Do you want to visit one of the best Japanese gardens in the world but are not able to travel to Japan?
Welcome to a corner of Japan in Belgium. The Japanese Garden of Hasselt, or Japanse Tuin Hasselt, offers a slice of Japanese culture within an easy day trip from Brussels.
Make the most of your day there. Get the lowdown on how to visit the Japanese Garden of Hasselt and what to expect.
Visiting a garden or two is one of the many things that I love about Japan. From Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa to the serene Zen garden at Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto to the wonderful Senga-en in Kagoshima, I’ve been lucky to see some of the best.
Let’s start by taking a look at why a Japanese garden is so special.
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What is a Japanese Garden?
A Japanese garden attempts to recreate the natural landscape in miniature. There are three core elements: stone, water and plants.
Weathered rocks are carefully placed in groupings to represent heaven, earth and man, with the larger ones symbolising hills and mountains.
Ponds are a central feature of most Japanese gardens and symbolise life, constant change and transformation. In dry gardens, ponds and waterfalls are symbolised by raked gravel, sand and upright stones.
Plants of all kinds are used in Japanese gardens, but moss is the most important. Moss suggests the passing of time and brings harmony to the garden’s elements.
What Makes a Japanese Garden Special?
The appeal of a Japanese garden lies in its simplicity. By avoiding the extravagance of many Western gardens it is an oasis of serenity and tranquillity, providing a space for reflection and meditation in our often busy lives.
What is the Japanese Garden of Hasselt?
Hasselt’s Japanese Garden is the largest of its kind in Europe. Designed as a traditional 17th Century garden, it spans 2.5 hectares (6 acres).
Japanse Tuin Hasselt is a symbol of friendship between Hasselt and the city of Itami, which is close to the city of Osaka in Japan.
Designed by Japanese architect Takayuki Inoue, the garden opened in 1992 to introduce Japanese culture to the Belgian city. In return, Hasselt gifted the people of Itami a tower carillon, which resounds across the city during an annual concert.
Visiting Japanse Tuin Hasselt
A numbered route takes you on a self-guided tour of the garden.
Whilst you can complete a circuit in as little as 30 – 40 minutes, it’s very easy to spend much longer here. I spent 90 minutes here and could have lingered longer.
TOP TIP! Make sure that you pick up the excellent free walking guide at the entrance. It includes a map and descriptions of each part of the garden.
From the entrance, a path leads you to a zig-zag wooden bridge (Yatsuhashi) and the Dragon Gate Waterfall. Taking its inspiration from the 14th Century garden of the Tenryu-ji temple in Kyoto, this symbolises the division between life and death.
Water plays a big role in this garden. It tumbles down in torrents at the waterfall, ending quietly in a still pond to the west, symbolising the different currents of our own lives.
Passing a group of manicured pine trees, you are now treated to a wonderful view of the Ceremonial House reflected in the pond. Like the adjacent tea house, it takes its inspiration from traditional 17th Century houses.
Walking down the stairs to the pebble beach, koi carp swim to the shore to greet you.
The koi is the national fish of Japan and is the symbol of happiness and prosperity. This Japanese garden is home to around 190 different koi.
Did you know that the word koi in Japanese doesn’t only mean carp but also love?
Adjacent to the pebble beach are the superstars of the Japanse Tuin Hasselt: the cherry trees.
Regarded as a symbol of beauty, vitality and renewal, cherry blossom (sakura) is a national obsession in Japan. There are 225 Japanese sakura trees in the Japanese Garden.
Your visit to the garden will be frequently punctuated by the ringing of its peace bell. This was inaugurated in 2016 to celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations between Belgium and France.
On the opposite side of the path is a small shintō shrine.
In Japan, you’ll find these in gardens and temples, as well as along roads and mountain paths. Japanese people take a moment to stop, clap their hands twice, bow, give thanks to the gods or make a wish, and donate a little money.
From here, complete your visit by crossing the graceful footbridge to take a closer look at the Ceremonial House and tea house.
If you are looking for another gorgeous garden in Belgium, visit Leuven Botanical Garden, which is one of the oldest of its kind in Europe.
Plan Your Visit to the Japanese Garden of Hasselt
What is the best time of year to visit Japanse Tuin Hasselt?
Hasselt’s Japanese Garden is wonderful any time of year but if you visit between April and May you should see those magnificent cherry trees in full bloom. The reward for a visit in October is the fall foliage.
Getting to the Japanese Garden of Hasselt from Brussels
The garden is located at Gouverneur Verwilghensingel 15, 3500 Hasselt. It’s an easy 20-minute walk from Hasselt town centre but it is also served by the following buses: 11, 20a, 36 and 45
If you are driving, you can park for free in the garden’s car park on Gouverneur Verwilghensingel.
Japanse Tuin Hasselt is open from March to October on Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm (last admission at 4.30 pm). It is closed on Mondays
The adult ticket price in 2022 is €6. Concessions are available.
More information on opening hours and ticket prices is here.
Interestingly, admission is free for visitors in cosplay (Japanese pop culture) and traditional Japanese attire.
Why not combine your visit to this garden with the Jenevermuseum Hasselt? Jenever is a type of Belgian gin and the Hasselt Jenever Museum is educational and fun in equal measure.
Do you need to buy a ticket for Japanse Tuin Hasselt in advance?
Booking in advance is not necessary. You can buy your ticket at the Japanese Garden box office.
Eating and drinking
If you visit the Japanese Garden during the week, there are only a few vending machines selling hot and cold drinks and snacks. At the weekend and during events, there are further drinking and eating options.
In true Japanese style, picnics under the cherry trees or at one of the tables are welcomed.
Other events at the Japanese Garden of Hasselt
90-minute guided tours in Dutch are offered every Sunday and public holiday at 3 pm. Purchase tickets at the entrance.
The garden also offers tea demonstrations, tai chi for kids, origami, bento or sushi workshops and ikebana and calligraphy courses. Check the website for further information.