Classic Japan at its finest – and you don’t even have to travel to Kyōto for it
If you know this website, you won’t be too surprised to find places here that you would not have expected – at least not at their location. Reports about sights everybody writes about, are not this website’s prime interest. And you may also have realised that the author does not have a particular soft spot for Kyōto.
Hence, the Sankei-en (三渓園 / さんけいえん), the garden of Mr. Sankei Hara (原三渓 / はらさんけい) (1868 – 1939), is the perfect match for “Ways to Japan”.
Sankei Hara was born as Tomitarō Aoki (青木富太郎 / あおきとみたろう) in Gifu (岐阜 / ぎふ) on August 23rd, 1868. He studied business and politics (other sources speak of “politics and law”) at the Tōkyō College (now: Waseda University), and was adopted into the family of the sucessful silk-businessman Zenzaburo Hara (原善三郎 / はらぜんざぶろう). He also married Zenzaburo Hara’s grand daughter.
And to top things: He was made the heir for the Hara estate, took over business from his adoptive father when he died (1899) and achieved considerable wealth through a great deal of business sense (among other location, also within the environment of the “Tomioka Silk Spinners” in Gunma Prefecture, which has been made a World Cultural Heritage in 2014).
In 1915 he became president of “Teikoku Silk” (帝国蚕糸 / ていこくさんし) – and five years later president of the Yokohama Kōshin Bank (横浜興信銀行 / よこはまこうしんぎんこう) (now: Bank of Yokohama (横浜銀行 / よこはまぎんこう).
During this time of success he also presented himself as a patron of the arts (there is quite a number of museums in Japan that still “live on” his collections). However, and that should be of even greater interest for us today, he also transformed his estate in Honmoku (本牧 / ほんもく) in the south of Yokohama (横浜 / よこはま) into a gem that one would not expect at that location: the Sankei-en (三渓園 / さんけいえん) – and expanse of 175,000 sqm and one of the most beautiful landscape parks of Japan.
More than a hundred years ago (1906), Hara opened the outer part of the garden to the public (at that time it was free of charge for the citizens of Yokohama) – he even provided visitors with wood, stoves and water for their picnics. Today it is one of the gems of Japanese horticulture. And not only that: it is a veritable open-air museum for all those who are interested in traditional Japanese architecture, but don’t want to go through the trouble of a trip Kyōto.
Not only nine “important cultural properties of Japan” are located on the park’s grounds, but also three “trangible cultural assets of the city of Yokohama”. In this garden you can admire buildings that were brought here from all over Japan (in particular from Kyōto, Kamakura and Shirakawagō) and date back as far as the 15th century. In total, there are 17 historical structures (temples, buildings related to historical figures). One of the main attractions of the Sankei-en is the oldest three-story pagoda in the Kantō region.
Let’s have a closer look at some of the buildings.
This part of the garden was the Hara family’s private “resort” and has its focus on historical buildings that date back to the 16th century.
Jutō Ōidō of the former Tenzui-ji (旧天瑞寺寿塔覆堂 / きゅうてんずいじじゅとうおおいどう) (important cultural property)
A “Jutō” (tower of longevity) is a kind of memorial and burial place to celebrate its longevity of persons already during their lifetime. Hideyoshi Toyotomi (豊臣秀吉 / とよとみひでよし / one of the “unifiers of Japan”) had the Tenzui -ji built in the courtyard of Daitoku-ji in Kyōto in his days, to pray for his mother, who had seriously fallen ill. In gratitude for her recovery, he had the Jutō built in 1592. The building, which was brought here in 1905, is “only” the protective shell of the actual Jutō.
Rinshunkaku (臨春閣 / りんしゅんかく) (important cultural property)
This villa was built in 1649 and has been moved to its current location in 1917. Originally, it was the residence of the “son of the first Tokugawa Shōgun, Ieyasu”, the head of the Kishu Tokugawa clan in Wakayama Prefecture (和歌山県 / わかやまけん). The interiors (which unfortunately can only be viewed from the outside) are characterized by exquisit wall paintings.
Chōshūkaku (聴秋閣 / ちょうしゅうかく) (important cultural property)
It is believed that this building was erected under the third Tokugawa Shōgun, Iemitsu Tokugawa (徳川家光 / とくがわいえみつ), in 1623 on the grounds of Nijo Castle (二条城 / にじょうじょう) in Kyōto (京都 / きょうと). Only a few houses of this architectural style, which is characterized by the fact that it avoids symmetries, are preserved. This one was moved to its present location in 1922.
Gekkaden (月華殿 / げっかでん) (important cultural propery)
Originally built in 1603, die building as a waiting room for visiting daimyo (local feudal lords) on the grounds of the Fushimijō Castle in Kyoto, but brought here in 1918.
Kinmōkutsu (金毛窟 / きんもうくつ)
This tea arbor was built by Sankei Hara in 1918 and houses a particularly tiny space for tea ceremonies (1 1/3 tatami = 2 square metres). The name of the building refers to a component of the Kinmōkaku of Daitoku-ji in Kyōto, which was used for the construction.
Tenju-in (天授院 / てんじゅいん) (important cultural property)
Originally, the Tenju-in was the hall for the adoration of a Jizō Bosatsu, which was built in 1651 at the Shinpei-ji in Kamakura. The hall was added to the garden in 1916 and is a fine example of a Zen Buddhist building.
This part of the Sankei-en was opened to the public in 1906 and since 1914 has been dominated by a three-storey pagoda which is some 550 years old. Here seasonal flowers can be admired from spring to summer.
Former Residence of the Hara family, Kakushōkaku (鶴翔閣 / かくしょうかく) (important cultural property)
This building was built in 1902 as a home of the Hara family. With a total floor space of 950 square metres, it not only provided the family with plenty of space, but also for the many diverse guests from culture and politics. After being rebuilt during World War II, the building was restored to its original condition in 2000. Unfortunately, it can not be visited.
Three-Story Pagoda of the former Tōmyō-ji (旧燈明寺三重塔 / きゅうとうみょうじっさんじゅうのとう) (important cultural property)
The pagoda, built in 1457, once belonged to the Tōmyō-ji (燈明寺 / とうみょうじ) in Kyōto, which dates back to a foundation in 753. In 1914 it was added to the Sankei-en and is therefore considered the oldest surviving pagoda in the Kantō region.
Main Hall of the former Tōmyō-ji (旧燈明寺本堂 / きゅうとうみょうじほんどう) (important cultural property)
Like the three-story pagoda, the main hall of the Tōmyō-ji (燈明寺 / とうみょうじ) was built in 1457 in Kyōto. After being damaged there in 1947 by a typhoon, it was disassembled and put into storage. Only in 1986/87 the pagoda was rebuilt here at the Sankei-en.
Buddha Hall of the former Tōkei-ji (旧東慶寺仏殿 / きゅうとうけいじぶつでん) (important cultural propert)
In 1907, the Buddha Hall of the Zen temple, Tōkei-ji (東慶寺 / とうけいじ), founded in 1285 in Kamakura, was brought here. Form and style suggest that the building dates back to the Muromachi period (14th to 16th centuries). The information leaflet of the Sankei-en speaks of a year of construction of 1634.
Former Residence of the Yonahara family, Gasshō Zukuri (合掌造・旧矢箆原家住宅 / がっしょうづくり・きゅうやのはらけじゅうたく) (important cultural property)
From the remote Shirakawa-gō (白川郷 / しらかわごう) in the Gifu prefecture (岐阜県 / ぎふけん) came this residential and farm-house that was built around 1750 in the “gasshō zukuri” style (more details on this type of Japanese farmhouse, please read in my article about Shirakawa-gō). There it had been the residence of the village chief. It is the only historic building in the Sankei-en that can also be entered by visitors. Immerse yourself in the world of these very typical farmhouses. And this is one of the special kind, as its relatively high-quality equipment indicates that the Yonahara family was one of the three most influential in the then Hida province (now Gifu prefecture).
Actually, this building was moved to the garden in 1960, because otherwise it would have been submerged by the construction of a new dam.
On the south side of the garden, there is a so-called “Observatory”, which provides a view of the Tōkyō Bay. This view has changed tremendously since the days of Hara. And not necessarily to its advantage (at least, if you look at it from the point of view of those who want to get into the beauty of Japan). The Yokohama harbour has “grown” around the garden – you have to be capable of a very selective view in order to recognize the former charm.
How to get there:
The Sankei-en may also be less known than you would expect, because it is comparatively difficult to reach. There are direct bus connections from Yokohama station. The easiest way to get there is, however, from the Negishi station (根岸 / ねぎし) of the Keihin Tōhoku line (京浜東北線 / けいひんとうほくせん) (which – as the name suggests – connects Tōkyō with Yokohama). Go to platform 1 of the bus terminal in front of the station and take one of the busses of the lines 58, 99 or 101. The trip from from Negishi to Honmoku (本牧 / ほんもく) takes little more than 10 minutes (at the bus stop in Honmoku you will find a map detailling the area). In Honmoku you cross the Honmoku Dōri (本牧通り / ほんもくどおり) and walk about 10 minutes in a southwesterly direction (on the way there is only one recognizable sign) to the main gate of the Sankei-en.
At the entrance of the Sankei-en you will also find schedules of the local busses – you can plan your way home very comfortably while being in the garden.
Daily from 9 am to 5 pm (last entry: 4:30 pm)
Closed during the New Year holidays (29th, 30th and 31st of December)
Adults (15 years and older): 700 Yen (600 Yen for groups of 10 or more persons)
Children (14 years and younger): 200 Yen (100 Yen for groups of 10 or more persons)
There are discounts for senior citizens of Yokohama, persons with physical disabilities (incl. accompanying person). Also books of 5 tickets can be bought for a discounted price.
Annual tickets are available for 2,500 Yen (adults) or 700 Yen respectively (for children and senior citizens of Yokohama).
Parking is available at the main gate of the park (charge).
Rules for the visit of the garden:
- Pets are not allowed.
- Smoking is permitted only in designated areas.
- Do not pick plants or flowers or remove any wildlife from the garden.
- No eating or drinking in the inner garden.
- Private use of the buildings and gardens, as well as photography for commercial purposes requires prior approval.