Sorakuen: Traditional Japanese Garden with a mix of Western-influenced Meiji Era Buildings

Date: 17th November 2018

Sorakuen (相楽園) is a stroll garden built on the residence of Taijiro Kodera, father of former Kobe City Mayor – Kenkichi Kodera and was completed in 1911. The garden was previously called The Kodera Residence or The Sotetsu Garden and was only given the name Sorakuen when it came under the ownership of Kobe City.

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Sorakuen consists of a stroll garden around a pond and a number of western buildings reflective of the Meiji Era. However, most of these buildings perished in the air-raid during WWII, leaving only an European-style stable – the Kodera Stable which was constructed by Kenkichi Kodera himself in 1910. A number of important buildings were later moved to Sorakuen – the former Hassam House and the houseboat Funayakata. The garden is adorned by cycad wood, large camphor trees in which some are over 500 years old, azaleas and maple trees.

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Kodera Stable

The Former Hassam House built in 1902 was the residence of K. Hassam, an Anglo-Indian trader and was originally located in Kitano-cho but was moved to Sorakuen in 1963 upon donation to the city. Displayed in the front yard is a chimney which dropped from the roof during the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

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Hassam House and the fallen chimney
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Inside the former Hassam House

Even though Kobe attracts a large number of tourists, I was surprised at how less-crowded the garden is even though it was a Saturday. Although, as it was the weekend following Shichi-go-san (rite of passage day for 3 & 7 year-old girls and 5 year-old boys), there were a number of photography shoots going on in this garden on that day. I am not surprised by the choice – Sorakuen gives the perfect background typical of a Japanese garden.

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The Funayakata was a kawagozabune which was originally part of a houseboat used for pleasure cruises by a Himeji daimyo and was said to be built between 1682 and 1704. The current building is a reconstruction dating back to 1980 and is the last kawagozabune in existence. The beautifully decorated building, surrounded by the beautiful green nature of Sorakuen calls for appreciation.

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Funayakata

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Also seen around the pond is the Kanshintei, a teahouse reconstructed after it was burned down along with the main hall and Yushintei tea house during the war. During the stroll, you would notice that there are a number of stone lanterns around Sorakuen – 27 to be exact.

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Kanshintei

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I was here during the Chrysanthemum Exhibition (held yearly between Oct 20 to Nov 23) and though I was initially not a fan of these flowers, I came to appreciate the unique beauty of chrysanthemums thanks to this exhibition. If you are here in spring, look forward to the over 4000 varied azaleas which blooms between early April to early June (details below).

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Info

Opening hours: 09:00 – 17:00

Closing days:

  • 29th December to 3rd January
  • Thursdays (open on public holiday, closed the following day)
  • Not closed during the Chrysanthemum Exhibition

The Hassam House and the Funayakata are only open to the public during the azalea season and the Chrysanthemum Exhibition between 09:00 to 16:30.

Azalea Season:

  • Dodan azaleas: Early to mid April
  • Kirishima azaleas: Mid to late April
  • Hirado azaleas: Late April to early May
  • Satsuki azaleas: Late May to Early June

Chrysanthemum Exhibition: October 20 – November 23

Admission fee: 300 yen

Official Website

Access

Sorakuen is a 5-mins walk from Kencho-mae Station on the Seishin-Yamate Line (Kobe Subway) or a 10-mins walk from Motomachi Station on the JR Kobe Line or the Hanshin Main Line / Hanshin Kobe Kosoku Line.

How to get to Kencho-mae station:

  • From Sannomiya Station, take the Seishin-Yamate Line (2 mins, 210 yen)
  • From Shin-Kobe Station, take the Seishin-Yamate Line (4 mins, 210 yen)

How to get to Motomachi station:

  • From Sannomiya Station, take the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Line (2 mins, 120 yen)
  • From Sannomiya Station, take the Hanshin Line (1 min, 130 yen)
  • From Hanshin Umeda Station, take the Hanshin Line towards Himeji (35 mins, 320 yen)
  • From Osaka Station, take the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Line (30 mins, 410 yen)
  • From Himeji Station, take the JR Tokaido-Sanyo Line towards Maibara (1 hr 5 mins, 970 yen)

 

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Author: Jennifer

Hi! I am Jennifer. I enjoy planning my own travels and love traveling in Japan - for the history, nature, temples, and the food! Read more for travel guides of places I have visited.

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