Yokohama’s close proximity to Tokyo means that it is a great choice for a day trip you can take just outside the capital. Being one of the first ports that opened to foreign trade, the city offers a wide range of sights such as the largest Chinatown in the world, buildings and streets showcasing foreign influence on the city in the Motomachi and Yamate areas, and let’s not forget the modern Minato Mirai area, with its beautiful night view and a variety of entertainment options. But did you know that Yokohama also has a well-known “secret garden” nestled in a quiet residential area that is called Sankeien?
Sankeien was originally the residence of Hara Tomitaro (原富太郎), more commonly known as Hara Sankei (原三溪), who was a wealthy silk merchant. The construction work took from 1902 to 1908, and the garden was first opened to the public in 1906. What’s unique about Sankeien other than its huge size of 175,000 square metres, was that most of the buildings in the garden were bought by Hara from various places in Japan such as Tokyo, Kyoto, Kamakura, Gifu, and Wakayama.
Although Sankeien suffered a lot of damage during World War II, these historical structures were restored to what you see today, thanks to the Sankeien Hoshokai (三溪園保勝会) who is managing the garden after the Hara family donated the garden to Yokohama City in 1953.
Due to the historical significance of the buildings, the government has designated 10 structures in Sankeien as Important Cultural Properties (重要文化財), and three others as Tangible Cultural Properties (市指定有形文化財). In order to help visitors know more about these buildings and structures, there are information panels in Japanese and English, with the names of the places also provided in Chinese and Korean.
Besides viewing the beautifully designed traditional Japanese buildings, there is much more to Sankeien!
For a price of 500 yen, you can get a cup of freshly brewed matcha tea (foamy green tea) and wagashi (Japanese sweets) from Kyoto in the lobby of the Sankei Memorial Hall. What’s interesting is that the tea master prepares the matcha for you personally, so you can see the steps involved in the traditional tea ceremony with a beautiful garden backdrop through the full-length glass windows.
As I was the only one there at the time of my visit, I did feel a bit self-conscious about how I should behave since this was the first time I was at a tea ceremony. As a sign of showing respect, it is probably best to observe in silence and not to take photos of the tea master during the process as it can be disruptive, especially if there are sounds coming from the camera. After enjoying the refreshments, make sure to check out the museum shop for merchandise from Sankeien.
Sakura Ice Cream
There are three places to enjoy food and drinks within Sankeien: the Taishunken (待春軒) which serves full set meals and udon noodles, the Karigane Chaya (雁ヶ音茶屋) and the Sankeien Saryo (三溪園茶寮) which serves various snacks, desserts, and drinks. During the sakura season, why not try the sakura ice cream while viewing the sakura bloom in the garden? Frankly speaking, I couldn’t quite make out what sakura ice cream is supposed to taste like, but having a cold dessert in the slightly chilly wind while looking at the beautiful garden and surrounding greenery is indeed an experience you would not want to miss.
Getting to Sankeien (三渓園) can be a bit challenging for first-timers because it is not near a train station nor within walking distance from one. There are multiple ways to get to the garden by public transport, so you would have to choose the route which is most convenient for you. Regardless of which option you choose, you will need to walk a bit (5 to 10 minutes) from the nearest bus station through a residential area following the signs along the way or following the groups of people walking towards the garden.
Taking the bus in Japan might scare you, but fear not as the bus announcements might be in Japanese, but the display panels display the names of the bus stops in Japanese and English so you will be able to tell where to get off. Alternatively, don’t hesitate to approach the friendly bus driver who is able to alert you when it’s time to get off.
Before visiting Sankeien, there are a few things which you need to take into consideration when planning your trip.
First of all, the garden is open every day from 9 am to 5 pm and the last entry is 30 minutes before closing time. If there are special events or accidents or severe weather conditions, the operation hours will be adjusted accordingly. For example, during the hanami season (around late March, early April), Sankeien will be open until 9 pm so that visitors can see the sakura around the large pond which is lit up for night viewing from 6.30 pm. Note though that the shops within Sankeien have varying operating hours, so it would be good to check this before your visit. In case you are planning to visit during the end of the year, please take note that the garden will be closed on the December 29th to December 31st.
Before entering the garden you can buy an admission ticket at the automated machines located at the left of the gate as seen on the photo above. Paying for entry to enter a garden may seem odd since parks and gardens are usually open for access to all. However, Sankeien is a privately-managed garden thus the admission fees charged are required for the upkeep and operation of the facilities. The standard admission fees for adults and children (up to primary school) are 500 yen and 200 yen respectively.
Last but not least, residents of Yokohama who are above 65 and have the Hamatomo Card, or the Yokohama City Elderly Special Bus Pass, or have a handicapped identification pass are exempted from paying an entrance fee. Similarly, teaching staff who come with students on school trips or to survey the grounds before the trip also enjoy the same exemption. On the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month, all students below 18 years will be able to enter the garden free of charge.
How about heading to Sankeien for a slice of Japanese traditional culture alongside the wonders of nature in a tranquil neighbourhood? You can easily spend a whole day checking out this beautiful place, so don’t miss out on Yokohama and the Sankeien during your trip in Japan!