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A section of the large canal which passes through the grounds, and which served the hydroelectric dam which formerly powered the complex.
The entrance to the Iso Palace
  • Built: 1658
  • Other Names: 磯庭園 (Iso teien)
  • Japanese: 仙巖園 (Sengan'en)

Sengan'en is a formal garden in Kagoshima, containing within it the Iso Palace, a secondary villa (bettei) of the Shimazu clan. It is today associated with the nearby Shôkoshûseikan complex.

The garden, along with the Iso Palace, were constructed in 1658, by Shimazu Mitsuhisa. The site was used for the personal leisure of the daimyô, as well as for entertaining guests, including officials from the Ryûkyû Kingdom, and a pavilion said to have been a gift from the King of Ryûkyû still stands on the grounds. Notable elements within the garden include the pewter-roofed main gate, and a set of lanterns said to have been the first gaslamps in Japan. The garden uses the "borrowed scenery" technique to borrow Kinkô Bay and Sakurajima into its arrangement, with the intention of producing the illusion of the two being merely a small hill in a pond, just beyond the walls.

The Ryukyuan pavilion, known as Bôgakurô (Pavilion for Admiring the Peak [i.e. Sakurajima]), is a small, simple square structure, in a style typically known in mainland Japan as azumaya. It features a tiled floor, with tiles supposedly based on those of the Epang Palace of the First Emperor of Qin, low to the ground, with short wooden fencing around the site, and a simple tiled roof. A plaque hung on the inside, reading bôgakurô, is done in the style of the calligraphy of Wang Xizhi. Believed to have originally been given to the Shimazu as a gift from the king of Ryûkyû in the early 17th century, it was the site in the mid-19th century of a significant meeting between Katsu Kaishû and Shimazu Nariakira.

The garden is also home to the oldest kyokusui garden in Japan,[1] and a variety of Bakumatsu/Meiji period technological innovations, including an 1892 hydroelectric dam which powered not only the factories of the Shûseikan complex, but also electric lights within the Iso residence. The first gaslamp in Japan was lit within a stone lantern in the garden in 1857.[2]

Shimazu Shigehide built a waterfall-viewing pavilion in 1799 on the hill overlooking the gardens. Known as shita no ochaya (tearoom in the lower part [of the garden]), it was built in the azumaya style; this pavilion is no longer extant.

The Iso Palace became the chief Kagoshima residence of the Shimazu in 1871, following the Meiji Restoration, when the new national government took over Kagoshima castle. Most of the compound was renovated in 1884, and about a third of the residence's buildings survive today.

The gardens were used extensively in the filming of the 2008 NHK Taiga Drama Atsu-hime, and a number of sites within the garden were named World Heritage Sites in 2015, as part of the umbrella category "Sites of Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding and Coal Mining." These include the Sekiyoshi Sluice Gate of Yoshino Leat, a charcoal kiln, and the reverberatory furnace.


  • Pamphlet available at Shôkoshûseikan.
  • Signs on-site at Sengan'en.
  1. A style of garden designed to allow for imitation of the famous Orchid Pavilion Gathering organized by Wang Xizhi in 353, in which participants floated wine cups on a small stream within Wang's garden, and played a game of trying to compose a poem before the next cup passed them.
  2. Plaque for gaslights on "History and Culture Street," just outside the walls and moat of the former site of Kagoshima castle.[1]

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