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Yokohama 横浜

Sankei-en Gardens 三溪園

Sankei-en Gardens, Yokohama (photo by Σ64 - Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license)

Hidden to the far south of the Yamate Hill, the Sankeien is the foremost traditional Japanese sight in a city with a history dominated by foreigners. Though out-of-the-beaten-tracks and only reachable by bus or on foot, the Sankei Gardens is a rewarding place, featuring 17 historically significant buildings set amidst an inner and outer garden and two lakes. It is the ideal combination of a traditional garden with a historical open air museum.

Laid in 1906, the Sankeien was the creation of Tomitaro Hara (1868-1939), a rich silk trader known by the pseudonym "Sankei Hara", hence the gardens' name. The structures on the grounds were purchased by Hara himself in such places as Tōkyō, Kyōto and Kamakura, and transported to Yokohama. Ten have been declared Important Cultural Property, and three more are Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan. Sankeien was opened to the public in 1958.

Follow the signed route from the Main Entrance. On your right, you will first pass the magnificent Kakushōkaku (鶴翔閣), the former residence of the Hara family. The Go-mon Gate (1708, imported from the Saihō-ji Temple in Kyōto) announces the entrance to the Inner Garden.

Inner Garden 内園

Sankei-en Gardens, Yokohama

The most striking structure as you enter is the Rinshunkaku (臨春閣), an elegant Edo-period villa that once stood along the Kinokawa River in Iwade, Wakayama prefecture. It was constructed in 1649 as a summer residence for Tokugawa Yorinobu, the first head of the Kii (a.k.a. Kishū) House, one of the three branches of the Tokugawa family. It is often compared to the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyōto. The Rinshunkaku took three years to rebuild to its present location, between 1915 and 1917. It is open to the public in summer.

Facing the villa, on the other side of the pond, is the Old Tenzuiji Jutō Oidō (旧天瑞寺寿塔覆堂), built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1591 to celebrate the long life of his mother. It originally stood in Kyoto's Daitokuji Temple.

In the the Inner Garden's western corner are the Gekkaden (月華殿) and Tenju-in (天授院). The former was built in 1603 by Tokugawa Ieyasu within the Fushimi-jō Castle in Kyōto. Built in the same year, the Tenju-in is a Jizō Hall, sheltering the statuettes of the Ksitigarbha bodhisattva revered in Japan as the guardian of the souls of stillborn, miscarried or aborted foetuses.

Next comes the Chōshūkaku (聴秋閣), a tea house (1623) formerly part of Kyōto's Nijō-jō Castle. To its side is another tea room, the nine-windowed Shunsōro (春草廬), presumably commissioned by Oda Nagamasu, Oda Nobunaga's younger brother, who was a well-known practitioner of the tea ceremony.

Outer Garden 外園

Penetrating in the Outer Garden, the first sight that catches the eye is the Three-storied Pagoda of the Tōmyō-ji Temple (燈明寺). Along with the Tōmyōji's main hall, it was erected in 1457 and is the oldest structure in Sankeien, as well as the most ancient pagoda in the whole Kantō region.

The other building not to miss is the Old Yanohara House (旧矢箆原家住宅), a typical example of gasshōzukuri farmhouse from the Hida region in Gifu prefecture (where Sankei Hara grew up). This steep thatched-roofed wooden house was built entirely without nails (they used rope instead). It was moved from the village of Shirakawa-go, now on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The other buildings in the Outer Garden are of more moderate interest as they are mostly 20th-century constructions, with the exception of the small butsuden (Buddhist altar) from Kamakura's former Tōkei-ji Temple.

Access

The Sankei-en Gardens are best accessed by bus from Yokohama Station or the JR Negishi Station. From Yokohama take bus No 8 or 148 and get off at Honmoku Sankeien-mae, then walk west to the South Entrance (300m). From Negishi, get on bus No 58, 99 or 101 and get off at Honmoku, then walk south to the Main Entrance (500m).

The Gardens are open all year round from 9am to 5pm (last entry 4:30pm). Admission is ¥500.

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