If you find yourself in Kumamoto, high up on your to-do list will be a visit to Suizenji Koen (水前寺公園 Suizenji Park). There are many visitors to the park every year and it’s well-known for its beauty and traditional style.
At the entrance to the park you can purchase ikinari dango いきなりだんご – a traditional Kumamoto dessert made out of sweet potato and red bean paste, which is covered in salted mochi skin. The name means something like ‘suddenly… mochi’ or ‘easy-make dumplings’. The idea is that these steamed sweets are quick and easy to make.
Lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi started construction of the scenic garden and tea house in 1636. The location of the park was picked because of its spring-fed pond, the water of which was known to be marvellous for making green tea. A temple used to stand in the area, and it is what the garden was named for.
These days the garden homes the Izumi Shrine, where some members of the famous Hosokawa family are enshrined. In the garden is a miniature representation of Mt. Fuji – a pointy grass-covered hill that is supposed to look like the notorious Tokyo mountain. There is a theatre stage where seasonal plays are performed. The stage was completed in the same era as the family shrine. A small tea house with a quaint thatched roof overlooks the pond.
The pond is the best part of the garden; it has a multitude of birds which flap on the water’s surface and dozens of carp in a medley of different colours within the shallow waters. The garden is beautiful, picturesque and exquisitely sculpted. Visitors will do well to remember that this was once a simple family garden, so don’t expect a giant park with wide expanses of grassy lawns. It’s actually rather small, considering its fame. However, at only 400 yen entrance fee it is worth a visit, particularly on a nice day when you can sit in the sun by the pond, feed the fish and read a good book.