© 2018, The Author(s).This study was carried out to test prospect–refuge theory and the effect of external high-rise buildings on landscape preferences in a traditional Japanese daimyo (feudal lords) garden, namely, the Hama-rikyu Gardens located in Tokyo, Japan. Eight sites in the garden were selected to be tested with respect to their degree of openness, their degree of safety, and the ratio of background buildings present. An in situ survey was conducted with 129 people (15–18 per site) who agreed to take part in the survey. Subjects were asked to assess the view at each site in the direction indicated by a sign and to provide responses about (a) their general preference for the view, (b) their perception of the openness of the view, (c) their perception of the safety of the site, (d) their perception of the pleasantness of/disturbance from the background buildings. The results indicated that predefined open-protected sites were more preferred than the others; prospect (perceived openness) was an important indicator of the preferences, whereas the refuge-related symbols (perceived safety) of the garden were not perceived differently between the sites; the ratio of background buildings did not have a significant effect on either landscape preferences or perceived prospect–refuge attributes, whereas the perceived pleasantness of/disturbance from background buildings significantly affected the overall landscape preferences. The results indicated that the design techniques of Japanese daimyo gardens, including the usage of the Shakkei (borrowed scenery) technique, might reveal the principles of prospect–refuge theory. Furthermore, the effect of the surrounding buildings is considered to be a subjective aspect that depends on observers’ experiences and attitudes, rather than an objective one.