Sankeien Garden in Naka ward, Yokohama, is the city's most charming traditional attraction, with something for nature lovers, Japanese history and culture buffs, photographers, and anyone with an eye for beauty.
Sankeien Garden is 17.5 undulating hectares (over 42 acres) of groves, traditional old Japanese structures, gardens, ponds, waterfalls, bridges, refreshment spots and a museum, connected by rambling paths and footbridges.
Sankeien was established in 1902 by Yokohama businessman, Sankei Hara (1868-1939), on land passed down by his grandfather. Construction took two decades, and incorporated numerous structures of historical and cultural significance, such as ancient houses, villas, tea rooms, arbors and shrines, from all over Japan.
Hara had close ties to leading cultural figures of the day, and a large part of the garden's purpose was to foster the arts - a role that Sankeien very much plays even today.
Japanese culture is profoundly nature-inspired, and the garden's variety of natural assets: flowers, trees, and wildlife, ensure a panoply of inspiring sights, sounds, and even scents, throughout the year, from cherry blossom in spring, to roses in summer, to daffodils in winter, to name a few - accompanied by all the wildlife that makes Sankeien its home, and its many sounds.
Sankei Garden was badly damaged in War War II, and in 1953 the Hara family turned it over to the Sankeien Hoshokai foundation, which restored the Garden to almost its original state.
The Main Pond forms the focus of Sankeien, and is the first major feature if entering by the Main Entrance, at the garden's northern end.
At the end of the Main Pond from the Main Entrance, if you take the right-hand path, is the Sankei Memorial, a modern multi-purpose facility with refreshments (including traditional tea) and, most importantly, a museum to the garden's founder, Sankei Hara, as well as an exhibition room with changing displays of arts and crafts, and a tasteful souvenir store.
Behind and up the small hill from the Sankei Memorial complex is the Inner Garden, which used to be the exclusive preserve of the Hara family. The Inner Garden is the where most of Sankeien's exquisite architecture is to be found, in about a dozen places, enclosed in beautiful green groves. Some buildings date as far back as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Across from the Inner Garden, on the other side of the small valley that goes through Sankeien's southern half, is the hill on the west side, topped by the Three-Story Pagoda of Old Tomyoji. The area around it is called the Outer Garden and used to be the only area open to the public. Be sure to visit the Outer Garden's Former Yanohara House, which is one of Japan's largest extant gassho (traditional A-frame) houses, and the only house in the Garden permanently open to the public. The Former Yanohara House was transported from Shirakawa-go village (now a UNESCO site) in 1960, and is a rawly authentic Japanese country house, chock-a-block with the old tools, implements, clothes, vessels and other paraphernalia of everyday farm life, upstairs and down. There is even a smoky, open hearth that is kept burning in the kitchen.