle and bustle of the city, we can take a detour. It was worth the ¥150. 

Hama-rikyu Gardens

Recently, I read an article discussing five different gardens in Tokyo to discover wabi-sabi. I bookmarked the article and added all five of the gardens to my saved places in Google Maps. I found the definition of wabi-sabi used in the article interesting. “To Japanese people, there is a peculiar sense of aesthetics called “Wabi-sabi” where it is key to find the beauty in silence and the passing of time.” Other definitions I have found describe wabi-sabi as finding the beauty in the imperfections and also accepting transience. Accepting the passing of time and change is similar in both these descriptions. I also appreciate the ability to beauty in silence. Each of the gardens listed are located in a Tokyo and surrounded by the city. Visiting Hama-rikyu today, the sights and sounds of the city were all around. Finding a quiet spot in the garden was easy. Many people were enjoying their lunch as I arrived.


A couple things about the Hama-rikyu Gardens makes it very unique. It has a large pond that is fed by seawater from the Tokyo Bay. The pond has several lock gates that are opened and closed with the rise and fall of the tides of the Tokyo Bay. This creates a tidal affect within the pond.


The other unique thing about the garden were the two Kamoba or Duck hunting sites. They were both built in the late 1700s. The sites consisted of a large pond used to attract the ducks.


The hunters would lure the ducks into the pond with grasses and domesticated ducks while they hid in deep trenches.


Another hunter would stand watch in a wooden shack and watch the pond.

I took this picture looking out the peep holes in the hunting shack out over the pond.


On cue, someone would make a loud noise or distraction causing the ducks to take flight. The hunters would catch the ducks with long nets! Here was the sign that accompanied the explanation.


In true Japanese kindness, there is now a shrine dedicated to the ducks who were hunted.


The main pond of the garden was beautiful. The view of the Tokyo skyline provided a dynamic contrast with the natural setting of the garden.


There were a couple iris gardens blooming and one hydrangea bush in full bloom. The rest of the hydrangeas were not quite blooming yet.


Another notable mention within the garden was the 300 year old pine tree. It was gigantic and well supported with numerous wood braces and stantions.


The O-tsutai-bashi is the 118m long bridge over the center of the lake was renovated in 2012. The wisteria trellis are beautiful and make me want to visit again next spring to see them in bloom!

The garden did help me find my own definition of wabi-sabi. The way the garden was nestled in with so many city skyscrapers helped me to see and appreciate the beauty of nature and industry. Simultaneously, the city sounds of construction work, trains, and traffic helped me to experience and be settled with time passing. It was an enjoyable adventure to discover a beautiful garden in an urban environment with the intentions of experiencing wabi-sabi.

Washi Eggs

My Japanese student, Manami, and I meet once a week in order for me to help her with her English conversation and pronunciation. I find the time we spend together very enjoyable. Manami tells me each time how much it helps her to hear English from a native English speaker.

We met this morning and she arrived with a very special surprise. Her mother, Atsuko, who helped me make the Japanese tea box, made Washi Eggs with Dina and her daughters last Friday. Atsuko sent Dina and email inviting me to come along. Here is the sweet quote from Atsuko that Dina sent to me.

“Dina Julia has no plan today how do you think to come together, eggs are not enough but she stay home is so lonely.”

Unfortunately, they were meeting during my Friday afternoon English class so, I wasn’t able to tag along.

Fortunately, for me, Atsuko is very kind and super sweet. Atsuko made me six Washi Eggs and had Manami bring them to our session today. Atsuko is very thoughtful and they are beautiful.

In case you are unfamiliar with Washi Eggs, they are made by blowing out the yolk of an egg and then covering the hollow egg with washi paper. Washi paper is a thin Japanese paper used when making origami. The washi paper is glued to the egg and then a varnish is applied to seal the paper and create a shiny finish. The final step involves adding a small hook in order to hang the decorated egg.

One more thing to tell you. I loved my Japanese Christmas Tree with the small cell phone charms so much that I ordered a table top birch tree so I could continue to appreciate my charms throughout the year. Since it is no longer Christmas, I renamed my tree. It is now known as the “Japanese Tree of Happiness.” Here is a picture of my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” with my six Washi Eggs!


At first, the differences in the size of the egg and cell phone charms bothered me. Then I realized, the “Japanese Tree of Happiness” portrays wabi-sabi. Finding beauty and happiness with imperfection.

While Manami was here today, I showed her my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” and told her I was going to add the Washi Eggs. I sent her the picture and asked her to share it with her mom, Atsuko. Her mom was pleased to see I enjoy them and that they make me happy.

I took close up pictures so you can see the detail and appreciate the beauty. Notice the paper was cut into strips and then glue precisely in place in order to align the patterns.


I truly love and appreciate the gift I was given today. It was very special. I am adding “make Washi Eggs” to my list of things to do while living here in Japan.

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