November 8, 2019

Sankei-en Gardens

Found just on the outskirts of Yokohama, Sankei-en is a traditional Japanese garden that is a stark contrast to the rest of the posh cityscape.

The pagoda at Yokohama's Sankei-en traditional Japanese gardens

When people think of Yokohama, it’s highly likely that they conjure up a mental image of the Minato Mirai area. After all, this iconic section of the city is essentially emblematic of Yokohama these days. First completed in the 1980’s following a massive redevelopment project, visiting this waterfront hangout is a favorite pastime for many Tokyoites (myself included when I’m not traveling). Alas, although Minato Mirai may be Yokohama’s most recognizable area, there’s a lot more to the city further in from the bay. Of these attractions, perhaps none are more beautiful than the traditional Japanese garden that we’ll be taking a look at in this post. Known as Sankei-en, this hidden gem definitely deserves consideration for your next visit.

Now, one of the most difficult things about promoting Sankei-en to a foreign audience is the fact that the gardens do not hold a long historical pedigree to their name. In stark comparison to a site like Kanazawa’s Kenroku-en, Sankei-en only recently came onto the scene in 1906. Because of this, many history snobs are quick to write-off the gardens. While it is indeed true that Sankei-en has a little over one-hundred years to its name, this urban oasis is significant in its own right. You see, while many other traditional gardens were the property of local ruling families during the Edo period (1603–1868), Sankei-en was instead built at the behest of a successful businessman who made a fortune trading silk.

In addition to its beautiful grounds, one other alluring aspect of Sankei-en is the fact that the gardens are a treasure trove of architectural wonders. This is because the business tycoon who designed Sankei-en was a lover of traditional Japanese buildings and went to great lengths to patron constructions from all over the country. As such, the idyllic gardens are dotted with a number of historic structures that hail from near and far. Of these, perhaps none of Sankei-en’s structures are more of an iconic landmark than the site’s three-story pagoda. Originally hailing from Kyoto’s temple of Tomyo-ji, this 500 year old building adds an aesthetic touch to the grounds.

Getting to Yokohama’s Sankei-en

As the crow flies, Sankei-en isn’t all that far from the rest of Yokohama’s main attractions which all tend to cluster near Minato Mirai. That said though, as can be seen in the above Google Map, the gardens are unfortunately nestled smack-dab between the JR Negishi and Yamate Stations. Because of this, access isn’t what it could be. To reach Sankei-en, you’ll need to catch a bus from the JR Negishi Station or hail a taxi. Seeing as I know that buses can seem a bit arcane to overseas visitors, I’ll go ahead and recommend the latter option as the fare should only run about 1,000 yen or so. For those traveling on a shoestring budget, know that you can also reach Sankei-en on foot in approximately thirty minutes if you so desire.

While the trek to Sankei-en is a bit of a challenge, you should be able to navigate your way without any major hiccups. Luckily, the journey down to the closest hub, JR Negishi Station, is a breeze. As always though, refer to the everhelpful Hyperdia or a similar service to calculate the fastest route connections for you. Assuming you’re coming from Tokyo, which train you should take down to the Yokohama area is largely influenced by which station you will begin your journey.

Exploring Yokohama’s Sankei-en Sankei-en

A stone lantern and traditional Japanese building at Yokohama’s Sankei-en gardens

First of all, know that entry to Saknei-en will run you 700 yen. Once your pay your fare at the ticket gate, you’ll be free to explore the grounds. Immediately upon entering, you’ll encounter Sankei-en’s main pond on your left. To your immediate right, you’ll also find a pond brimming with lotus blossoms. After taking in the view, you’ll want to continue along heading straight ahead. Soon thereafter, you’ll run across a building known as the Kakushokaku. This structure was completed in 1902 and served as the residence for the founder of Sankei-en. The venue often has exhibits and other events going on inside so be sure to pop in.

Directly after Kakushokaku, you’ll find the more modern Sankei Memorial. This building chronicles the many artists who were patronized by the businessman who erected Sankei-en. Inside, there is also a tea ceremony room where guests can casually enjoy a genuine experience for an additional nominal fee. A warm cup of matcha tea is the perfect way to warm up from the chilly fall air and especially so during autumn when Sankei-en is at its best. If you prefer something else besides tea though, know that there are also a few other vendors on-site too. These merchants can be found directly outside of the Sankei Memorial building.

Moving on, know that in the days of yore, Sankei-en was split into two seperate areas known as the inner and outer gardens, respectively. When people actually lived on the premises in the early 1900’s, the inner garden was reserved specifically for Sankei-en’s founder and his family. Contrarily, the outer garden has remained opened to the public since the location’s inception. These days, this distinction no longer really exists, at least insomuch as visitors are concerned. That said, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the number of architectural marvels on display within the inner garden is a little higher than those scattered around the outer garden.

In total, there are close to two dozen buildings worth checking out at Sankei-en. In the interest of brevity, I’ll opt not to detail each of these in turn but I encourage you to snag yourself one of the English pamphlets. Inside, you’ll find a map with a short description of each of the historic structures collected by Sankei-en’s founder. Suffice to say though, of all the spots worth visiting, nothing trumps the amazing three-story pagoda. While you’ll need to slog your way up a small hill to see the pagoda up close, this former piece of Kyoto’s Tomyo-ji temple easily justifies the climb.

Attractions Near Yokohama’s Sankei-en

Yokohama’s iconic Landmark Tower in the posh area of Minato Mirai

Before ending, allow me to mention that it would be a real shame if you ventured all the way down to Yokohama and did not pause to explore several other options that the city has to offer. Seeing as I’ve covered many of these areas in the past, I am opting to just include a link to my other articles. While I will add a short blurb for context, referencing myself here will help in keeping this piece as short as possible.

  • Minato Mirai
    This waterfront swath of the city is possibly Yokohama’s most well-known draw but that doesn’t mean that you should skip it. From the iconic Landmark Tower to the charming Red Brick Warehouses, you can easily spend a day lazily puttering about Minato Mirai. In fact, this is one of my favorite ways to unwind from stress after some of my more grueling periods.
  • Chinatown
    Yokohama is home to one of the world’s best Chinatowns. If you’re a fan of authentic Chinese cuisine, you simply can’t afford to pass up visiting here. What’s more, Yokohama’s Chinatown is conveniently located within walking distance from Minato Mirai. If you’re planning a visit, consider starting in Chinatown and slowly making your way back.
  • The Noge Area
    Located on the less developed side of Sakuragicho Station, this hidden gem is one of my all-time favorites in the city. A hodgepodge collection of hole-in-the wall pubs and traditional Japanese izakayas, these boozy backstreets are the perfect way to end a long day of exploring Yokohama.

Until next time fellow travelers…