Yokokan Garden, a 15-minute walk from Fukui Station, is a beautiful water garden in harmony with nature.
It is a stroll garden located in the sukiya-style villa of the Matsudaira family, the feudal lords of Fukui.
The garden was made in the Edo period (1603-1867), and was called “Gosenzui Yashiki,” meaning “a garden surrounding a large pond.” The sukiya-style villa, which looks as if it is floating on water, offers beautiful views from all angles.
The elegance of the garden is such that it was selected as one of the top Japanese gardens in the ranking of Japanese gardens by the Journal of Japanese Gardening, a U.S. specialty magazine.
The Yokokan Garden is famous for its autumn foliage, but you can also enjoy the flowers, trees, beautiful gravel, stone arrangements and of course the buildings and ponds during all seasons.
◆Table of Contents
- History of Yokokan Garden
1. History of Yokokan Garden
Yokokan Garden was completed in the early Edo period (early 1600s) and renovated in the late 1600s as a villa of the Echizen Matsudaira family, lords of the Fukui domain in Echizen Province.
Even after the buildings were destroyed by fire in the Fukui air raid of 1945, the most important parts of the garden, such as the pond, artificial hill, and masonry still remained, and in 1982 the garden was designated a national place of scenic beauty as an excellent garden that retained its original state.
The restoration of the garden was based on a plan called “Gosensui-sashizu” (the illustrated guide to the garden) from the 6th year of Bunsei Era (1818-1830), and was completed and opened to the public in 1993 after about eight years of work.
The name “Yokokan” was given by Shuntake Matsudaira in 1884 and is derived from Mencius’ saying “to enliven one’s spirit,” which means “the spirit is the source of one’s innate vitality,” or in other words, “to cultivate a generous mindset.”
The first room you enter after passing through the gate and the kitchen is the Kushigato-no-Oma, a room facing the pond.
This is the room in the mansion that is the closest to the center of the pond, and you can overlook both the garden and the pond.
The closeness of the water will make it feel as if you are riding on a houseboat, traveling through time to the Edo period.
If you look down to the pond through the window, the friendly and majestic carp will come near you and show-off their beauty. You can also buy fish bait at the reception desk and feed them.
*Please do not let children lean over when feeding them.
The central room of the mansion is named Gozanoma. It is where the feudal lord’s seat is located.
The floor and side shelves are located to the east, and the de-shoin (study) is located to the south. The transom made of a single piece of mulberry wood is carved with a hemp leaf pattern, wishing for the healthy growth of children.
You can feel a pure breeze blow through this room of “apology.”
When the narrow braided shoji screen doors are opened, bright sunlight pours in, revealing the trees and colorful stepping stones that adorn the garden.
The stepping stones are made of Yasujima stone from Fukui Prefecture. It is characterized by a thin layer of water pattern.
The colors and shapes of the unprocessed stones convey the richness of nature.
The most impressive room in the mansion is the Otsukiminoma, a tatami room detached from the main building.
The pursuit of natural beauty and hospitality that is elaborated throughout this room is unparalleled.
From here, you can enjoy views of each garden from all sides except the northern floor.
Where should I sit? What did the feudal lord feel when he saw this view? With such thoughts in mind, you will want to take your time to gaze at the unchanging beauty of nature.
View from the cloud window
It is said that the feudal lord used to sit by the window and admire the pond and the moon up in the sky.
It is deeply moving to think that after so many years, we are looking at the same view that the feudal lord used to enjoy.
The lord must have watched the rising moon from the viewing platform and the lingering moon reflecting on the water surface, enjoying the late evening.
The building is designed in a way that the view can be enjoyed while sitting down, so please sit down as if you are a lord enjoying the view.
It is said that in the old days, a carpet was laid here for the guests to view the moon.
The left and right side pattern of the jibukuro (cupboard on the floor) is different, and the door is decorated with shellwork so that guests can enjoy the design from all angles.
This is truly the essence of hospitality.
There is a chicken painted on the wooden door that borders the corridor. Do you know why it is a chicken?
The chicken is the first one to cry in the morning because it is the first one to receive sunlight. This is why the room faces the east.
There is a humorous story behind the making of the wooden door.
The area to the right of the entrance was created as a living space. From this point forward, the pillars were built with different thickness and structure.
The place of hospitality and the place of living were designed very differently.
This steam bath is a unique configuration of the villa, and is a place of relaxation.
It is made entirely of cypress, and you can see the front of the “Seiren” summerhouse and the main citadel of Fukui Castle behind it.
To soak in the bath while admiring the pond and castle is truly an elegant experience.
The roof of the Ochaya building is shingled with approximately 100,000 cedars, and the shingles were replaced over a period of two years.
The color difference between the shingles that were replaced a year ago and those replaced two years ago is very visible to the eye. The color contrast with the blue sky is impressive.
The large building stone used as a weight on the roof is made of shakudani stone, which can only be found in Fukui. When rained on, it appears a pale blue.
The charm of Yokokan is its garden that seems to blend in well with the building. Both the building and the garden bring out the best in each other, creating a beauty and novelty that cannot be found anywhere else.
I crossed five stone bridges to experience the timeless artistry of the garden.
Natural Stone Bridge
The first bridge is the largest bridge, but as you keep walking the bridges become smaller and smaller.
The bridge is made of long, slender boulders, and water flows under the bridge as if it were seeping into the ground, a sight not seen in other gardens.
The birds chirping, the sound of the wind blowing, and the fresh air surrounding you will cleanse your mind.
Wash basin made of Shakudani stone
As you continue on, you will see a stone wash basin covered in beautiful moss.
Water gushes out from here in the morning.
Here is a great spot to take a photo of the mansion.
Usu-no-Ochaya (Tea House) Remains
There used to be a building here called the Usu-no-Ochaya where people used to drink tea.
Unfortunately, it could not be reconstructed, because it would have stuck out into the road, but it is superficially restored and marked with a foundation stone.
It is a small summer house named Seiren.
The ceiling is made from wickerwork, and the floor is covered with square boards laid diagonally.
Although, you cannot enter now, it is said that the feudal lord used to drink and smoke here in those days.
It must have been very refreshing to sit here after a nice short walk.
The moss on the rocks are quite impressive. This beauty unique to Japan has been cultivated over a long period of time.
It is this pond that is perhaps the most appealing aspect of the garden.
It brightens and soothes the hearts of all visitors.
The garden is nearly square in shape, and unusually for a Japanese garden, there is no central island.
It is a perfect spot for visitors to enjoy the moon and the sky reflecting on the water surface.
The pond’s berm is interrupted by capes and inlets, creating a unique landscape allowing you to enjoy a different view of the garden each time you walk through it.
It is said that the best view of the mansion can be seen from this daruma-shaped rock.
It is a blessing to be able to enjoy this refined landscape where everything is in harmony.
The history and natural beauty of Fukui have been passed down from generation to generation right here.
This time, I was lucky enough to be accompanied by a volunteer guide, Mr. Fujioka.
I felt more familiar with Yokokan, as I was able to learn about the detailed workmanship, origin, and history that I would have never noticed on my own. I was able to learn another wonderful thing about Fukui.
Click here for more information about the guide:
Garden Illumination Event
Although we have introduced the Yokokan Garden in early summer, other seasons also have their own uniqueness and attractions, and you will find new discoveries no matter how many times you visit.
The best time to visit is when the garden is illuminated. Please enjoy the garden that is lit-up beautifully.
*Please check the website for information on when the event is held.
You can learn about the history of Fukui and become one with nature here at Yokokan.
The garden is located close to the city center, yet you can find peace and quiet.
The spatial composition of the garden with such a large pond is unique and precious.
If you are looking for a place to spend some peaceful time, Yokokan is the place for you. Here, you can appreciate the unique beauty of nature at its finest.