Written by Lisa Wallin
Rokkaen: An Architectural Treasure
One of Kuwana’s most striking historical masterpieces is Rokkaen, completed in 1913. Originally the private residence of Moroto Seiroku (the Second), this property is a prime example of late Meiji period (1868-1912) fusion of Western and Japanese architectural styles. The mansion stands close by the Ibi-gawa and Nagara-gawa rivers and boasts a vast 18,000 sq. m. expanse of gardens, houses, and storerooms. The buildings still retain their original furniture and tiles, as well as unique design details. Rokkaen was designated an Important Cultural Property in 1997, while the garden was awarded the honor of becoming a Natural Scenic Site in 2001. You may even recognize it before visiting — it has frequently appeared in TV shows and movies.
Josiah Condor: The Man Behind Rokkaen
Josiah Condor, a British architect from London, designed Rokkaen. He came to Japan in the late 1800s and quickly earned the nickname “the father of modern Japanese architecture” for his efforts. His most notable work was Rokumeikan, a two-story building and banquet hall in Hibiya in Tokyo. Most of Condor’s structures were built in and around Tokyo, and Rokkaen is the only one of his works outside of the Kanto region. Because Rokumeikan was destroyed in 1941, Rokkaen is even more valuable as both a piece of living history and an example of Condor’s extraordinary architectural achievements.
Explore Rokkaen in Person — and Online!
Visitors are allowed entry to Rokkaen for a small fee, and the building is also used for events, art exhibits and even conferences. One of the reasons it is so popular, outside of its marvelous architectural details and adjoining garden, is the way it is naturally lit. Walking through the various rooms will give you a sense of how much attention was devoted to creating a bright and airy atmosphere in both Rokkaen’s Western and Japanese buildings. You can also experience how the light filters through the windows online through the Rokkaen virtual reality experience, here.
More Historic Kuwana Spots
Moroto Garden stands next door to Rokkaen. The garden was first designed by Hikozaemon Yamada in the 1680s but it was Seiroku Moroto (the First), who took over the land in the 1880s who made it the grand property it is today. You’ll find both traditional buildings and a small shrine, as well as a small tea ceremony room. Note that Moroto Garden is only open to the public twice a year in spring (around May) and autumn (around November).
A short distance from Moroto Garden is Sumiyoshi-jinja Shrine, constructed by sailors to pray for safe voyages across the sea. It stands right next to the water and is a wonderful place to walk by in the early morning or around sunset.
Further south lies Kyuka Park, which houses the ruins of Kuwana Castle. It’s also a famous spot for viewing flowers, with about 450 cherry blossom trees blooming in spring and a scattering of Japanese iris beds in the water in early summer. You also should not miss the “Kuwana Ishidori Matsuri,” the noisiest festival in Japan, and the “Kuwana Suigo Fireworks Festival.”
Kuwana boasts many amazing traces of various past eras tucked away in its modern urban sprawl. Why not take a relaxing stroll around the city and see what historical treasures you find?