Sankei-en Garden; A Collection Of Historical Fragments

Along with its beautiful castles, temples, shrines, and natural sceneries, Japan is known as a national expert on landscaped gardens. No two gardens are alike, and the flora placed in each garden vary. Depending on where you are in Japan, you can visit many of these gardens. 

More About the Sankeien Garden in Yokohama, Japan

You may think that it would take a very seasoned landscape artist to create a masterpiece such as Sankei-en Garden, but the truth is that this Japanese-style garden, which was created with a traditional flair was created by a silk trader. He went by “Sankei Hara”, which was his pseudonym. His real name was “原富太郎”, or Tomitaro Hara, born in 1868, died in 1939.

Located in the Naka Ward, southern Yokohama, Japan, there are several structures propped around this open-air museum of a garden, which was all purchased by Hara. Among those buildings were many that were shipped in from different parts of Japan, such as around Gifu Prefecture, Wakayama Prefecture, Kamakura, Tokyo, and Kyoto. In 1906, the park was publicly accessible.

Most of these structures also possess cultural and historical significance, which earned them titles of being “juyo bunkazai” (重要文化財) or Important Cultural Property – 10 of them, to be specific. The number of structures became part of Yokohama’s “yukei bunkazai” (有形文化財) or Tangible Cultural Properties of Japan is 3.

The History of Sankeien Garden

The garden’s history has much to do with its owner and creator, Tomitaro Hara. Although he was a silk trader, he was no ordinary person. Hailing from Gifu, Hara took on his passion for fine arts by studying poetry in Tokyo’s Waseda University in 1885. He later worked at Atomi Girls School, where he would meet his future wife – one of his students.

A Passion Project

Through his incredibly successful ventures that he attained by helping in his wife’s family business, he was able to save enough money to indulge in his artistic passions, which had to do with collecting important buildings. Hara was so wealthy that he could afford these entire buildings – as well as have them relocated to the garden (which was the private residence of Hara) from wherever in Japan they were initially built.

Hara wanted to leave a legacy, and preserve each building with as much historical accuracy as possible as points of reference for the future. Because he didn’t want to keep this collection to himself, he turned his private residence into a garden. It was thus named after his pseudonym, “Sankei”, combined with “en”, which means garden.

In 1902, construction on the Sankei-en garden began. Although it opened in 1906, the garden was continuously being worked on for the next two years. Many period artists that were alive during the Meiji period came here to enjoy the scenery, or to meet up.

Damage Incurred during the Second World War

World War II spared little with what it destroyed, and Sankei-en garden was one of them. Though it may not seem like it when you walk through the garden, many of the buildings were pulverized by the destruction that ripped through the area.

It was only in 1953 that the remains of Sankei-en were formally handed over to the City of Yokohama. A foundation was created to fund the restoration process of the garden, thus “Sankeien Hoshokai” (三溪園保勝会) – also known as Sankeien Hoshokai Foundation - was established. The foundation successfully restored it to its maximum potential by 1958, reinstating its serene atmosphere and delicate beauty which existed pre-war.

Fast Facts About Sankei-en Garden

The garden takes up 175,000 square meters of area. Within that is a collection of different plants, trees, walkways, and small bodies of water, and the famous buildings. The following are the notable structures found in the area.

Within the Outer Garden

There’s the Kakushokaku, Sankei Memorial, The garden’s symbol – the Three-Storied Pagoda (Tomyo-ji), a tea room (Rindo-an), a tea hut (Yokobue-an), the Butsuden of Tokei-ji, the Main Hall of Tomyo-ji, and the former Yanohara House.

The Tomyo-ji Pagoda is famous for being the oldest pagoda in the region of Kanto.  

Within the Inner Garden

There’s the Rinshunkaku, the old Juto Oido of Tenzuji, the Hakuun-teithe Shunsoro, the Gomon Gate, the Kinmokutsu, the Gekkaden, the Tenju-in, the Choshukaku, and the Renge-in. The only ones accessible to the public are Hakuun-tei, and Rinshunkaku.

Azalea flowers and wisteria are found around the garden. Tree types that are found in this garden include maple trees, as well as both ume and cherry blossoms, which make for gorgeous colors during both spring and autumn. This begs the question, “when is the best time to visit the garden?” Well, there are two answers.

Autumn, A Magical Time of the Year to Visit Sankeien Garden

During mid-November, the leaves turn bright colors of red, orange, yellow, and brown. This is brought in by the Koyo front, which begins in the north, and heads south. This collection of warm, earthy colors makes for wonderful viewing sessions, where people come to parks or go on hikes just to enjoy looking at the colors of the leaves.

This phenomenon continues, fading around mid-December. For some, this is the best season to visit Sankei-en garden, because the beauty of the garden is amplified by the dramatic hues on the sea of leaves on the floor.

Spring, When Sankeien Garden Fully Blooms

Others prefer coming during spring, as this is the season the cherry blossoms bloom and fall, along with the ume blossoms. During this season, the plants and flowers are at their most robust phase, which also makes for a colorful scene when you look at the flower bushes, and the pink and white pastel colors that adorn the trees.

Although both Spring and Autumn both have their own charms, it’s still worth visiting this garden no matter what time of the year it is.

Go Firefly Viewing in The Evening at Sankeien Garden

There’s a nature-related event for spring and autumn, but what about summer? During June, a special event is held in Sankei-en garden that allows people to witness thousands of gorgeous fireflies buzzing about at night. This firefly viewing session is highly anticipated by many throughout the year and occurs around the 22nd of May to the 2nd of June. To make sure of this, check out the garden’s website. Viewing starts at 6:30 PM, and ends at 8:45 PM – but you can hang around the park until 9 PM.

More about Fireflies in Japan

In this culture, the lights that shine off of fireflies is called “battle of the Fireflies”, which is “hotaru gassen” in Japanese. There are two kinds of fireflies that are prevalent in Japan, the Heike-botaru and the Genji-botaru. They were named as such to symbolize ancient warring clans. They are fireflies of the Luciola genus but are sometimes referred to as Japanese fireflies. The Genji-botaru is known as Luciola cruciata.

If you ever have the pleasure and privilege of viewing fireflies in the Sankei-en garden, be aware of the rules, and follow them. If you want to take pictures, don’t use your flash, for example. Also, try not to bother the fireflies too much by making loud sounds. Lastly, check the weather to make sure that it isn’t raining (fireflies hide during rainy weather), so you can get the most out of your travel there.

Take A Moment To Look At the Lotus Flowers

Lotus flowers bloom around early August and last into the middle of the month. Although it’s less popular than the Koyo front and the cherry blossom viewing, lotus flowers also have their own following. If you happen to be around Yokohama during the summer, take some time to visit this garden, and you may be lucky to watch captivating lotus flowers perform a special dance – courtesy of the gentle breeze.

Accessing Senkei-en Garden

The address of Sankei-en Garden is 58-1 Honmoku Sannotani, Naka-ku, Yokohama-shi, Kanagawa. To enter, a fee of 500 yen is what it takes for an adult to enter, while children (6 to 11 years old) pay 200 yen. Seniors who are 65 years old and above pay 300 yen. Its telephone number is 045-621-0634.

How to Get There

If you are already in Yokohama, head to Negishi using the Negishi Line. From there, you’ll be dropped off at a station where you can ride a bus that takes a 10-minute duration get to Honmoku. These buses are labeled either 101, 99, or 58. It takes 220 yen to travel by bus, one way. Once you get off the bus, cross the street where you will see a convenience store, where you will make a right. Keep walking until you see the garden, which is about half a kilometer away.

The nearest train station from the garden is Kannai station, which serves the JR line.

Opening Hours of the Sankeien Garden

The garden opens at 9 AM and closes at 5 PM. You can enter only until 4:30 PM. It is open during most days of the year but is closed during the 29th until the 31st of December. For more details, you can visit their website – simply type in “Sankeien”, and click the link that ends in .jp.

It may take several hours for you to fully experience the park without rushing, as there are many elements to it, and it is quite spacious to explore. There are open-air restaurants within the premises, which offer delicious lunch options, such as soba and udon.

One of the Top Things to Do

In all of Yokohama, Sankei-en (also simply written as Sankeien) gardens is number 2 on the list of recommended activities/places to visit in Yokohama. It has 872 reviews and is rated 4.5 out of 5 stars.

It’s part of several tours that can take you around Yokohama, some of them clear-cut, costing around 12,500 yen, while others can be customized and can last the entire day, costing 87,000 yen. Those who visited the garden loved that it had a coin locker where they could set their things down, so they could walk through the park leisurely.

Others find the garden so quiet and peaceful that they drift into a state of tranquility, while tourists find it a little hard to get around because of the lack of English signs around the premises. Overall, it’s a fantastic experience all-around, with some claiming for it to be the best parts of their trip. Perhaps you want to book a hotel in Yokohama just to see this lovely garden.