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If you are particularly enthusiastic about traditional Japanese architecture which is surrounded by beautifully designed gardens and shaped the urban landscape of past Japan, then Sengan-en is something what you definitely should see. Located along the north coast of downtown Kagoshima, it suddenly appeared in the front of my eyes during one of my frequent walks around the city.

Sengan-en in Kagoshima near a garden with a lot of nature.

Iso Residence – front elevation

Sengan-en in Kagoshima at a stone garden one can walk through.

Walk through garden

I have to admit that I usually don’t use guidebooks while traveling; most of the time I just stroll around randomly discovering interesting places. Sometimes I base my choice on information I get from local tourist and what I hear from local people or friends. This way I can find way more than a guidebook offers for foreign tourists.

I was very much fond on visiting Sengan-en as it was recommended by a friend of mine who lives in Kagoshima and who, the same as me, loves traditional Japanese architecture and tranquil gardens. Being a professional architecture designer makes me always appreciate the craftsmanship people put into cleaver construction. Traditional wooden raised Japanese houses are so different than what you can experience in Europe and belongs to a great architecture. No wonder Sengan-en is a part of UNESCO’s world heritage list.

More of the stone garden at Sengan-en in Kagoshima.

Stone garden

To give you a brief history, Sengan-en aka Isotein was built in 1658 by Shimazu, a powerful family that governed Satsuma (nowadays Kagoshima) for hundreds of years. Bringing to the city not only great architectural solutions but also modern technology adapted from the West. Sengan-en itself is a massive garden which surrounds a lord’s residence (Iso Residance) that is situated in the center of this picturesque complex.

Sengan-en garden landscape with a shallow pond in Kagoshima.

A small pond in the garden

Sengan-en garden with a dirt path and many trees in Kagoshima.

Never-ending garden landscape

As soon as you walk through the main entrance, an intense red wooden gate, you are transferred into a different world where human made nature corresponds easily with elaborated timber houses and shrines scattered around. You can wander around randomly, step by step exploring the kingdom of Sengan-en or you can follow the map which you get after purchasing the ticket. I went along with my intuition and went where my eyes spotted something alluring.

Sengan-en garden landscape of trees before a red gate in Kagoshima.

Red entrance gate behind beautiful trees

The residence is undoubtedly an architectural masterpiece. Its design is able to enchant even those who are not passionate about obsolete Japanese buildings. Enclosed by the garden and the green bush behind it looks almost like a painted picture. As it has been recently fully restored and carefully looked after, its condition is untouched and it embodies the glorious past of the Shimizu family. To delve into its interior, unfortunately you need to pay extra money. However, it is enough to admire its front elevation to understand its craftsmanship.

Sengan-en residence near the garden in Kagoshima.

The Iso Residance

Sengan-en residence inside in Kagoshima.

Looking inside the residence

As you walk around, you come across other intriguing architectural features such as a number of little wooden shrines hidden on the bushy hills, Ryukuyan Pavilion and craft shops selling handmade traditional ceramic, accessories or Kagoshima blue glass.

Kagoshima Sengan-en craft shop with a little garden of nature off the side.

A shop selling handmade things

Kagoshima Sengan-en craft shop with handmade birds on display.

Handmade interior decorations

Kagoshima Sengan-en shrine surrounded by the nature of the garden.

Little shrine

Kagoshima Sengan-en well in the garden.

A well

Obviously, the most distinguished characteristic of the whole area are stunning gardens. Their scenery is dominated by various stones, massive trees and clear ponds where huge carps swim and wait until you feed them. From time to time, you spot exotic flowers full of black butterflies or suddenly you dive into dense and deep bamboo groves where you find a strong water stream. You can experience all of that in just one place.

Kagoshima Sengan-en garden with a stone staircase.

Walking through green scenery

Kagoshima Sengan-en garden with a black butterfly on a flower.

Exotic flowers and butterflies

Sengan-en garden landscape with a shallow pond in Kagoshima.

A pond

Kagoshima Sengan-en carp in the pond.

Carps in the pond

Kagoshima Sengan-en bamboo grove garden.

Bamboo grove

Kagoshima Sengan-en water stream between raw nature and the garden area.

Hidden water stream

To finish your tour I strongly recommend to climb the highest hill where Sengan-en gives a spectacular view on the still active volcano Sakurajima. You will not regret the 20 minutes it takes to walk up the steep ascent. The views are grand. Enjoy!

View of Sakurajima from Sengan-en.

Stunning views on Sakurajima

View of Sakurajima from grassy Sengan-en garden.

Sakurajima

Useful links and information:

You can find a lot of detailed information on the official website:

Sengan-en Garden can be reached by the Kagoshima City View bus from Kagoshima Chuo Station to Senganen-mae bus stop, only 190 yen one way.

Other world-heritage places to see around Sangen-en if you are interested in modern Japanese history:

A map:

Map of Senga-en.

 

    
Name Sengan-en
Category Traditional Japanese house and garden
Address 9700-1 Yoshino-cho, Kagoshima City, Japan 892-0871
Access [map]9700-1 Yoshino-cho, Kagoshima City, Japan 892-0871[/map]
Opening Hours 8.30 - 17.30
Price Range adult :1000 yen, child: 500 yen
Payment options Cash
Dagmara Korecka

Dagmara Korecka

Dagmara is a designer and writer of Polish life style magazine, currently living and working in Tokyo. Her biggest passion is traveling and exploring what has been hidden and unknown as well as meeting people from all over the world and experiencing new cultures. She loves cycling, yoga and long walks. As a food lover, she deeply scrutinizes gastronomy world and Japanese cuisine through her own cooking and creating own recipes. The best way for her to relax is to go to hot spring or read a book.

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