Tokyo is often called one of the most advanced cities in the world.  It has a great transit system, it is filled with numerous skyscrapers, has great food and it spreads out over the Kanto plain like the giant it is.  The emphasis for most people usually seems to be on the modernity of Tokyo as a city and its advances.  If you want to get in touch with some of the city’s history it might be difficult to easily put your hands on something that isn’t a replica or just a copy.  But one place from the past that still exists is Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens, which is near Ueno station.  On that property are three buildings that were built in the Meiji period, they are still very beautiful and let you walk right into history.


The front entrance of the Kyu-Iwasaki mansion

The main house which is the focus of everything at Iwasaki is very beautiful, it has two floors and is based on the Jacobean style of 17th century England.  It was given an attention to detail which, I think, is never seen these days.  There are carvings on the walls and columns, kinkarakawa wallpaper, Islamic influenced tiles on the first floor verandah and there are still drawings that were painted on to wooden surfaces of the house.  It must have been an amazing place in its heyday and probably cost a fortune to construct.  There is a garden there, but as it is not very big, nor does it contain anything of note as it is more of a lawn in reality, I think the majority of people go there to visit the house, as the buildings give us a glimpse into what life for the rich and famous was like in the late 19th and early 20th century Tokyo.

If you want to have a walk through a “real” garden, you’d be better off trying Shinjuku Gyoen, Koishikawa Korakuen,  Kyu-Furukawa or Kiyosumi Gardens.  But if you want to get a glimpse into how the upper classes lived in Meiji Japan and what some of them lived in, Iwasaki is the place to go.

1)  The Iwasaki house which was designed by English architect Josiah Conder.  It is a beautiful house, in the Jacobean style with some Islamic influence too!;

2)  The billiards house which looks like a Swiss lodge;

3)  a Japanese-style residence which now houses a teashop, and a small garden, plus some works of art, and;

4)  the lawn which is ringed by trees at the rear of the main house, which contains some Japanese-style lanterns and stone works.

1)  It is fairly small so a visit there won’t take up the whole day;

2)  you can get fairly good idea on how the upper-classes lived in the 19th and early 20th centuries; 

3)  have a look at the walls, the wallpaper, the woodwork and you can get an idea of the level of workmanship that the architect and the workman had;

4)  it is very close to Ueno station, about a 15 minute walk, so it is close to a major train on the Yamanote line.  It is also close to places like Ueno Zoo, the Shitamachi Museum, Ameya-yokocho.  There is a lot of stuff to see in that area.


1)  I like the house but in a few areas, the paint is really starting to peel.  I hope it gets restoration work in the near future;

2)  there is very little furniture inside.  So while you can enter many of the rooms, there isn’t a lot to see in the them.

3)  I think many of us have either heard about (some strange) English usage in Japan or have even seen it.  There are a few signs at Kyu-Iwasaki that might just spin your head, and;

4)  if you are going to enjoy a garden, you might be disappointed as it does not contain a lot.  Kyu-Furukawa Gardens which was also designed by Conder has a superb rose garden which is an absolute winner, and;

5)  there is no photography allowed in the house (or the verandahs) which is very disappointing.

Iwasaki Gardens are quite easy to get to.  There are four major train and subway lines that can get you close to it.

1.  Tokyo Metro Chiyoda Line (subway) toYushima station, leave via exit 1 and it is about a 5 minute. The road is quite well marked to the Iwasaki gardens.

2.  Tokyo Metro Ginza Line (subway) to Ueno Hiro-koji station, from there it is a 10 minute walk.

3.  Toei O-Edo Line, Ueno (subway) to Ueno Okachi-machi station, from there it is a 10 minute walk.

4.  JR Yamanote Line, Okachi-machi Sta. (15 minutes on foot)

We have a Google map here to show you:

Kyu-Iwaksai Gardens is open from 9am to 5pm (with last entry at 4:30pm).  It is only closed at the end of the year from December 29 to January 1.


The giant stone lantern found next to the lawn of the house

The entrance fee is 400 yen.


A closeup of one of the side entrances

Without doubt it would be autumn.  The trees that surround the lawn bring so much colour to the area.

The history of the Gardens

The grounds of the property originally belonged to the Echigo Takada clan and were where their Edo residence was located. It then passed to Makino Sukeshige, a provincial governor, and finally into the hands of the Iwaskai family.  The mansion that stands there today was completed in 1896.  It was designed by the famous English architect Josiah Conder who designed it in the Jacobean style of the seventeenth century. At the end of World War II, the Iwasaki home and grounds became the property of the Japanese government and were used for the Judicial Research and Training Institute of the Supreme Court. In 2001, the City of Tokyo took on the responsibility for the management of the grounds and buildings. In 1961, the western-style residence and the billiards building were designated important cultural assets, and in 1994 management of the grounds was turned over to the Agency for Cultural Affairs. The Great Hall of the Japanese-style building and the Japanese decorative screens in the East Wing of the western-style building were both designated important cultural assets in 1969. Later, in 1999, the land upon which the residence is located, and the surrounding tiled-walls were also designated important cultural assets. You can see the website for Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens here.

Something to be aware at Kyu-Iwasaki Gardens

You need to take your shoes off before you enter the house.  They provide you with a plastic bag to put them in.

You might also be interested in these articles:

Hama-Rikyu Gardens – the former hunting grounds of the Shoguns, now a very picturesque park in the middle of Tokyo

Meiji Shrine – the most popular shrine in Tokyo and located in one of its most popular areas

Rainbow Bridge – a great place to get some amazing views of the Tokyo skyline

Tokyo Kite Museum – a mecca for lovers of the past-time, crammed with every imaginable type of kite

Yokohama Landmark Tower – a great observatory in Yokohama which has some amazing views


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Rohan Gillett

Rohan Gillett

I’ve been living in Tokyo for close to 20 years.  Originally, I`m from Australia and made the move here in 1991 on a working holiday visa, when I was about 25.  At that time I worked for NOVA (the defunct English school).  In 1993 I returned to Australia to finish my university degree.

Returning to Tokyo in 1996, I have been living here ever since.  I really love the city and am constantly exploring it to find out new things.  When not out walking or exploring, I’ll be in front of my computer looking for some new place to … have my next walk in the city.

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