It’s not one the ‘famous 3 gardens’ of Japan, but it is my favourite.
Japan’s three renowned gardens hog all the tourists. They hog all the tourism literature too. They therefore hog backpacker itineraries. One of them, Kenroku-en in Kanazawa hogged several hours of my time, but it didn’t hog my attention as much as Shukkeien garden in Hiroshima.
“Shrunken scenery garden”
Shukkei-en is about 15 minutes’ walk southwest across the river from Hiroshima train station, located right next to the Prefectural Art Museum. ‘Shukkei-en’ means ‘shrunken scenery garden’, apparently, and you can really see why. After paying the 250 Yen entry fee you can follow a designated and discretely signed route anti-clockwise around the garden. The centrepiece of Shukkeien is the carp-filled lake and the stone bridge bisecting it, but the surroundings imitate rolling hills and bamboo groves, rivers and waterfalls. Small islands in the lake are populated by towers of reptiles basking in the sun. Many trees are picture-perfect topiary balls or suitably quaint models for bonsai trees. When we visited Shukkei-en the blossoms were in full display and just beyond the ticket booth you can admire many varieties with different shades within a few steps.
Speaking of models – we witnessed a few young women dressed in beautiful traditional attire, looking wistful under the towering bamboo, or smiling sweetly under the glowing blossoms. If anyone knows what they were up to, please let me know, but I guess they were coming of age pictures or something? It was all a little bit surreal at times when you stumble across the chatter of an SLR camera and its remote-controlled flashes, but the garden is enjoyed by elderly Japanese too. The benches and gazebos are full of sleepy people simply watching the fish, and there wasn’t another tourist in the garden at all.
Kenroku-en is sprawling and pretty, but unfocused and bustling. Shukkei-en is small and beautiful, but feels harmonious and calm by comparison. It’s really well worth a visit if you need a couple of hours of peaceful reflection.
Take a look at these snaps, I couldn’t do it justice but you can at least get a sense of what it’s like there.