Nanko Park in Shirakawa City is such a beautiful spot to visit during autumn, and it is particularly spectacular in mid-November! Sooo, I thought it was fitting to introduce Nanko Park in this week’s blog!
1.) Nanko Park (南湖公園 Nanko Koen)
The area now known as Nanko Park used to consist of wetlands, which gradually gained shape after Matsudaira Sadanobu, the feudal lord of Shirakawa, decided to store the water. This storing of the marsh water was in an attempt to eventually transform the marshy area into a lake.
Matsudaira was determined to create an area that the citizens of Shirakawa could enjoy freely – and he was successful! Lake Nanko gained its shape and became the landmark at the heart of Nanko Park, which was opened in 1801, making it Japan’s oldest public park.
The park is particularly well-known for its trees, especially Yoshino Sakura, pine, and maple.
Nanko Park really made a deep impression on me when I visited Shirakawa City last November – particularly due to how deep and bright the colours of the leaves here turn. The whole park was just beautiful. I wish I had more time to explore.
Although so far I have only visited Nanko Park in Autumn, I have heard from many friends that it’s also a great place to visit in April and May, when the sakura and azalea flowers are at their best.
As well as flowers and trees, the park is home to the beautiful Nanko Shrine – in front of which stands a statue of the park’s founder and Shirakawa’s feudal lord Matsudaira, who is captured proudly looking out over the park he created.
As well as dreaming of opening Japan’s first public park, Matsudaira was also passionate about tea ceremony. In fact there is a very old tea house still situated in Nanko Park – located between Nanko Shrine and the restaurant Suigetsu.
Visiting Nanko Park
Exit the Tohoku Highway from Shirakawa IC. From the interchange, Nanko Park is a 15 minute drive.
By public transport
You can take a bus to Nanko Park from outside Shirakawa Station.
There are 2 buses.
- Catch a bus headed for Shirakawa no Seki (白河の関行). Get off at the stop called Nanko Higashi-guchi (南湖東口). The bus takes only 10 minutes.
- Catch a bus headed for Iwaki-Tanakura Station (磐城棚倉駅行), and get off at Nanko Park (南湖公園). This bus takes 17 minutes.
- You can also catch the bus from Shin-Shirakawa Station – a stop directly connected to Tokyo Station via Shinkansen!
Make sure to check bus stops for the times for last bus back to Shirakawa Station!
2.) Suigetsu (水月 suigetsu)
Following the opening of Nanko Park, a tradition among visitors to Nanko Park developed throughout the mid 1800s. This was the tradition of relaxing by the lake, and eating dango while looking out at the water.
Dango are sweet Japanese dumplings made from rice flour, rolled into small balls and topped with a variety of sweet sauces and toppings, such as sweet soy sauce and red bean paste.
Suigetsu specialises in dango, and a variety of these traditional Japanese sweets are on sale daily. You can eat them in store, keep them as a gift for someone, or save them for the journey home! If you’re feeling peckish, there are full meals also available to order.
9:00-18:00 (Open until 21:00 during cherry blossom season)
Wednesdays. (Open every day during cherry blossom season)
Around 400 yen for a plate / set of dango sticks!
3.) Suirakuen Gardens (翠楽苑 Suirakuen)
Another important feature of Nanko Park are the Suirakuen Gardens. These gardens are split into 3 main areas: mountains, fields and town. The design of each area takes inspiration from these themes.
There are 2 residential buildings designed in very traditional styles that can be visited at Suirakuen Gardens. At one of these traditional residencies, called Shorakutei, visitors can can buy a tea set (green tea and Japanese sweet) for 540 yen!
The tea houses at Suirakuen can even be rented out for special events such as tea ceremony and moon-viewing events. The photo below is from a moon-viewing event. These are held every autumn in Japan.
Visiting Suirakuen Gardens
9:00-17:00 (Apr to Oct), 9:00-16:30 (Nov to Mar)
Every 2nd Wednesday.
4.) Kashima Shrine (鹿嶋神社 Kashima Jinja)
For those visiting Shirakawa by car, Kashima Shrine is just a 10 minute drive from Nanko Park!
Kashima Shrine is known locally for its unique arch-shaped bridge that leads visitors into the shrine grounds. This bridge looks especially spectacular during lantern festivals which are held once every few years.
The area where Kashima Shrine was built has been a place of worship for at least 600 years. As is the case with many of Japan’s shrines, Kashima Shrine was badly damaged in a fire in the early 20th century, but was rebuilt in 1912, and has been standing strong for over 100 years!
Shrines in Japan have an area where you can hang ema (絵馬), which are little boards on which you write your prayers or wishes. I shouldn’t have been surprised that in Shirakawa (home of the Shirakawa Daruma) the boards would be themed with cute daruma!
I was recommend to visit this shrine by an acquaintance who was born in Shirakawa. I was really impressed by the shrine during my visit, and was especially moved by the sight of the arch bridge at the front of the temple surrounded by beautiful red leaves, and reflected in the pond below. There were lots of cute koi carp in the pond too!
I think you’ll agree that there is a lot to see and do around Nanko Park. Whether this autumn or next spring, I definitely recommend a trip here! For some ideas for other things to fill your trip to Shirakawa, check out my suggested day trip to Shirakawa here.
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