Stately home and gardens of the Shimazu clan
The Sengan-en, located in Kagoshima, japan, is a magnificent example of a feudal lord’s garden. Situated against the backdrop of Kinko Bay and the active volcano Sakurajima, this historic site offers stunning Japanese gardens, spectacular views, and a glimpse into the rich cultural heritage of the Shimazu clan.
The gardens of Sengan-en were built in 1658 and cover over 12 acres of land. They are known for their serene ponds, gently bubbling streams, mysterious shrines, traditional tea rooms, bamboo groves, and a mountain hiking trail. One of the most striking features of the garden is the view of the active Sakurajima volcano and Kagoshima Bay in the background.
Visitors to Sengan-en can spend a day leisurely exploring the gardens and the various on-site attractions. The garden’s beauty lies in its ability to seamlessly blend nature with man-made structures. The carefully manicured landscapes create a serene and peaceful atmosphere, allowing visitors to relax and appreciate the beauty of their surroundings.
One of the highlights of a visit to Sengan-en is the opportunity to witness the changing seasons in the gardens. In spring, cherry blossoms adorn the trees, creating a breathtaking display of pink and white flowers. In summer, lush greenery and vibrant flowers fill the gardens, while autumn brings a riot of colors as the leaves change. Even in winter, when the gardens are covered in snow, the beauty of the landscape is undeniable.
The garden’s layout is carefully designed to incorporate borrowed scenery, which means that the surrounding natural landscape is intentionally incorporated into the garden’s design. This creates a harmonious connection between the garden and its surroundings, enhancing the overall aesthetic appeal.
Throughout the garden, visitors will also find various attractions and points of interest. One such attraction is the old residence located in the center of the gardens. This building is a fascinating mix of Japanese, Chinese, and Western influences, showcasing the international tastes of the Shimazu clan. The residence features decorative kugi-kakushi, which are bat-shaped ornaments that hide the nails joining the beams and pillars together. Bats are considered a symbol of good luck in Chinese culture, and their presence in the residence demonstrates the attention to detail and symbolism that went into its construction.
Walking through the corridors and spacious tatami rooms of the residence, visitors can get a glimpse into the life of a feudal lord. The mixture of traditional Japanese elements, such as sliding doors and tatami mats, with Western influences, such as chandeliers and dinner service, reflects a time when Japan was beginning to open itself to the world in the 19th century. The residence has even been visited by royalty, including Nicholas II of Russia and Edward VIII of the UK, highlighting the influence and prestige of the Shimazu family.
After exploring the gardens, visitors can indulge in the delicious local cuisine served at Sengan-en’s flagship restaurant, Ohkatei. The restaurant offers a variety of dishes featuring locally caught sea bream and kurobuta pork. Dining at Ohkatei allows visitors to enjoy sumptuous local delicacies while admiring the stunning views of Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay.
In addition to its natural and cultural attractions, Sengan-en also offers visitors the opportunity to learn about Japan’s industrial heritage. The Shoko Shuseikan Museum, located just outside the gardens, showcases the development of industrialization in modern Japan. The museum traces the history of the Shimazu family over 800 years and explores the international relations they forged, which ultimately led to Japan’s participation in the industrial revolution. Housed in Japan’s oldest remaining factory, the museum provides a unique insight into the country’s industrial past.
Another aspect of Kagoshima’s cultural heritage that can be experienced at Sengan-en is traditional craftsmanship. Satsuma Kiriko cut glass, a colorful and intricate style of glassware, was first created in Kagoshima during the Edo period. At the Shimazu Satsuma Kiriko Glassworks, located next to Sengan-en, visitors can witness the skilled craftsmen at work as they create these beautiful pieces by hand. The process involves layering thick colored glass over transparent glass and then cutting patterns into the thick layer to reveal the transparent glass below. This traditional craft showcases the meticulous attention to detail and craftsmanship that has been passed down through generations.
In recognition of its historical and cultural significance, Sengan-en and the Shoko Shuseikan Museum were designated as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 2015. This prestigious recognition highlights the unique combination of Edo period gardens and the modernization of the Meiji period and beyond that can be experienced at Sengan-en. A visit to this historic site is not only an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the gardens but also a chance to delve into the rich history and heritage of Kagoshima.
To reach Sengan-en, visitors can take a bus from Kagoshima Chuo station or Kagoshima station, both of which offer regular services to the gardens. Combine a visit to Sengan-en with other nearby attractions to make the most of your time in Kagoshima.
In conclusion, Sengan-en is a must-see destination in Kagoshima for anyone interested in Japanese history, culture, and natural beauty. The gardens, with their stunning views and meticulous design, offer a tranquil escape from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The old residence provides a glimpse into the life of a feudal lord, while the on-site attractions and dining options ensure there is something for everyone to enjoy. Whether you are a nature lover, history enthusiast, or simply looking for a peaceful retreat, Sengan-en is a place that will leave a lasting impression.
Address And Maps Location:
9700-1 Yoshino-cho, Kagoshima-shi, Kagoshima-ken