In August 2012, I went to Hiroshima for one major reason, to go to Saijo and drink a lot of sake. My mission was accomplished and I had a lot of time to do more sightseeing. I had a couple days to enjoy the city and being my 4th time to Hiroshima, there wasn’t much left to see. I made plans to try to visit the Mazda Factory, Kure, and Shukkeien. My plan to visit the Mazda Factory was cancelled as they were closed for obon, and my trip to Kure was cancelled due to rain, which included a 1 hour wait on the train before I returned to Hiroshima. When I returned to Hiroshima Station, I had a lot of time before the baseball game and decided to bump up my schedule and visit Shukkeien in the late morning. It was hot and humid as always and I made the short walk over to the garden. It was supposed to be a short visit to the garden but I ended up spending a lot more time than I had expected and enjoying it more than I had expected.
Shukkeien itself means “shrunken scenery garden” according to Japan Guide. I agree with the Japan Guide article that talks about Shukkeien being a plethora of landscapes all crammed into a small space. The entrance to the garden was grand by Hiroshima standards and the garden made me think it was similar to going to Shinjuku Gyoen, only a lot smaller. The first thing you need to know is that the recommended route throughout the garden is the best route through the garden. I followed the route and constantly checked the free map that is provided with admission. I ventured off the recommended path and didn’t experience any special enlightenment. Following the main route and venturing off from time to time is a lot of fun too but the recommended path has the best views of the garden and shouldn’t be skipped. It is well marked so you can’t get lost. The recommended route starts off with a trip to the main hall located at the centre of the garden. It also provides access to the central bridge which is a lot of fun and you can see every point of the garden from the bridge in the middle of the pond.
The east side of the garden is my favourite side, if I had to choose one. There are a series of 3 small bridges that are popular in the park. It is a type of arch bridge that gives a good vantage of the entire garden along with some of the high rises nearby. Venturing into the farthest corner of the garden allowed me to climb a “mountain” as well as see a bamboo “forest”. The mountain was actually just a couple metres tall and the forest was about 12 square metres. If you want to experience everything in a small area, the east side will give you all of that. You can even relax in one of the tea huts, no longer serving tea, and just enjoy the park. Some of them require you to take off your shoes so it can be a little dirty inside from people who don’t observe the signs. I found it to be the more tranquil area of the park, but it could have been the fact that I wasn’t dehydrated at that point.
The west side of the park is more traditional, in my opinion. The paths in the area twist and turn and intertwine with each other. It is easy to get confused as to which way is the best way to get from A to B but that is part of the fun. There is a small waterfall as well as a rock “beach”. Since it is a shrunken scenic garden, the beach was just rounded rocks cemented together to give an illusion of a beach or something similar. It was really nice to be there but by the time I had reached the western section of the park I was extremely tired and getting very dehydrated from the heat.
The park itself is wonderful and aside from the humidity, it is beautiful. I recommend a visit if you are ever there and have the extra time. While Miyajima and the Peace Park are more important, Shukkeien is still a nice place to visit. I do recommend being prepared for the heat as it is more humid around the park than the areas surrounding the park. It is also a waste to use the public transportation system as there is a special line that takes you from the garden to the main road and no further. You are better off walking from the main road or walking from the station. The walk itself is very nice and close to the river. The river even has a lot of nice places to eat as I stumbled upon a nice Italian restaurant and was able to sit in the terrace and enjoy a pasta lunch with a good view of the river. There is nothing more relaxing than visiting a Japanese garden for a “hike” followed by a nice lunch on the river.
To read more about Shukkeien and the surrounding areas, please visit the following posts on Dru’s Misadventures: