Sankeien is a beautiful traditional stroll garden in Yokohama covering 175,000 square meters. Inside you will find ponds, streams, winding pathways, historic buildings and seasonal highlights such as cherry blossom, wisteria, lotuses and colorful autumn foliage. The garden was designated as a National Place of Scenic Beauty in 2007.
Sankeien was created by a wealthy silk trader named Tomitaro Hara, who was also known as Sankei Hara. Hara built his family home here in 1902 and began to create a garden around it which took 20 years to complete.
Sankeien has two parts: an outer garden which Hara opened to the public in 1906, and an inner garden which was kept for his family’s private use. The garden was badly damaged during World War II but after the Hara family donated it to Yokohama City in 1953 it was restored and reopened to the public. The inner garden was opened to the public for the first time in 1958.
Hara collected historic buildings from all over Japan for his garden and more were added after his death. There are now 17 structures in the garden of which 10 are nationally designated as Important Cultural Properties. In this article we will take a short tour of the garden and look at some of the architectural highlights.
Walking round the main pond in a clockwise direction from the garden entrance we can explore the outer garden. The first major sight you will see is the Main Hall of Old Tomyo-ji Temple. Built in 1457 in Kizugawa, Kyoto Prefecture, it was badly damaged by a typhoon in 1947 and dismantled. The parts were left in storage for many years and then moved to Sankeien and rebuilt here in 1987.
The thatch-roofed Former Yanohara Family Residence was the house of a farming family in the village of Shirakawa-go in Gifu Prefecture. This house was moved here in 1960.
Inside the house you can see traditional farming tools and a kind of sunken hearth called an irori.
The Buddha Hall of Old Tokei-ji Temple is a Zen Buddhist building with a thatched roof that was built in Kamakura in 1634 and moved here in 1907 after Tokei-ji Temple fell into disrepair. The temple was previously famous as a refuge for women who wanted to be free of an unhappy marriage.
Yokobue-an is a thatch-roofed tea house built in 1908, which is believed to have been moved here from a temple in Nara. The house was named after Yokobue, the heroine of a tragic love story.
The Three Storied Pagoda of Old Tomyo-ji Temple was built in 1457 in Kizugawa, Kyoto Prefecture. It was moved to this garden in 1914 after the temple was abandoned. The pagoda, which is the oldest structure here, was placed on a hill so that it can be viewed from various points around the garden. After viewing the pagoda, we move into the inner part of the garden.
Crossing the Teisha Bridge will bring us to Rinshunkaku.
Rinshunkaku is a villa, made up of three buildings, which were built in 1649 beside the Kino-kawa River in Wakayama. They were moved here in 1906.
Inside Rinshunkaku, the sliding doors and walls are decorated with famous ink paintings.
Tenzui-ji Temple was a temple within the Daitoku-ji Temple complex in Kyoto, but it was closed in the 19th century and no longer exists. This Juto Oido was built there in 1591, by the famous military general Toyotomi Hideyoshi as a monument to his mother’s health and long life.
In 1905 the Juto Oido was the first structure that Tomitaro Hara had moved to his inner garden. Carvings on the Juto Oido show angelic figures, which are half human and half bird. One is holding a lotus flower, which is a Buddhist symbol, while another holds reishi mushrooms – a symbol of long life.
The Choshukaku pavilion is believed to have been built in 1623 by the third Tokugawa shogun, Iemitsu, on the grounds of Nijo-jo Castle in Kyoto. It was moved here in 1922.
Tenju-in is a Zen Buddhist building that was formerly part of Shinpei-ji Temple in Kamakura. Built in 1651, it was moved here in 1916 and used as the Hara family’s private temple.
Gekkaden was built in 1603 on the grounds of Fushimi-jo Castle in Kyoto where it was used as a waiting room for visiting lords. It was moved to Sankeien in 1918.
Renge-in is a tea house that was built by Tomitaro Hara himself in 1917, although parts of the building are said to have come from the Byodo-in Temple in Uji.
The Kaiganmon Gate is an Edo era (1603 – 1867) structure that used to be part of Saiho-ji Temple in Kyoto but was moved here in the Taisho period (1912 – 1926).
The Gomon Gate is another gate from Saiho-ji Temple in Kyoto that was built in 1708 and moved here in the early Taisho period. Before World War II this gate marked the boundary of the inner garden.
Kakushokaku was the Hara family residence. Built by Tomitaro Hara in 1902, the house hosted many artists, philosophers and writers during the early 20th century.
Exploring Sankeien can take a visitor at least 90 minutes, or a couple of hours if you wish to take your time. However, there is a rest area in the garden where you can buy refreshments and restrooms are located in several locations.
Admission & Services
Entry to Sankeien costs 900 yen for adults and 200 yen for children of junior high school age or younger.
The garden is open from 9.00 to 17.00 with last entry at 16.30.
Brochures containing an informative map of the garden are available in several languages at the garden’s reception. There are coin lockers near reception and wheelchairs can also be borrowed here. Free Wi-Fi is available at reception and several other points around the garden.
Access & Location
The closest station to Sankeien is Negishi Station on the JR Negishi Line. From there, walk to bus stop 7 just outside the station and take a 10-minute ride on bus number 54 or 97 to the Sankeien-Minami-mon Iriguchi stop and then walk another 7 minutes to the garden.
You can also take a bus directly from Yokohama Station’s East Exit Bus Terminal. From bus stop 2 take a 40-minute ride on bus 8 or 168 to the Sankeien-iriguchi stop and then walk 5 minutes. On Saturdays and public holidays you can also take the S-Route Burari Sankeien Bus from bus stop 2 for a 35-minute ride to the Sankeien stop which is directly outside the garden’s entrance. These three buses can also be boarded at Sakuragicho Station in the more central Minato Mirai tourist area. All buses charge a flat fare of 220 yen.
Here is a map showing Sankeien’s location.
For more details on bus services in Yokohama see our guide to Tourist and City Bus Services.
Article and original photos by Michael Lambe. All rights reserved.