Welcome to the Tsubo-en diary. Thanks for stopping by and reading. If you have any questions feel free to email us or post in the comment sections of one of the posts you'll find here.
     Marijke & Piet.

Tag search

Follow us

Slow Blog Button: Go to Manifesto discussion.

Traditional Samurai gardens of the Edo era


The samurai quarter of Chiran is a semi-fortified village of which a number of houses survive today. Nowadays this old samurai quarter, with as its center the Honbaba promenade or Bukeyashiki-doori (武家屋敷通り), the street with old samurai residences, or samurai lane of Chiran, narrow paved lanes bordered on both sides by walls of undressed stones covered with moss and lichen, still represents the peaceful days of the Tokugawa regime.

Zen – serene, contemplative, a discipline of meditation associated with painting, rock gardens, and flower arranging – seems an odd ingredient in the martial psyche of the Japanese Samurai.

Winston King, “Zen and the Way of the Sword”.

The first time I learned about the Samurai residences (and) gardens of Chiran 知覧武家屋敷群 was in 2008 when I discovered the superb Internet photo collection of Japanese gardens from Professor Anker Nielsen.
Although now beyond imagination, I then almost forgot about them. After having studied lots of (monochrome) ink-paintings from China and Japan, I was again drawn to these gardens and intrigued by them, as they seemed to be the closest ever three-dimensional projections of these ink-paintings, of all gardens I have seen.

To my surprise I have not seen rave reviews and only very few references to these exceptional gardens. For instance the book Japanese Garden II [ 6 ] by Haruzo Ohashi includes one photo of Mr. Naotada Sata’s garden. The gardens we have visited in central Japan, in Kyoto, Nara, Niko were world famous, often visited by throngs, and splendidly photographed in dozens of books. On the Internet and World Wide Web tons of information and many magnificent photo’s can be found of most of these gardens, yet the Samurai Gardens of Chiran are poorly represented. In a short paragraph in one of my older guide books [C] (still a great resource) I found some information and even a small photo of one of the gardens.
After my Mount Sumeru erected after 10 year of “dormancy” adventure (see: Stone and rock: Mount Sumeru) I became even more intrigued by the use of ink-paintings to create a karesansui garden and decided to dive into this. And that has been the trigger for what developed into an extensive chapter and study on our main website. In this post you find an abstract.

Short history of the samurai gardens of Chiran

Regarding garden design the “Chiran Bukeyashiki Teien Hozonkai” state on their website:

“The gardens of Chiran are influenced by the gardens of Kyoto (Kyoto-style is “humble simplicity”) and the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa) culture. The origin may also lay in China that is not far distant.”

During the Tokugawa Period the Shimazu of Satsuma allowed their vassals, the Sata family from Chiran, to take up tea cultivation, that prospers ever since. The venture proved to be a great success and the financial results of their enterprise may be seen in the houses and gardens of Chiran that where laid out during the Edo Era (1603-1867).


Attributed to Zen monk: Kei Shokei (Muromachi period, 16th century AD), Hanging scroll Mountain landscape. The painting shows the influence of Chinese painting of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), as interpreted in Japan by the priest-painter Shu-bun. The British Museum.

It is believed that these Samurai residences were created during the reign of Shimadzu Hisatatsu (1651-1719) or Shimadzu Hisamine (1732-1772). The heads of the Chiran Shimadzu Family and their retainers were highly educated people and enjoyed Japanese waka poems and calligraphy. It is also said that they visited Kyoto and brought Kyoto culture back to Chiran. In addition, the Satsuma Clan introduced Chinese culture through trade with China by way of Ryukyu (present day Okinawa), which was indirectly under the control of the Satsuma Clan. One such influence can be seen in the gardens of the Chiran Samurai Residences. The gardens there are precious evidence that cause us to realize that Chinese gardening culture was introduced to Japan by way of Ryukyu.


One of the seven gardens, also known as Mr.Satoshi Itirou's Nishigou garden. Mr. Satoshi Itirou has moved and no longer lives in this prefecture. The residence now belongs to the city of Chiran.

Related: For the full story follow this link: Study into the origins of the Samurai gardens. Here you will also find a collection of links to websites with related topics.