Sankien Gardens in Yokohama had been high on my to-do list in Japan after a friend who’d lived here years ago named it one of her top Japanese experiences. High praise indeed from another adventurous spirit who spent years exploring the country with a toddler in tow.
I couldn’t wait for the weather to warm up enough to spend an entire day outside, and in early March, we seized our chance on a sunny day, driving out to the gardens for their viewing of plum blossoms.
The sakura (cherry blossoms) get all the glory in Japan, but it’s the plum blossoms that truly herald the arrival of spring. Trees that had been bare all winter suddenly sprang into glorious pink and white, and while I’ve grown into a person that loves seasons now, this very clear signal that winter was drawing to an end was an incredibly welcome sign.
We arrived early in the day and immediately set out exploring.
We had the gardens to mostly ourselves and some incredibly friendly Japanese retirees. There were gorgeous views everywhere – from bridges, to traditional structures, to perfectly manicured gardens.
My son found some of the natural guests of the gardens.
The gardens began as the private grounds of wealthy silk merchant Tomitaro “Sankei” Hara, and were opened to the public in 1906. In addition to the historical structures, many traditional structures have been moved or added to the grounds at the request of the government, in order to preserve Japanese heritage.
At last, we found the big show – the plum blossoms!
There were numerous spots for lunch, and smart families packed picnics. The gardens also hosts a tea stop, where freshly made barley tea was the absolute perfect hot treat on a brisk spring day, and several traditional restaurants. My son absolutely loves onigiri, (rice triangles with various fillings).
It was such an idyllic day, and such a wonderful place to visit with a little kid. There was plenty of space to run and explore, plenty of sticks to hold and rocks to throw. I’m surprised there’s any gravel left after my son spent a good thirty minutes tossing it from every bridge and pathway he encountered.
The best part of the gardens is that they change again and again with every season and every plant that blossoms and blooms. We bought an annual pass and I can’t wait to return during sakura season!
Sankien Gardens regularly hosts special viewings throughout the year and is easily accessible by car or by 30-minute bus trip from Yokohama train station. Visit their website for a full schedule of upcoming events.