April 16, 2009

by Airi Okubo; Tomoko Inoue

When visitors imagine Kyoto, they usually think of Kinkakuji,Kiyomizu, Heian Shrine, Kitano Shrine, Uzumasa, or Arashiyama. However, there is a hidden spot, one that is seldom mentioned in guidebooks, magazines or on TV shows, that many people don’t know much about. It is the ancient garden of Shinsenen.
Shinsenen is the oldest existing garden in Kyoto and dates back to the Heian era (794-1185). When Emperor Kanmu emperor built Heian-kyo in 794, this pond garden was made in an area that was marshy. Shinsenen’s site extended from Nijo Street to Sanjo Street at that time. It’s north-south length was about 500 meters, while its east-west length reached to about 240 meters. So it was a very large garden with a pond at its center. In Chinese characters the pond was called “God’s Fountain,” because very fresh and pure water always welled up from the pond.Also it is said that noblemen enjoyed rowing in the pond or hunting on the garden’s grounds during the Heian era.
According to historical legend, Shinsenen is said to be the place where Minamotono Yoshitsune, a famous warrior, met a woman he fell in love with—Shizukagozen.
In 869 an epidemic spread to Kyoto. To try quell the epidemic, Kyoto people made 66 pikes and gathered around Shinsenen; they then formed a line from there to pray for the return of health to the city. And this is said to be the origin of Gion festival, the large festival that is held in Kyoto every July.
A red-colored bridge called the Houjo Bridge crosses over the garden pond. It is believed that if you have a very serious wish and cross the bridge, your wish will be fulfilled.
The most fitting time to visit is spring and autumn. The cherry trees become full-bloomed in spring. It is possible to enjoy the fall foliage in autumn. You can soak up the beautiful scenery, and take pictures for your memories. You can also enjoy the chrysanthemums. Flowers are near the Houjyo bridge from autumn to winter.

Near Shinsenhen is a Kyoto-style restaurant called Heihachi. It is famous for serving the thickest noodles in Japan. You can eat these noodles in a hot pot cooked at the table.Why don’t you visit Heihachi after waliking around Shinsenen?
Shinsenen is in west-central Kyoto near Niojo Castle. You can get there in about 3 minutes on foot from Nijo Castle. It takes about 30 minutes from Kyoto Station by bus. You can also use the JR train and get off at Nijo Station.
Please visit and enjoy Shinsenen!

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