Verily, even plants and trees, rocks and stones, all shall enter into Nirvana.
There is no anomaly in the splendor of Japanese gardens. Something clings to the soul in the harmonious rhythm of pruned bushes, blossom colors, undulating pebbled pathways, proud stone lanterns, and isolated rocks that all orchestrate as lyrics of poetry.
Japanese gardens are usually constructed as wholistic spaces that follow the shakkei concept of a borrowed scenery so that nature is captured as being “alive.” Utmost effort is made to link exterior with interior space to establish a foreground in the garden, and with the aid of elevated tiers, a view presents itself as the core of the overall ambiance.
In Yokohama, by a 15-30 minute bus ride either from Yokohama, Sakuragicho or Motomachi-Chukagai stations, one of the most spacious and exquisite landscape sceneries can be found in Sankeien Garden. Spanning about 175,000 square meters across an enormous pond and three valleys, Sankeien was established as a public garden in 1906 by Sankei Hara, an illustrious entrepreneur and tradesman from the Meiji Restoration period. During this era, silk production was Japan’s leading industry. Hara engaged in the producing and trading of silk in Yokohama. As a strong advocate of the arts, he was also an avid art collector and pursued cultural endeavors in tea ceremony, calligraphy and painting. His aesthetic instincts explain the enthralling landscape of the property, which includes an Outer Garden, Inner Garden, and seventeen historical structures.
From the entrance gate, the huge pond is, at once, captivating. Between spring and summer (when these photos were taken), it is bordered by lovely pink azaleas and purple irises. Full blossoms alternate by the seasons—cherry blossoms, yellow roses, and wisteria in spring; water lilies, hydrangeas, and lotus flowers in summer; red spider fly flowers and maple leaves in autumn; and daffodils, camellias, and plums in winter.
A long walk along the pond leads to the historical residences scattered in different areas. Kakushokaku, designated as Tangible Cultural Property of Yokohama, is the largest structure in Sankeien and belonged to Hara’s residence since 1902. It houses Hara’s precious antique art collection, which was viewed by many prominent painters in the early days.
Another pond surrounds Rinshunkaku, three buildings relocated from Wakayama Prefecture as parts of the residence villa of the Kii branch of the Tokugawa clan. Representing the typical sukiya-zukuri Japanese architecture style, the gable roofs, fusuma sliding doors, and wooden balconies shine elegantly against the green-filled mountains as they had a century ago.
Walking up the rocky steps from Rinshunkaku, you can savor a glorious view of the three-story pagoda and Choshukaku, an architecturally unique building constructed in Nijojo Castle in Kyoto in 1623 by Tokugawa Iemitsu. It consists of three different roof styles and a main entryway, built one level lower believed to have served as a landing back then to alight from the boat ride.
There are a couple of kiosks and resting places behind the main pond where you can pause with green tea and Japanese delicacies for a deep breath and contemplation.
Coming to Sankeien Garden emits a sentiment of reconnection with Japan’s cultural past that has been so well-preserved and continually admired, which accounts for one of the most alluring elements of Japanese landscape, architecture and way of life.