Fat plops, silver needles, fine mist, heaven’s super soakers on full blast, we braved all forms of Japan’s rainy season in early summer. Tsuyu, that transition between the coolness of spring and the oven heat of summer, is often said to be a bad time to visit Japan. Because who wants soggy shoes when traveling right? But Japan is one of those places where the rainy season creates a certain beauty of its own. The screen of misty drizzle brings out the best in the classical Japanese garden. In Matsushima, in the rain, I found one of the best I’ve seen in Japan – an under-rated gem of a Japanese temple garden: Entsuin.
This view, as I stepped through the gate, took my breath away. I’d always loved the fire of maples in autumn. But the same maples in early summer, with its bright, intense glow of radioactive green, and yes in the rain, are simply stunning. But it wasn’t just the maples alone – it was the whole combination of yellow-green moss, the carefully raked white sand and gravel, the occasional shrubs of azalea, a thatched roof shelter, a stone slab bridge that made me stop in my tracks. Everything looked artlessly placed, but yet you know with a Japanese garden, no element is placed without careful thought.
Just as you enter the gate on the left is a small charming shrine dedicated to marriage. Inscribed on tiny dolls are the names and wishes of those who seek the right life partner. For 500yen you can buy a little doll and share your secret hopes with Kannon too.
Entsuin is a small temple, often overshadowed by its larger, more prestigious neighbour Zuiganji. Its history is a sad one – built by a grief-stricken father as a mausoleum for his young dead son in 1647. Devastation and sorrow made this space – a villa in Edo taken apart and painstakingly put together again here, tucked away in the midst of a enchanting garden.
There are probably many excellent explanations out there on Entsuin’s significance as a temple, or to describe the different features of its garden, so I won’t go into this here.
That it was a place of important cultural and historical significance was clear, but as I walked through, all that didn’t matter.
I derived such a sense of serenity and joy just by walking through, marveling at the beauty that unfolded around me at every turn. I love Japanese gardens because the best gardens never reveal all their secrets at a go but invite the visitor to stroll through to discover, at the turn of a corner, through a moon window, up a small slope, new views, new details. Discovery is invited, and carefully curated to invite delight and enjoyment or reflection, contemplation. The best garden experiences of course evoke all these reactions.
For such a small garden, Entsuin ticked off all the boxes that make a good Japanese garden great – intimate scale, carefully placed thatched pavilions and shelters, an atmospheric cemetery, tall cedars, beds of symbolic rock and sand, bamboo groves, immaculately manicured azalea bushes, a pond with carp, and then surprise surprise, an English-styled garden complete with roses, trellises and sundial! I could probably walk through it again and yet see new vistas. Entsuin allows visitors pockets of space to pause, sit, breathe and take in the tableau in front of you.
If you’re ever in Matsushima, don’t just head for Zuiganji or the same old tourist itinerary of cruising the islets. Spend some time smelling the roses in Entsuin.
And hopefully, some rain will fall and you’ll be glad (and blessed) to see Entsuin in the rain.
Getting to Matsushima and Entsuin:
Take the local train from Sendai JR station to Matsushima Kaigan. It takes about 40min. From the station, head left towards Zuiganji. Entsuin is just beside. Entry fee is 300yen.