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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

Sankeien gardens and historic buildings in Yokohama Japan

Another of my recommended must-see destinations when visiting Japan is the beautiful Sankeien Gardens (translation: three creek gardens). Situated on 175,000 square meters of land, this traditional Japanese-style garden is open to the public to enjoy. It is especially popular in autumn when the leaves change color. Its cherry and ume blossoms are vibrant and a popular backdrop for Japanese wedding photos. I was fortunate to see a bride and groom in traditional wedding garments. They gladly posed for photos when people asked. It was nice to share their joy. This young couple both looked so happy and beautiful.

a groom and his bride wear traditional kimonos for their wedding. They have big smiles on their faces and hold up two fingers on their right hand for good luck. He is wearing black and grey outfit, hers is god and red. Both have traditional Japanese thongs on with white socks. The bridge has garlands of flowers hanging down on either side of her head. In the background is a lake in a Japanese garden

Visitors can wander amongst the ponds, streams and paths first created in 1908. It originally took six years to be designed and built by silk trader Tomitaro Hara, and was donated by the Hara family to the City of Yokohama in 1953.

No matter what time of year you visit, there are always blossoms on display.

bright pink flowers are clustered close together, their centres are a lighter pink with an almost white centre. The thick large leaves in the background are bigger than the flowers.
a purple flower has six large petals that are attached to the stem with bright yellow stalks.  Three smaller and thinner petals come from the centre of this and there is a lighter purple line down the middle of those petals. A few ants are crawling on the petals. The numerous veins on the larger purple petals are a dark purple and stand out in contrast.
two different flowers grow on the same plant. Wide almost heart shaped green leaves sit behind the flowers. One type has small round flowers all clustered together, like popcorn. They are in shades of purple, mauve, green and white. Stems with white balls on the end rise from within the cluster. The other flowers are larger and white with five petals, and a purple centre.

The Garyobai plum grove has old trees planted at the beginning of the gardens. The trees have unusual shapes, like dragons sleeping.

the plum trees in this grove are over 100 years old. The branches grow horizontally and are held up with bamboo poles. These unusual plants look like a sleeping dragon

More than a garden, there are historically significant buildings that Tomitaro moved from different locations across Japan and rebuilt in the gardens. Ten of them have been declared by the Japanese Government as ‘Important Cultural Property’ and three are ‘Tangible Cultural Properties’.

The Tōmyō-ji former three-storied pagoda was relocated in 1914. It was originally built in Kyoto in 1457. (Important National Cultural Property) is visible from any point of the garden and is its symbol.

a three story Japanese pagoda is visible through the trees from most vantage points in the garden. A large spire is mounted at the top, reaching for the sky.

The buildings are well signposted in both Japanese and English. They also have q-codes for audio listening located on nearby signboards. The Main Hall of the Former Tomoji Temple is one of the Important Cultural Assets. Built in the mid 1500s in Kyoto, the hall was the central part of the temple, with a Buddist statue, the principal object of worship, enshrined there. It was damaged by a typhoon shortly after World War II and had been left disassembled after that. In 1987, it was relocated to Sankeien, as the three story pagoda from the same temple had been in 1914. The hall underwent many changes in the course of its history. When it was relocated to Sankeien, it was completely restored to its original form. - information from sign post at the building

a Japanese pagoda with its skirt like tiled room and open walls has three people approaching it to enter. It is made of wood and the external walls are painted white.

The Juto Oido Hall of the Former Tenzuiji Temple ‘was originally constructed in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the leader of samurai at the end of the 16th century, to cover a Juto, a stone monument signifying his wish for health and long life for his mother. The engraved doors, pillars and other parts were colorfully painted originally, but only hints of that remain. The Tenzuiji Temple stood on the premises of the Daitokuji Temple in Kyoto, but was abandoned in 1874. The hall was moved to Sankeien in 1905, the first relocated building in the inner garden.’

a wooden temple with large double wooden doors in the centre. the doors are elaborately carved with green painted highlights. there are also elaborate wooden carvings in some of the walls.

The former Yanohara family house is the only building in the garden whose interior is open to the public all year. It contains the original hearth, bathroom and kitchen on the ground floor. The second floor has a display of Japanese folk articles. This was once the private home of the wealthy family, the Yanohara’s in the Edo period (1603–1868), situated in the Gifu area of Japan.

looking inside the ancient house of a Japanese family. The large open section of the wall looks into the living room. A bamboo pole on the veranda denotes the threshold of the house. The house is made of dark wood and the walls are painted a yellow creamy colour.

There are several beautiful ancient and restored Japanese teahouses nestled in the grounds, surrounded by lush greenery. Bookings for tea ceremonies can be arranged by contacting the gardens prior to arrival.

a Japanese teahouse has an octagonal window in one side. The slate room covers simple cream coloured external walls. The house is made of dark wood and eaves project out from the doorways in the walls.
this Japanese teahouse has one higher roof covered in thatch and the lower roof covered in slate. Each doorway has a wooden covering. The building is made of wood and the walls painted a cream colour. The teahouse is surrounded by tall trees in the background and small shrubs in the foreground.

As you leave the inner garden and pass through a large gate into the outer garden, it is like entering a village from one hundred years ago.

a bright blue sky with a few whispy white clouds looks down on a fairytale Japanese garden scene. Traditional houses that are centuries old sit in a wooded garden with green grass sloping down to a lake..

There are several ponds in the gardens. The largest has a series of tiny islands that can be accessed by walking over wooden bridges. This is a serene and beautiful place to come and enjoy nature.

a man made lake sits in the inner garden on Japan. A single row boat sits in the center of the lake, traditional Japanese houses and buildings almost hide amongst the tall trees. You can just glimpse them through the foliage.
two ladies stand admiring the purple and white flowers on the ground after they crossed a wooden bridge. A man made creek flows into the lake. Tall trees shade the paths.

Fish swim in the ponds and if you feed them, they rush in a frenzy to quickly eat the food before their companions. It was a funny sight to see and visiting children squealed with delight upon seeing this display.

in the lake a swarm of fish hungrily open their mouths for food that visitors throw into the water.

There are statues and monuments to be discovered along the paths, creeks to spot among the foliage and small shrines to admire.

a stone statue of a religious figure sits in the gardens. Its age is showing as it has a few pieces missing.
a small creek meanders over stones as it gently flows along through the gardens. Vibrant green mature trees shade the creek and small grasses grown alongside it.
small wooden shrines with slate roofs are built in Japanese style in the gardens.

As I was leaving these stunning gardens, a bonsai display was being held near the carpark. This ancient Japanese practice produces stunning miniature replicas of full grown trees.

A bonsai tree with light pink flowers. It has a thick trunk and has been trimmed in ascending layers of greenery.

58-1 Hommoku Sannotani, Naka-Ku, Yokohama 231-0824

Happy Travels!

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