He that would have the fruit, must climb the tree.

(Italian Proverb)

While renowned parks in Japan are generally admired for its traditional landscape, curated shapely bushes, pine and oak trees, and strategically positioned ponds, bridges and stone lanterns, Western-style gardens can also be found among villas dating from Meiji (1868-1912) and Taisho (1912-1926) periods.

One of them is the enchanting Yamate Italian Garden in Yokohama.

The largest port city in the Kanto region, Yokohama is merely less than an hour by rapid train from Tokyo. The port opened in 1859 after the signed agreement was sealed between U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry and the Japanese government to unlock Japan’s maritime borders to international trade. This historical phenomenon allured foreign diplomats to establish postings in Yokohama.

From 1880 to 1886, the Italian Consulate was situated at the current land of the Yamate Italian Garden. Today, reachable by a 12-minute bus ride from Sakuragicho station, the estate, spanning over 13,000 square meters, is surrounded by a posh neighborhood of Western-styled homes, perched on a hill beautifully lined with trees.

The entrance facade is guarded by tall, cypress trees and sheared bushes above the white-stucco walls. Entering the pretty front yard embellished with colorful flower shrubs and seating areas, one approaches the Diplomat’s House. The home was moved here from the original location in Shibuya, Tokyo. It was formerly occupied by Sadatsuchi Uchida, official of the Meiji government and Consul General of New York. The two-story mansion, built in 1910, was designed by James McDonald Gardiner who worked in Japan as an architect. Gardiner arrived in Japan in 1880 and designed schools, churches and private residences in the country.

The Diplomat’s House is patterned after American Victorian architecture with a tower, jutted attic, and horizontal wooden slats for the exterior walls. Interior rooms are furnished with Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts movement influences. Flower-printed chintz sofa sets, lace tablecloths, bay windows, stained glass decoration and period furniture reveal the ornamental trend of the times. The residence was designated as a National Important Cultural Property in 1997.

Upon stepping out to the rear garden, one will surely be entranced by the stunning manicured geometric parterre of a formal landscape. Stylized with lowly trimmed hedges between convoluting pathways, the layout is reminiscent of chateau gardens in Europe. Bright, floral varieties abound in pink, orange, purple, red, and yellow, painting a most breathtaking scenery. The overall gardenscape was intended to mirror Italian luxurious lawns, with a pond, fountain and shaped flowerbeds.

Another Western-style house on the property shines in green and white, called Bluff No. 18. It belonged to Australian public servant and diplomat Vivian Gordon Bowden between 1921 to 1924. Bowden worked in Japan in his family’s silk business. The ownership was later transferred to the Catholic Diocese of Yokohama until 1991 when it was donated to Yokohama City, and consequently moved to Yamate Italian Garden. The structure consists of a typical French-tiled roof with a chimney. Inside the house are fireplaces and aesthetically decorated seating nooks by single hung windows.

While strolling around the land and up and down staircases, one passes a curious patch of miniature Western houses. The structures were originally displayed at the 33rd National Urban Greening Yokohama Fair in 2017. Towards the edge of the property wall is an elevated terrace staging a picturesque panorama of Yokohama Bay Bridge and Minato Mirai.

One can enjoy a relaxing cup of coffee and sweets at the terrace café adjacent to the Diplomat’s House and fronting the spectacular garden while absorbing the impressive Yokohama skyline and feel of Mediterranean ambiance in Japan. While in Yokohama, explore other Western-inspired architecture, many dating from the 1920s and 1930s: Berrick Hall, Ehrismann Residence, British House Yokohama, and more that certainly attest the rich history of the city.