Sengan-en and Shoko Shuseikan UNESCO World Heritage Site and Home of the Shimadzu Clan
Finding tranquility in the land of fire
In Kagoshima, deep in the south of Kyushu, across the bay from a smoking active volcano, lies the stately home of one of Japan’s most powerful samurai clans.
Sengan-en is a stately home and landscape garden along the coast north of downtown Kagoshima, Japan. Built in 1658 as one of the residences of the Shimadzu clan, the garden's most striking feature is its use of active volcano Sakurajima and Kagoshima Bay as borrowed scenery. The gardens cover over 12 acres and include calming ponds, gently bubbling streams, mysterious shrines, tea rooms, a bamboo grove, and a mountain hiking trail. A walk to the top of the trail takes about 30 minutes one direction, but it is certainly worth it for the breathtaking view of the bay and Sakurajima from the top.
Step back in time
The house at the center of the gardens features a fascinating mix of Japanese, Chinese and Western influences, showing the truly international nature of the Shimadzu clan. Decorative “kugi-kakushi” in the shape of bats adorn the hallways and hide the nails that join the beams and pillars together. Bats were a lucky symbol in China, due to the Chinese word for “bat” sounding similar to the word for “luck”. There are twelve kinds of these decorations around the house, showing the playful attention to detail that went into building this magnificent residence.
Walking through the winding corridors and spacious tatami rooms gives a real sense of how a feudal lord would have lived. The chandeliers and western dinner service in the main reception room hark back to an era when Japan was beginning to open itself to the world, and the house was visited by royalty such as Nicholas II of Russia, and Edward VIII of the UK, showing the power and influence of the Shimadzu family.
There’s also the chance to try out some of Kagoshima’s local cuisine at Sengan-en. Two restaurants serving the finest Kagoshima delicacies, such as locally caught sea bream and the famous Kurobuta pork are worth stopping by if you have an appetite. It’s easy to imagine how a feudal lord felt looking over the bay at smouldering Sakurajima while enjoying top quality local food.
For those looking for a lighter snack there is the famous local sweet treat “jambo-mochi”- two lightly toasted rice cakes skewered on two sticks and glazed with sweet soy or miso sauce. The two sticks are said to represent the two swords carried by the samurai!
Japan was the only country in Asia able to replicate the industrial revolution in the late 1800s, and the story of why this was possible is told at the Shoko Shuseikan Museum, just outside Sengan-en. Follow the course of the Shimadzu family over 800 years, and see how the international relations they forged led to the development of industrialization in modern Japan. The museum is housed in Japan’s oldest remaining former factory, built in 1865.
Colorful Satsuma Kiriko cut glass was first created in Kagoshima during the Edo period, along with the Shuseikan modernization project. Satsuma Kiriko is made by layering thick colored glass over clear glass, and then cutting patterns into the thick layer of colored glass in order to reveal the clear glass below. The whole process is done entirely by hand, and the skilled craftsmen can be seen at work at the Iso Kogeikan workshop next to Sengan-en.
World Heritage Site
The Shoko Shuseikan Museum and Sengan-en were recognized as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site related to Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution in 2015. Sengan-en and Shoko Shuseikan is the only site in Japan that combines a beautiful Edo period garden with the modernization of the Meiji period and beyond, making it a truly unique destination and a must-visit on any trip to Kyushu.
“Sengan-en and Shoko Shuseikan Museum”
●9700-1, Yoshino-cho, Kagoshima City
●Entrance fees Adult: 1,000yen Child（7-15）: 500yen
Entrance fee＋house Adult: 1,600yen Child（7-15）: 800yen
Satsuma Kiriko Online store: https://shop.satsumakiriko.co.jp/
●Find out more about Kagoshima: http://kagoshima-trip.jp/
*The information above was last updated Oct 20, 2017. For more details, please contact the facility directly.
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