Wandering Shinsen-en Garden

A small and cheerful garden full of history

By Katsuyuki Tanaka    - 3 min read

In the middle of the city there is a splendid open space filled with a garden. It is said here lies a beautiful remnant of history. Let's go and take a look. 

During the Heian period, Emperor Junna ordered the dual construction of Kofukuji Temple and Toji Temple, by the priests Jubin and Kukai respectively, in an effort to reverse a prolonged drought. In one week, Jubin had little progress to show. At the same time, Kukai was at the Heian Palace in the south, nearly done with his task of building, but still not one drop of rain fell at Shinsen-en. According to the later writings of Kukai, the jealous Jubin had captured all the rain-making dragon gods and put them in a bottle. Kukai appealed to one final dragon, Zennyo, which resided in the sacred pond (from which Shinsen-en traces  its name). Soon fell a great rain.

Shinsen-en also shares a relationship with the Gion Festival. Spirits of those that died from a plague epidemic centuries ago are said to gather at the lake where an exorcism takes place to calm their eternal suffering. The ritual also aids in preventing future outbreaks of the deadly disease. The ceremony takes place using 66 spears, representing the 66 territories of Japan during that time.​

There is one more thing to mention. When the late Emperor Daigo made his official royal visit to Shinsen-en, it was said there was a heron resting its feathers. The Emperor commanded his servant to capture the bird. As the servant approached, the bird tried to fly away. The servant called out ''By the will of the Emperor!'' The bird suddenly stopped and lay itself on the ground. The Emperor was so pleased he bestowed the loyal bird the title of goi (五位) meaning fifth rank. This later evolved into the word goisagi (五位鷺), meaning night heron. This episode is sung about in a Noh performance.

Inside the walls of the garden you can find features such as a lucky direction marker (恵方社) a shop to sample and purchase tea, and an area to buy food to give to the waterfowl. It is enjoyable to play with the ducks and sparrows in the area. While you are at Shinsen-en make sure to make your wish while crossing the Bridge of Wishes. I hope it comes true.  

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Justin Velgus

Justin Velgus @justin.velgus

Justin Velgus (ジャスティン ベルガス) is a long-term resident and promoter in the Tohoku region. He has been a content producer for JapanTravel.com since 2012 and was the Miyagi Prefecture Regional Partner 2013-2015. Justin’s over 300 published travel and culture articles come from a background of studying in Akita, teaching English in Miyagi through the JET Program, and working for the government in Fukushima. He lives in the gyutan capital of the world, Sendai.   Justin is an expert in local culture and history. He was the first foreign volunteer at Sendai City Museum and regularly advises the local volunteer guide group GOZAIN , which he is a veteran member, on guiding techniques and hidden locations in the city even locals don't know about. In his free time he enjoys delivering original walking tours, such as his Dark Sendai Tour (ghost tour) or Kokubuncho Mystery Tour (redlight district tour). Justin is also a Certified Sake Professional.

Original by Katsuyuki Tanaka

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Iain Stanley 4 years ago
Beautiful, vivid pics!!
Mandy Bartok 4 years ago
Thank you for this write-up! I love learning more about the history of various gardens and temples that aren't always written up extensively for English visitors.