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After visiting Lake Fudoika, we came down the Kirishima mountains by taxi and came to this garden in the afternoon. Sengan-en 仙巌園, is a Japanese garden attached to a former Shimazu 島津氏 clan residence in Kagoshima 鹿児島.


Together with the adjacent Shōko Shūseikan, it forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site that focus on Meiji’s industrial revolution. Shoko Shuseikan is a museum set in a 150 year old stone building originally used as a machine factory.


The Sengan-en residence was built by Shimazu Mitsuhisa (島津光久), a feudal lord in 1658. The name “Sengan-en” is derived from a supposed resemblance to a rock feature on Long Hu Shan in China.


The Shimazu was one of the families of Edo period daimyō (lord) to have held their territory continuously since the Kamakura period, and would also become, at their peak, the wealthiest and most powerful family.


There were mandarin orange trees in the garden (above photo).  I (Chris) know these small oranges are known as satsuma in England. Apparently, the name came from the Satsuma (薩摩) area owned by the Shimazu clan which fought a war with the British that was trading in 1863 (Anglo-Satsuma War 薩英戦争).


Due to the proximity, China had quite an influence in this area. In 1736 Shimazu Yoshitaka (島津吉貴) added a kyokusui (曲水) water feature and moso bamboo, obtained from China via the Ryūkyū Kingdom.


Bamboo forest


“Big bonsai” – we called it.


The Shoko Shuseikan and this area of Japan were fundamentally important in the modernization of the country. It was here that Western industrial technology was introduced, studied and used in the creation of modern factories. We did not spend much time here but it was one of the more interesting museums we visited.


Some of the small old houses are converted into shops, selling all kinds of souvenir, handicrafts and snacks.


A stream runs through a part of the garden – the stream barely visible in the picture below. But a tradition -Kyokusui no En – is renacted here at least once a year.  It is an elegant poetry game originating in ancient China in which small cups of sake are floated down a winding stream. Participants dressed in traditional clothing sat along either side of the stream must write a poem before the cup passes in front of them. On completing their poems the participants take the cup from the stream and drink the sake.


Apart from the main buildings, there were also little shops scattered in the garden selling crafts – very low key.


The garden has a direct view of Sakurajima – an active volcano – they sell many postcards of the volcano spewing smoke and lava. It was not active while we were there – just clouds.


There is even a shrine dedicated to cats here !


The garden is beautiful, touristy but not tacky. It was fun to have a driver for a day.

Click here to see the lake in the Kirishima mountains.



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