Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Originally, Japan was not divided up into prefectures, but into private fief-doms with land either allocated or awarded by the Emperor or the Shogunate. It wasn't until the Meiji Restoration and the illegalization of fiefs that the prefecture system was introduced. This means that the area currently known as Kagushima had a different name prior to the 1800's. According to the signboard at Sengan-En: "In the late 12th century, Minamoto-no Yoritomo appointed Koremune Tadahisa as manor lord of the Shimadzu-no-sho and protector of the fiefs of Satsuma, Oosumi and Hyuga. He took on the name of the demesne and became the first in the Shimadzu line. The Shimadzu was allowed to rule over Ryukyu (present Okinawa) in Edo era and reigned over southern Kyushu as a non-hereditary daimyo (lord) of the Tokugawa Shogun. Sengan-en is the official name for Iso Garden. Shimadzu Mitsuhisa made the Oo-iso Shimotsu Hamakado Residence of Kamata Izumo Masachika and built his residence here in 1658. Their main residence was the Tsurumaru Castle constructed by the order of the 18th lord of Shimadzu Iehisa at the foot of Shiroyama. The residence here in Sengan-en has been succeeded as a villa of the Shimadzu clan for generations. Sengan-en was designated as a National Cultural Asset in 1958".

Kagoshima has several buses that tour the city (City Mawari and the City Tours). City Tours then has 3 separate routes - Shiroyama, Waterfront and Night View. Both Shiroyama and Waterfront are 180 yen for the entire route. Shiroyama is about hourly, and Waterfront is closer to every 90 minutes or so. The two run in opposite directions, so you need to be a little careful of that where the routes overlap. If you want to get off and visit a specific site along the route, it'll be another 180 yen to get on the next bus that comes along. If you're going to do this more than 3 times, get a day pass from the driver for 600 yen. This day pass will also give you a 10% discount at some museums for the day.

I took the Waterfront bus, which goes by the Meiji Restoration Museum before heading to Dolphin Port. Then it follows the coastline north and east a few miles, past the current location of the 5 Great Kagoshima Bridges, to the end of the loop at Sengan-en. From here, the bus doubles back to Shiroyama, and visits the Saigo museum at the back of the hill before going to Tenmonkan, then returns to the train station.

Sengan-en is a huge section of land sitting along the coastline facing Sakura-jima. Unfortunately, that day the air was really hazy and I could only just make out the outline of the island. It's 1000 yen to get inside, and the entrance way is lined with photo ops, restaurants and souvenir shops. There are several gardens, lots of old buildings, and hiking trails that can take an hour to cover. You can easily spend the entire day here. Keep an eye on the bus schedule, though, since the buses do run rather infrequently, and they're often 10-15 minutes late because of the traffic.

Sengan-en was also one of the locations used for the filming of the NHK "Atsuhime" TV drama. There are photos around the grounds of the film crew and actors at work. Unfortunately, none of the photos make good pictures themselves.

Satusuma is famed for its cut glassworks. Kiriko is one of the most well-known makers of Satsuma cut glass, and they have a gallery and sales floor on the grounds. This stuff is NOT cheap.

From certain vantage points you can see the large letters cut into the mountainside. One of the information markers described this as having come from a Chinese practice, which took skilled workers on scaffolding 3 months to complete.

(The Satsuma clan emblem is incorporated in the roofworks, along with the little gargoyle.)

One of the souvenir shops had this cat pattern on the window, and the below figure in front of the door.

Roppongi Bridal, which has an outlet in Kagoshima City, supplies kimono for visitors to try on and walk around the grounds in. I didn't see pricing for it, but the service comes with professionals that help assemble the kimono with you.

(One of the visitors trying out the kimono.)

One of the things that the curators really emphasize at Sengan-en is the fact that the Shimdzu lord at the time of the opening up of the country to westerners decided to embrace the use of western technology. He encouraged his people to visit the U.S. and Europe and then financed the construction of factories nearby. The above building is a museum dedicated to those factories, which included the manufacture of cannon, shells, and the Kiriko cut glass mentioned earlier.

While the entrance fees are more expensive than normal, you can easily spend the entire day here exploring the grounds and hiking the hills. Well worth the 180 yen bus ticket to get here (figure 20 minutes on the Waterfront City View bus from the Kagoshima-chuo station if you don't get off and sight-see along the way.)

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