{Japan: Explore} Going Down Tokaido Road Via Suizenji Garden, Kumamoto

suizenji garden, kumamoto

In a Nutshell:

  • Where: Suizenji Jojuen Garden, Kumamoto, Kyushu
  • When: May 25, 2012
  • *Notes: Suizenji Koen stop on Tram A or B (flat fare of 150 JPY), represents the 53 stations of the Tokaido Road, 400 JPY per person

Full Report:

M and I really aren’t garden people, so to speak.  But before our 2012 Japan trip, our travel agent told us we had to go to the Suizenji Garden in Kumamoto.  Our reaction was probably something like, “Sure, sure, we’ll try and check it out if we have time,” but it was pretty obvious that we had no real intentions of going.  That’s when she explained that the structures and decorations throughout the garden were supposed to represent the most famous of the 53 stations along Tokaido Road.

Well, that got my interest!  The Tokaido Road was the most important route during the Edo period.  It connected Kyoto and Edo (known as Tokyo, today) and there have been several books written about the travels that took place on it.  The 53 stations were places where travelers could eat, rest up, and enjoy themselves before moving on in their journey.

The day that we went to Suizenji Garden was gray and drizzly.  After putting on our rain jackets and rain pants, we left the hotel (Nikko Kumamoto) and jumped on the city tram.  It was 7 stops over to the Suizenji Koen stop and it cost a flat rate of 150 JPY.  Once we exited the tram, we backtracked a bit to the corner and saw a sign directing us to the garden:

suizenji garden sign

After walking for a bit, we saw another sign:

suizenji garden sign

This is where 8 years of Japanese School actually come in handy.  Not that I could read the whole sign but I do know the kanji for “Sui”.  So unless there was another business in the area that started with “Sui”, I figured we were on the right track.  We followed the direction of the little red arrow and came upon this gate, the entryway to the park:

suizenji garden entrance

Tickets cost 400 JPY per person.  We each got a map of the park which had been translated into English, Chinese, and Korean.  I whipped it open and noticed that it said the walking tour of the park should only take about 20 minutes.  I thought this seemed a bit short but I was also a little relieved given that the rain was starting to come down.

suizenji garden

Our first view of the park, very serene and lovely.

Upon first glimpse, I thought the park was beautiful.  Although the rain was a little annoying, I thought it made all the plants look more lush and green.  We started moving in a clockwise path around the park.

suizenji garden

I guess if I have any “complaints” about the park, it’s the fact that the tall buildings in the background were kind of distracting and took away from the scenery.  Still, I guess one has to remember that this is Japan, after all, and there’s going to be tall buildings everywhere.

The lake in the middle of the garden is supposed to represent Longevity.  The water is very clean and flows there from Mt. Aso via underground currents.

Izumi Shinto Shrine

Izumi Shinto Shrine

The Izumi Shinto Shrine has been in existence since 1878.  Suizenji Park is the precinct of the Izumi Shrine.  After passing the shrine, we came upon a wonderful replica of the gates (Senbon Torii) that make up part of the Inari Shrine in Kyoto:

inari shrine

This is the Suizenji Garden version of the Inari Shrine’s Senbon Torii.

And this is the real version of the Senbon Torii:

senbon torii, kyoto

The Senbon Torii are really famous and a must-see if you go to Kyoto.

After we rounded the corner, we saw statues of 2 men.  They are members of the Hosokawa clan who constructed this garden.  According to the map, the building of the garden began in 1636 and took about 80 years to complete.  Wow!

suizenji garden, hosokawa statues

Close to the statues was this representation of Mt. Fuji:

suizenji garden

Now I can say that I’ve been to Mt. Fuji!

This was definitely the crowning jewel of the park.  You could see it no matter where you were on the path.  We continued to plod along:

suizenji garden, kumamoto

suizenji garden

We approached a rather sizable building that took up a corner of the garden.  I consulted my map and read that it was a Noh theater.  It was built at the same time as the Izumi Shrine and performances are celebrated there in the spring and fall.  I liked seeing the life-sized doll peeking out the window:

suizenji garden noh theater

And then, before we knew it, we were approaching the area near the entrance to the garden:

suizenji garden

All in all, the walk around the garden probably took 30 minutes.  If you’re a garden lover, then it might take a while longer.  I have to say that I was a little surprised that the 53 stations weren’t better represented.  The Inari Shrine and Mt. Fuji were the only 2 stations that were clearly replicated.  However, I would still say that it was totally worth the 400 JPY, it was a lovely garden and it put me in a very relaxed mood.  Better yet, it converted me into a semi-garden lover and I’m looking forward to going to some more on this upcoming trip!

Photo credit: jpellgen / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND