Japan has a well-deserved reputation for beautiful gardens and many of its cities have at least one picturesque garden. Visitors to Okinawa often flock to Shikinaen, the former residence of the Ryukyu Kings and one of Okinawa’s World Heritage Sites. While Shikinaen is undoubtedly worth visiting, it is not Okinawa’s only noteworthy garden. In fact, Fukushu-en is perhaps the more interesting of the two.
While Fukushu-en may lack the history of some of Japan’s more famous gardens, it’s nevertheless a beautiful place to wander. The grounds are surprisingly spacious, and with its lush greenery and central lake, it makes for a wonderful escape from the city life.
The garden was built in 1992 as a way to commemorate the sister city relationship between Naha and Fuzhou, China. This authentic Chinese-style garden was built by gardeners with many materials from China. Even the location was carefully chosen, as the area was once the center for Chinese culture in Okinawa.
Upon entering the garden, you will feel like you have been transported to China. You can find keyhole gates, uniquely shaped scholar’s rocks, Chinese-style pagodas, and various Chinese architectural styles; all of these are features that you are unlikely to see in Japanese gardens. Of course, there are signs of Okinawa in the garden as well, most notably the plant life that is native to Okinawa.
There are plenty of interesting things to discover in the grounds. The garden is entirely walled, with elaborate gates at the four cardinal directions. The gates are worth inspecting as there are some fantastic stone and wood carvings of animals and dragons. The garden is centered around a lake and there’s a pretty waterfall cascading down into it.
Here you can find koi carp and turtles as well as the occasional heron. Right above the waterfall is an observation point located on top of a man-made cave. You can step into the cave to see the waterfall from behind or climb up for a beautiful view of the garden.
One of the best features is the Zodiac Bridge, where you can find stone statues of all 12 animals in the Chinese zodiac. There are also numerous six-sided pavilions that showcase Chinese paintings, inscriptions, and sculptures as well as offer a good place to sit and escape the sun.
Some of my favorite parts of the garden, though, are the Chinese gates in various shapes. The perfectly round moon gate is particularly lovely and it looks like something out of a fairytale. No two gates seem to be the same and there are also keyhole and hexagonal shaped gates that are equally pretty. The towering pagoda is also stunning, and it is all the more striking for how architecturally different it is from Japanese pagodas. There are so many wonderful little details and it is easy to lose time in this garden as you try to discover all of its secrets.
Fukushuen is centrally located and is a ten-minute walk from Kencho-Mae. At 200 yen, it is also one of the cheaper attractions in Okinawa so there is no reason to miss out. It is a stunning garden that is unlike anything else you will find in Japan and is a welcome relief from the busy city life. When visiting Okinawa, it is well worth it to set aside an hour or so to visit this hidden gem.