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The Ueno Toshogu Peony Garden

Visit a lovely Winter peony garden in Tokyo, Japan

Located in Central Tokyo, the Ueno Park is a very large public park including the Tokyo National Museum, the National Museum for Western Art, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and the National Science Museum. It is also home to the Ueno Zoo, an outstanding zoological garden, and to a few shrines.

Ueno Park is one of Tokyo’s most popular and lively cherry blossom spots with more than 1,000 cherry trees lining its central pathway. The cherry blossoms festival is a great tourist attraction during late March and early April.

Nestled in the park, Ueno Toshogu is a 17th century shrine originally dedicated to Shinto religion practice. A pagoda overtowers 48 bronze columns and diverse relics. Next to it, the Ueno Toshogu Peony Garden is dedicated to Kan-botan tree peonies or winter peonies. Founded in 1980 as a mark of the friendship between Japan and China, the Botan-en is only open to the public twice a year, from January to February and from April to May.

Peonies originate in China and were introduced around the 8th century in Japan where they were first cultivated by monks as medicinal plants and then, as ornamental plants, in the Emperor’s gardens. Since then, the Botan plays a significant role in Japanese symbolism (wealth, prosperity, fame and fortune) and culture. Motifs of peony flowers are now common in fabrics, paintings and sculptures. Hundreds of varieties are known and are still developped by Japanese gardeners. They have been introduced in Europe and North America since the 18th century.

I had the opportunity of visiting the Ueno Toshogu Peony Garden in February 2019 while I was in Tokyo for the famous annual bonsai exhibit Kokofuten. It was a cold winter then and it snowed overnight the day of my visit but sadly the snow melted rapidly. The Peony Garden comprises 700 plants protected from the cold and snow or heavy rain under pretty straw huts and straw mats.

The Kan-botan tree peonies are a type of tree peonies blooming in the spring, and reblooming at the end of the year. The flowers in the winter are said to be smaller and the plant only produces a few leaves and a few flowers. Japanese tree peonies are small shrubs up to 4 feet (and not “real” trees). The name “tree” comes from their perennial woody stems compared to herbaceous (or garden) peonies where the stems die to the ground during Winter. They have large flowers, from 8 inches to 12 inches, single to double, declined from pure white and yellow to light and dark pink. The garden has also Fuyu-botan, spring-blooming peonies forced to grow faster in a glasshouse.

I have included a gallery of photos taken during my visit. Because most of the hybrids are not available in North America I have skipped their names. I hope you will enjoy these. It was a magical sight for a peony lover such as myself to stroll in the courtyard’s paths with all these blooms!

If you go:

  • Check beforehand if the Garden is currently open. It will not be open if the peonies are not blooming. Your hotel desk will gladly help you to check this. Or check the website:
  • The best way to go to Ueno Park is by subway (JR Ueno Station). Japanese subway is safe and fast. Easiest access is provided by the station’s “Park Exit”. There should be a map where you can locate the garden (10 minutes walk).
  • You may also take a taxi. If so, ask to be dropped on the other side of the park, specifying the Ueno Toshugu shrine.
  • The cost for the Peony garden is around 700 yens ($7 USD). Cash yens only. Have small bills available. More if you want to visit the shrine.
  • The visit takes about 45 minutes, more if you are a peony admirer and you want to take photos. It took me 2 hours.
  • Be respectful by staying on paths and not touching the blooms. No running or speaking loudly.

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