Japan at Kew Gardens

For most people Kew Gardens has become a household name in the world of plant preservation, cataloguing, and displays; it also houses and includes many other landmarks and curiosities, the extent of which maybe isn’t fully understood without visiting. Experiencing Japan at Kew Gardens is included in this.

Yes there is in fact a large Japanese presence at Kew which may come as a surprise to some; however, what is included in this ‘Japanese presence’ may be a surprise to everyone else. It’s not just limited to one specific area (although there is certainly a main focal point) but is spread across multiple spaces, all of which are worth investigating.

A full experience

The keen eyed viewer will notice that I have previously visited Kew Gardens last year while some covid restrictions were still in place. Consequently many buildings, greenhouse, and other confined areas were closed. Nevertheless I explained at length the Japanese experience to be had at Kew in this post: 

A distinctly Japanese experience at Kew gardens. – Japan at Hand

Recently, I decided to visit again however this time no such restrictions were in place. Among everything else, the Japanese Minka house was able to be accessed as well as Kew Bonsai House. Due to the fuller experience being available, this time I was able to record in detail everything Japan related at Kew Gardens which I’ve merged into a five minute YouTube video.

Take a look!

I’m not going to cover absolutely everything again as I don’t want to just repeat what’s in the other post but I do want to highlight some of the parts that I wasn’t able to cover previously.

The Minka house

The Minka house located within the bamboo garden was a type of Japanese home traditionally used by the lower ranks of Japanese society. While an impressive structure on the outside, inside it is incredibly rustic. There are displays that showcase tools related to farming — in which Minka was a primary form of accommodation for farmers and laborers — as well as Kimono, but the real interest requires a bit of observation. 

Looking up into the rafters will reveal exposed rough hewn beams as well as the interior of the thatched roof; this clearly resembles the hand-built construction similar to how almost all Minka were built. Several raised areas highlight how different areas were organized with an Irori being present. 

An Irori is a sunken square section within the floor of a Japanese house that serves as the area for cooking, it is often filled with clay with a pot suspended above from the ceiling. Although not as popular in the modern world, some houses in Japan still feature this as a central part of the home or is used in other ways.

The Bonsai House

This home dedicated to the Japanese art of Bonsai is a relatively small area within the grand complex, but contains some impressive Bonsai specimens that are older than most humans alive today. Anyone who has tried to grow and care for a Bonsai tree will know it can be a painstaking slow process that requires a lot of careful care and consideration; with that in mind, it’s impressive to see the size of some of these miniature trees and the shaping and styling that some possess. 

Not every tree in the collection comes from Japan — some are from China and Chile for example — but each highlights the creativity and aesthetics of this Japanese tradition. The Oldest tree in the collection is around 180 years old. 

The Chokushi-mon

The Japanese gateway found within the Japanese Landscape is an area I want to briefly cover again, being a stand out piece of Japanese architecture and the pinnacle of the Japan experience at Kew — it only seems right. 

This Japanese gateway or Chokushi-mon in Japanese is a replica of the famous Karamon in the NIshi-hongan-ji temple in Kyoto. It is the only one of its kind outside of Japan and never fails to impress. This structure built by Japanese carpenters from Hinoki wood curtains several ornate carvings and motifs; some even represent a traditional tale told in Japan. It has existed in the UK since 1910 but was restored alongside the creation of the ‘Japanese Landscape’ in 1996.

The nature of these types of gates and structures are thought very highly of the Japanese community; In Japan they often house Shinto shrines which means they house the very gods or Kami you are worshiping. Coins are often tossed into an offering box in Japan, however there is no such box at the gate in Kew, despite this, money coins can be seen scattered around the entrance of the Chokushi-mon suggesting that it bears as much significance to some as the real thing. 


For those that have never seen the Japan experience at Kew Gardens and have a keen enthusiasm for the country, you should definitely pay a visit. The Japanese gateway as well as the Minka house are rarities — if at all — outside Japan. This is alongside the many species of Japanese plants and trees like the Bonsai and even Cherry Blossom if you visit during the right time of the year. 

Once again if you’re interested in a fuller guide please read A distinctly Japanese experience at Kew gardens. – Japan at Hand as it gives my initial impressions as a first-timer as well as a great number of pictures to browse over.