The best Japanese gardens are in Western Japan. Discover three of the most beautiful ones in the San’in region. [PR]

Japanese gardens soothe the soul with their changing look in every season, from rustling trees and pure flowing water punctuated by dancing breezes.

Many European gardens are characterized by manmade geometrical beauty, with symmetry and clean horizontal and vertical lines. Japanese gardens, on the other hand, feature asymmetrical designs and curved pathways that mimic the beauty of nature. They are designed to blend and harmonize with the natural landscape.

Japan is full of these gardens—particularly in Kyoto—but the Japanese gardens renowned for being the most beautiful in the world are located in the San’in region, about four or five hours west of Kyoto by bullet and regular train. The area includes the prefectures of Shimane and Tottori, which border the Japan Sea. Izumo Taisha shrine, a center of faith for more than two thousand years, is sometimes referred to as the “birthplace of the heart of Japan”. What kind of Japanese garden could have earned such a title?

Experience the world of Japanese painting at the Adachi Museum of Art

A free shuttle will take you from JR Yasugi Station to the Adachi Museum of Art in about twenty minutes. It houses a collection of some 1,500 Japanese masterpieces, most notably the works of Yokoyama Taikan (1868–1958), a master often considered the founder of Japanese-style painting, but also including ceramics, wood carvings, and more. But another reason so many people visit the Adachi Museum of Art is its sprawling Japanese gardens.

The White Gravel and Pine Garden

Japanese gardens come in many forms. There are dry landscape gardens that recreate mountains, rivers, and other scenes using combinations of rocks and white sand (and no water); others are built around ponds, which are showcased as the central feature. Another classic garden style is the moss garden, in which large areas are covered in beautiful green carpets of moss.

The massive 165,000 square-meter site at the Adachi Museum of Art features a diverse collection of Japanese gardens that include all three of these styles, making it true feast for the eyes. Every morning before the museum opens, the entire staff spend about an hour cleaning every inch of it as professional gardeners prune and trim the grounds, making sure it is always in perfect condition.

The Dry Landscape Garden
The Moss Garden
The Pond Garden

A testament to the quality of the Adachi gardens is their having earned the top spot in the list of the best Japanese gardens put out by the American publication Journal of Japanese Gardening for seventeen years running. They’ve also earned three stars (the highest ranking) from the French publications Michelin Green Guide Japon and Guides Bleus Japon.

Zenko Adachi (1899–1990) was the businessman who founded the museum. When he was alive, he talked about the garden as being another painting in his museum. But the painting he was talking about was not a lifelike representation of the world, as with modern Western paintings.

Japanese gardens can depict mountains using only rocks and the greenery of trees, or tranquil water using only tiled stones. For the Japanese, whose worldview was heavily colored by Buddhism, the goal was not to faithfully depict the real world, but to express nature via a host of different metaphors.

The museum, with its exhibits of Japanese painting and exquisite garden views, may just be the perfect place to experience the profound depths of the Japanese aesthetic.

The Living Framed Painting is just one of the techniques used in the museum that allows visitors to experience the changing seasons in the gardens as if they were a framed work of art

Marvel at thirty thousand flowers floating in the ponds at Yushien

Between Shimane and Tottori prefectures is a brackish lake called Nakaumi. It is a mix of freshwater and seawater, making it the perfect spawning ground for eel, shrimp, and a host of other marine life. Right in the middle of the lake, on an island called Daikon, is a garden called Yushien. Covering a huge area of 40,000 square meters and dotted with ponds and waterfalls, it epitomizes both the elegance and dynamism of traditional Japanese garden design.

The biggest draw in the garden is its colorful seasonal flowers. Spring offers Chinese peonies, azaleas, and rhododendron, summer irises, and fall camellias. In winter the Moutan peonies bloom bright red against a white backdrop of snow. It is perfect for flower lovers at any time of year.

The iris garden in summer
Moutan peonies bloom in winter under straw huts designed to keep out the cold

Events are also held in the garden each season. At Chisen Botan (Pond Peonies), which takes place between late April and early May each year, some 30,000 cut Chinese peonies are floated in the garden’s ponds. The flowers are trimmed from their bushes to promote healthy seedling development. The sight of the red, pink, and white peonies crammed onto the surface of the water creates a scene that looks like something straight out of a dream. The changing leaves are lit up at night in autumn, giving visitors a chance to experience the beauty of nature in all kinds of different ways.

Chisen Botan event

The Japanese have always revered plants, believing that spirits dwell in all manner of living things. If you visit Yushien, you’re sure to experience the vibrant life force that emanates from the botanical world.

Take in the exquisite garden views as you relax in the lounge area

See a garden adored by aristocrats at Hirata Honjin Memorial Museum

About twenty minutes by train from Izumo Taisha shrine, which is the number-one tourist attraction in the San’in area, is the Hirata Honji Memorial Museum. Part of the residence of the Honkisa family, once very close to here, has been relocated to the site. The exhibits showcase the history of Izumo as a bustling merchant town.

The Honkisa family were one of the most prominent old families of the San’in region, making their fortune primarily in sake brewing and cotton sales. The intense contrast between the white walls and black roofs of their home takes you back in time to the days of the samurai.

Hirata Honjin Memorial Museum

In addition to the museum’s collection of Japanese-style paintings and calligraphic works, visitors can enjoy the Japanese rock garden that was fully relocated from the former Honkisa residence. Tiled together on top of the coarse sand are stones known as tobi-ishi (“skipping stones”) that are meant to be walked on—giving the entire garden a rhythmical feel. The trees here include a pine, satsuki azaleas, and sweet osmanthus. An aged pine, a symbol of longevity and prosperity, can also be found in the garden.

Japanese rock garden

The garden is said to have been enjoyed by the aristocrats who once controlled this region, as they frequently stopped by the Honkisa home when they went to pay their respects at Izumo Taisha shrine or came to the area to enjoy falconry or other leisure pursuits. Presented with the beautiful gardens would bring a sense of calm as they became lost in their thoughts. This garden that the aristocrats once enjoyed has retained its power to soothe the soul over the many generations that followed them.

There are many other Japanese gardens in the San’in region in addition to the ones described here. Among the most notable are the Japanese rock garden at a longstanding Japanese inn called the Minamikan that has enchanted many novelists; a sprawling garden at Yunosuke-no-Yado Choraku-en, which has a wonderful hot spring facility and inn; and the Japanese rock garden at Kokokuji Zen temple in Izumo, which incorporates natural ponds and mountain scenery.

Get away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and Kyoto and head out to the magical garden world of the San’in area. It’s a wonderful way to immerse yourself in traditional Japanese culture.


Shimane | Japan Travel | JNTO

Tottori | Japan Travel | JNTO

Adachi Museum of Art

Address: 320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture


Address: 1260-2 Yatsukacho Hanyu, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture

Izumo City Hirata Honjin Memorial Museum

Address: 515 Hirata-cho, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture


Address: 14 Suetsugu Honmachi, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture


Address: 323 Tamayu-cho Tamatsukuri, Matsue, Shimane Prefecture


Address: 1301 Kunidomi-cho, Izumo, Shimane Prefecture