The Shohinken teahouse and traditional garden of Yatsushiro (Photo: Mandy Bartok)

Shohinken Teahouse and Garden

A traditional escape in Yatsushiro

The Shohinken teahouse and traditional garden of Yatsushiro (Photo: Mandy Bartok)
Mandy Bartok   - 3 min read

Yatsushiro is easily overlooked on the average traveler's itinerary to southern Kyushu. There's not much to draw tourists into the town but should you find yourself in the neighborhood, it's worth stopping off at the Shohinken, an Edo-era property that features a beautiful tea house and a traditional garden.

The Shohinken is located just northwest of Yatsushiro's castle park (though don't look for a castle donjon as a useful landmark - all that remains are the original stone walls). The property is surrounded by high wooden walls with a whitewashed trim and a small water channel running along the outside. Inside, the dominant feature of the garden is the teahouse, constructed in 1688 by the local Matsue clan. It comprises several rather large rooms and is still in use today for tea ceremonies and special functions.

The garden around the teahouse was designated as a place of scenic beauty in 2002 and it doesn't disappoint. In front of the teahouse, a large pond is broken up by an island, with bridges and stepping stones connecting the various strips of land. In late May and early June, this pond is the main site to view the region's Higo irises (Higo being the old name for the domain in which Yatsushiro fell). On the side of the teahouse, a smaller pond features lotuses and other water plants. The path that leads by this section of the garden brings visitors past a small shrine and up the short staircase to the literal high point of the property. It doesn't afford the best views of the garden (being surrounded by a grove of trees) but there is a small gazebo and bench here on which to rest.

On certain weekends, especially in the iris season, local volunteer guides are on hand to answer any questions (some guides spoke basic English) and entice you to sample a cup of matcha and a traditional wagashi sweet.

For drivers, there is a large parking lot located just east of the garden, almost immediately to the north of the castle grounds. It's not very well-signed coming from the direction of the expressway but you'll find it on the north side of the road immediately before the corner where the Shohinken is located.

Mandy Bartok

Mandy Bartok @mandy.bartok

Japan resident for 10 years, with time spent in Okinawa, Kumamoto and Tokyo.