In 1658, the 19th Shimazu lord laid out his pleasure garden on this hilly, rambling bayside property of groves, hillside trails and one of Japan's most impressive pieces of 'borrowed scenery': the fuming peak of Sakurajima.
Allow 45 minutes for a leisurely stroll through the garden, and 30 minutes more for a self-guided tour of the 25-room Goten ('the house' on signage), the Shimazu clan's former villa. As sprawling as it is, the villa is now only one-third of its original size!
The grounds are filled with ceremonial gardens, photogenic shrines, and symbolic sculptures and rock formations, such as the jumping-lion lantern, arching toward Sakurajima. The garden's wealth of tropical trees grow exceptionally well in Kagoshima's balmy microclimate. The well-preserved Kyokusui Garden was once the site of poetry contests; participants floated a sake cup in a stream and had to compose a poem by the time it reached the end.
Shops around the garden sell jambo-mochi (pounded rice cakes on a stick) and kiriko (cut glass).
The adjacent Shōko Shūseikan museum once housed Japan's first factory, built in the 1850s. Exhibits relate to the Shimazu family and Japanese industrial history, with over 10,000 items and precious heirlooms, including scrolls, military goods, Satsuma-yaki pottery, and Japan's earliest cannons, steam engines and cut glass.
The garden is about 2km north of the city centre. Nearby is Iso-hama, the city's popular, kid-friendly swimming beach. An easy way to get to Sengan-en is by the hop-on, hop-off City View bus.