Visiting Sankeien Garden any time of the year is special, but visiting the garden during cherry blossom season is amazing.
The magic begins even before you enter. The long road leading into Sankeien, called Sakuramichi (Sakura street), is lined with cherry trees on both sides forming a beautiful tunnel of pink. The people who live along this street are truly lucky!
The garden itself, which includes a pond and 3-story pagoda, is a sight to behold. Formerly the private home of the Hara family, it was opened to the public in 1906. It covers 175,000 square meters and includes 17 old Japanese buildings of historical importance that are scattered around the garden. These in themselves are impressive enough...but then there are the cherry trees.
There are over 300 cherry trees here, and when seen in combination with the garden’s beautiful old buildings they create a perfect picture of what Japan must have been like hundreds of years ago. The Japanese are well known for their ability to bring nature into their lives in surprising ways, and this garden is a very good example.
My recommendation is to come in the early afternoon. If you bring a picnic lunch with you, find a place to sit down under a cherry tree near the pond and enjoy a leisurely meal there. After you have finished eating, take pleasure in strolling around the garden. You will want to bring your camera—this is a once in a lifetime chance! Notice the different kinds of cherry trees. Some have flowers that are bright pink. Others bloom in pale and almost-white hues. And there are also delicate trees that resemble the Weeping Willow. Very beautiful!
When you are ready to take a break from your stroll, relax at the Sankei Memorial building, where you can enjoy authentic Japanese green tea. They will also be selling sakura ice cream at the Sankeien Saryo café near the pond. Tasty!
All this relaxation might have you feeling a bit tired by now…but don’t leave yet! There’s a wonderful bonus—the nighttime “light up”. Starting at around 6:30pm, spotlights in the garden are turned on and a completely new world is born. The cherry trees and their pink blossoms take on an air of mysterious beauty, quite different from what you see in the sunlight. Take some photos, and then again find a place to sit. Break out the sake and snacks and enjoy a quiet, meditative hour or so this way. Heaven!
On weekends, Sankeien can be quite crowded, so weekdays are best. Even so, you will be sharing this wonderful space with a lot of other equally happy, excited people. The sakura come year after year, but the Japanese never tire of them. I have lived in Japan for over 30 years, and this is always the highlight of the year for me as well.
Sankeien is home to startling beauty throughout the year, depending on the season. So if you miss the cherry blossom season, don’t hesitate to visit at other times. I especially recommend early May during Golden Week, when everything is green and fresh and some of the old buildings are open; July and August, when the lotus are in full bloom; and autumn, when the fall Japanese maple leaves put on a real color show!