Sometimes you just need to get out of the city for a little while, and sometimes you can’t. In Hiroshima, a nearly perfect solution to this common dilemma is a trip to Shukkei-en garden, just a ten to fifteen minute walk north of the Hondori shopping arcade.
Designed as the grounds for the second residence of the Asano family, Edo period lords of the Hiroshima domain. In 1620 Asano Nagaakira commissioned the construction of the garden, appointing as designer his Chief Retainer, the famed samurai, tea master and landscape gardener Ueda Soko.
Ueda’s design reflects the popularity at the time of what are called circular strolling gardens. With a large pond at the center of the garden (the daimyo Asano called it his “Lake Residence), paths lead a visitor through a series of scenes done in miniature, many intended to evoke classical features of an idealized Chinese landscape. You can easily spend an hour or more circling the pond, catching a flash of blue as kingfishers flit from one tiny island to another, or loitering in a thatched pavilion to watch children feed the koi and turtles as pigeons crowd round to snatch up any stray pellets. You may have to sidestep a bridal couple or two, having traditional wedding portraits done against one of the more dramatic backgrounds. Later, you can wander away from the pond loop, visiting tea houses, tiny shrines and bamboo forests. A small concession shop sells simple food and drinks along with local souvenirs, and many people bring picnics.
The garden was opened to the public in 1940, and nearly destroyed by the atomic bombing five years later. But it has been carefully restored, and is a favorite with many of Hiroshima’s residents, though not so many that you won’t feel like you’re making a getaway, especially on a quiet weekday afternoon.
Given its designer, and the presence of a several tea houses throughout the garden, it will come as no surprise that Shukkei-en is especially popular with aficionados of the Tea Ceremony. Indeed, Ueda founded his own school of tea, still popular in Hiroshima and currently under the leadership of his own 16th generation descendant. Visitors to the garden will often find a tea event being held, especially in the largest tea house just in front of the dramatically arched moon bridge that spans the lake at its midpoint.
Shukkei-en is also immediately adjacent to Hiroshima’s Prefectural Art Museum which, in addition to a constant round of visiting exhibits, is also home to an engaging permanent collection. At the museum’s main desk, you can buy a ticket that will allow access to both the museum and the garden, which makes for a wonderful way to while away a long afternoon.
Shukkei-en has plenty of charm without the added attraction of an event, and in fact you may prefer to visit when nothing is scheduled, since certain more popular events can add greatly to the number of people in the garden. But there are a couple of smaller events on in March which you may want to know about.
March 6, 9:00-17:00
Among its many botanical treasures, Shukkei-en boasts nearly 400 pines, whose trunks are wrapped in straw mats for part of the year to help protect against both cold and certain insects. On March 6, the resident gardeners carefully remove the matting, and for a particular kind of garden fan this presents a spectacle sufficient to have become a minor event in its own right. Because it’s a Tuesday, you’re likely to escape any real crowds as well.
March 18, 10:00-15:00
Most people look forward to the cherry blossom season, but the peaches blossom even early, and their delicate pink blossoms are quite a sight. From ten in the morning until three in the afternoon, Shukkei-en’s main tea house will be the setting for a series of tea ceremonies. Get a ticket early to enjoy a truly memorable moment of elegance.
Location: 2-11 Kamihatchobori-cho, Naka-ku, Hiroshima-shi, Hiroshima-ken, 730-0014.
A ten to fifteen minute walk north from Hondori along Chuo-dori. You can also take the Hakushima streetcar, getting off at the Prefectural Art Museum. The garden is located just east of the museum building.
Hours: April 1 through September 30, 9:00-18:00. October 1 through March 31, 9:00-17:00
Closed December 29 to January 1.
Admission: 260 JPY for adults, 150 for high school and college students, 100 for junior high and elementary school students. A museum ticket allowing entry to both Shukkei-en and the museum’s permanent collection is 610 JPY for adults and 350 for college students. Ask for additional possible discounts on the day of purchase.
Telephone: (082) 221-3620