Hiroshima Castle was constructed by Mori Terumoto in the late 16th century. When he fought the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 as the head of the Western Army and lost, the castle and control of the Aki and Bingo Provinces were awarded to Fukushima Masanori for his contribution to the Eastern Army's victory.
But in 1619, because Fukushima Masanori repaired the castle without permission from the shogunate, he was demoted and relocated to Shinano Province, and Asano Nagaakira relocated from Kii Province to take over the territory. This began the Asano Clan's rule over the Hiroshima Domain which continued for 12 generations, about 250 years up to the Meiji Restoration.
It was the fashion for prominent regional daimyo in the Edo period, to create spacious gardens with teahouses and other structures within or near their castle grounds, or at their mansions in Edo (currently Tokyo). Asano Nagaakira, the first daimyo of the Hiroshima Domain, began building Sensui-yashiki in 1620, a year after his arrival. The renaming of the garden to Shukkeien is believed to have come either from its format of collected landscapes or from its condensed representation of China's West Lake landscape.
The designing of the garden was assigned to Ueda Soko, a chief retainer of the Asano Clan and also a renowned tea master influenced by Rikyu. Soko won merits in battle under Niwa Nagahide, a key aide to Oda Nobunaga, and was promoted by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1585 to a shogunate vassal with rule over a domain in Echizen Province. In 1586 he directed the construction of Hideyoshi's Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall), which indicates that his architectural talent was already acknowledged at that time.
The map depicts Shukkeien's layout around the time it was created by Ueda Soko. With two islands built in the central pond, the design conveys the artless and forceful character of Soko as a warrior.
In 1713, 5th daimyo Asano Yoshinaga built an Inari Shrine, later known as Sentei Inari, on a hill at the north of the central pond. During a visit to the garden the same year, he gave names to 17 spots including the name Kifuku-san for the hill where the shrine stood.
Sentei Inari was burned down by the atomic bomb, and has since been reconstructed within Nigitsu Shrine located across Kyobashi River.
On April 3, 1758, a major fire known as the Horeki Fire broke out in Hiroshima, the first such fire since the establishment of the Domain. The fire started at around 4PM in the modern day 3rd district of Otemachi, and strong winds spread the fire to Hondori, Kamiyacho, Tatemachi and Noboricho, and further on to Hakushima and Ushita. It also spread to Shukkeien, burning down many of its structures.
7th daimyo Asano Shigeakira brought garden designer Shimizu Shichiroemon (native of Onomichi) from Kyoto to direct a major restoration of the garden, which took 5 years from 1783 to 1788. A key element of the restoration was the construction of a stone bridge spanning the central pond, later named Koko-kyo. Shigeakira is said to have been so particular about this bridge that he had the first one dismantled in order to build a second one to his satisfaction.
This restoration brought the garden close to its current form.
The map depicts Shukkeien after the restoration ordered by Asano Shigeakira. The shape of the pond and the number of islands are as we see them today.
In 1804, Asano Shigeakira, in retirement after having passed on the lordship to his son Narikata, asked Confucian officials Rai Shunsui and Umezono Tairei, and aide Oka Minzan, to propose names for notable spots of the garden. 34 spots were thus given names, including Takuei-chi, Seifu-kan, Kifuku-san, Koko-kyo, Chozen-kyo, Hakuryu-sen and Meigetsu-tei, which remain in use today.
With the start of the Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), the Imperial Military HQ was relocated from Tokyo to Hiroshima and set up in the Hiroshima Castle grounds. Shukkeien was designated as an emergency sub-HQ, with Seifu-kan assigned as living quarters for Emperor Meiji.
Records remain of the Emperor making a visit to the garden during his 7-month stay in Hiroshima.
In 1913, art museum Kanko-kan was built inside the garden for public display of works of art, historical documents, weaponry and tea ceremony ware owned by the Asano Clan. With this, the citizens of Hiroshima, who had until then mostly been barred from entering the garden, were allowed to enter.
The footage was filmed by Tadami Omiya, an executive of a bus company in Kure, on a 9.5mm Pathé Baby camera. Specialists have analyzed the image to be of in and around Hiroshima City in 1936. The film contains footage of Shukkeien, including the Koko-kyo Bridge, as well as a steam locomotive on the Tokiwabashi railway bridge.
Filmed by Tadami Omiya
The footage was filmed by Shinichi Yoshioka, the owner of a fabric retailer in Kawayacho, Hiroshima City. The film depicts everyday scenes in the garden just before the start of WWII, including images of people feeding the carp at Koko-kyo Bridge.
Video provided by the Hiroshima Municipal Archives
In 1940, Hiroshima Prefecture officially accepted the Asano Clan's offer from the previous year to donate Shukkeien and Kanko-kan, and Shukkeien thus became fully open to the public.
In July of the same year, Shukkeien was designated as a National Scenic Beauty under the Historical Monuments Preservation Law, and activities commenced to preserve and utilize the garden. This status remains valid today under the Cultural Properties Protection Law.
The dropping of the atomic bomb on August 6, 1945 tragically took the lives of many people. It also instantaneously demolished Shukkeien's precious structures and trees, leaving the garden in utter ruin, except for Takuei-chi Pond, Koko-kyo Bridge and the central mound, which, while severely damaged, retained their forms.
This aerial image of Hiroshima City, estimated to be from September 5, 1945, is one of the oldest existing film images of Hiroshima City after the dropping of the atomic bomb. The film captures vivid scenes from directly after the bombing, such as smoke from the burning of corpses. Shukkeien appears as an ashen field with trees burned down with just the front stone pillars and outer walls remaining.
Video provided by Nichiei Eizo
After the atomic bombing, restoration of the garden began in 1945. The systematic process started with the dredging of Takuei-chi Pond and removal of debris and weeds. Pine, plum, and oak trees were planted, bridges were repaired, and fish were released into the water. Once the garden regained some level of presentability, it was reopened in April 1951.
Reconstruction of the main gate and teahouse Seifu-kan began in the late 1950s, followed by repairs to stone fixtures, revival of the herb garden, and reconstruction of Yuyu-tei, Kankato, Sekisho-an and Chozen-kyo. And finally the completion of Meigetsu-tei in November 1974 marked the end of the long restoration process.
2020 marked 400 years since the original creation of Shukkeien in 1620.