Japan: The Shukkei-en Garden in Hiroshima, 400 Years of Turbulent History
Updated: Oct 19
The Shukkei-en Garden is a work of art in the traditional landscape garden style. Located in the center of Hiroshima city in the Naka-Ku district, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan. Shukkei-en is closely tied to the history of the city. Due to events related to World War II, it has had a turbulent history.
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Shukkei-en is organized around a central pond that takes up most of the area. It features a beautiful stone arch bridge (Koko-Kyo) that serves as the focal point of the garden. The scene is inspired by the West Lake in Hangzhou, China, and has made Shukkei-en famous. This bridge is, in fact, the only built element that withstood the devastating force of the atomic bomb in 1945.
A Bit of History
The Shukkei-en Garden was constructed in 1620. It was designed by the tea master Ueda Soko, under the order of Asano Nagaakira, the then Daimyo of the Hiroshima Domain. From the Meiji era, it was the Asano family who occupied the estate.
Like the vast majority of famous gardens in Japan, Shukkei-en was long a private property. It is a Daimyo garden, named after the Daimyo lords who originally created these stunning landscape gardens on their private estates. The title of Daimyo is the second-highest rank of Samurai, following the Shogun.
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Destroyed on August 6, 1945, by the blast of the first atomic bomb, it was patiently rebuilt. This extensive work started in 1949, just four years after the tragic event and lasted for over 30 years. Today, this exceptional garden serves as a genuine haven of peace and tranquility. Although it is situated right in the center of Hiroshima City, the atmosphere is surprisingly calm and conducive to meditation.
The garden was bequeathed to Hiroshima Prefecture in 1940 and opened to the public the same year. Following World War II, the garden was temporarily transformed into a reception area for war victims. It was reopened to the public in 1951, even while significant renovation work was underway.
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Visiting the Shukkei-en Garden
To visit the Shukkei-en garden, plan a minimum of 2 hours to photograph it peacefully. It's crucial to go there right when it opens to avoid the crowd. While the Shukkei-en garden is spacious, there are few paths. These quickly become crowded, and visitors tend to take their time, stopping, of course, at the most beautiful viewpoints.
The name Shukkei-en can be translated as "the garden that shrinks landscapes". The original intent of the designer was to capture multiple landscapes in a single location, and the result is quite successful. You'll find a variety of scenes with interesting perspectives, giving you the impression of traveling to all corners of the country while only covering a few hundred meters.
© O. Robert
Miniature mountains, rivers, and vegetation share this space, which is both expansive and contained. For reference, the Shukkei-en garden is the same size as Hiroshima's baseball stadium.
If possible, visit the garden in the autumn. Like many other places in Japan, this is arguably the best season for garden contemplation. The Momiji maple trees display their nearly surreal, legendary colors during this time, a phenomenon known as Koyo. Depending on the species and the soil they are planted in, these Momiji trees offer visitors a wide color palette ranging from intense yellow to deep red. This has significantly contributed to their worldwide fame and literary mention.
Japanese people, who are particularly fond of this tree, have generously incorporated it into gardens for its delicate foliage and, of course, its autumnal colors. During this season, Shukkei-en also highlights its maple trees by illuminating them in the evening. It's a spectacle you must see if you have the opportunity to visit during this time.
© O. Robert
A bridge inspired by Chinese design
The Koko-Kyo stone bridge is inspired by the sceneries of West Lake in Hangzhou, China. It stands proudly at the center of the pond, dividing it into two sections, north and south. The bridge is a recurring element in the miniature landscapes that the garden offers and will likely be a central focus of your photographs. It allows visitors to cross the pond while passing over some of the garden's 14 islands, which are miniature representations of the islands in the Seto Inland Sea.
While its proportions are not at all comparable to the Chinese bridges that inspired it, the bridge in Shukkei-en harmonizes with the numerous miniature landscape scenes throughout the garden. Nevertheless, it remains quite spectacular. From this bridge, you can also observe various animal species that calmly swim in these waters. These include colorful koi fish, but also turtles and crabs, which attract a good number of birds.
Finally, don't forget to make a detour to the small medicinal herb garden, Yakuso-en, and the mini bamboo forest before concluding your visit.
Getting to Shukkei-en Garden
The garden is located by the Kyobashi River, just 500 meters from the main train station, which is a 10-minute walk.
You can also choose to get there by public transportation by taking the "Electric Railway Streetcar" tram towards Hatchobori Station and then switching to another tram on the Hakushima line.
Additionally, you can take the bus on the Hiroshima Meipuru-Pu line and get off at the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum stop.
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Opening Hours for Shukkei-en Garden
April to September: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
October to March: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
From December 29 to December 31
Individual Adult: 260¥
Individual Student: 100¥ to 150¥
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