Plants, rocks, and paved areas connect the garden and the reception hall in the Zanshintei garden.

In 1909, the wealthy businessman Hara Tomitaro built a sprawling traditional-style residence for his family. He called his expansive estate Sankeien, utilizing his nom de plume, Sankei, and filled the grounds with gardens and historically important buildings moved from places like the former capitals of Kyoto and Kamakura. Sankei was well known for his fine hospitality, and he entertained countless famous people in his home, which he called Kakushokaku.

After World War II, the property was given to a preservation group, Sankeien Hoshokai Foundation, which restored the buildings and opened the estate to the public. Kakushokaku is now available to the public for special ceremonies and events. When Shunmyo Masuno was asked to redesign the gardens surrounding the residence, he wanted to build on the strong connection that Sankei created when hosting his guests. Sankei’s hospitality was based on the traditional sense of motenashi, the spirit of service without expectation of anything in return. It also related to ichi-go ichi-e, literally “one time, one meeting,” an expression associated with the tea ceremony and the concept of transience in Zen Buddhism. Ichi-go ichi-e conveys the newness of each meeting —every time a guest visits, the setting and circumstance should be fresh and different.

The main garden outside the reception hall provides space for outdoor gatherings with its broad expanses of grass and gravel.

Trees border the spacious lawn in front of the stately traditionally designed Kakushokaku residence.

The original chōzubachi (water basin) and stepping-stones from the garden are reused in a compact tsuboniwa (courtyard garden).

Masuno named the garden Zanshintei, connecting tei, meaning garden, with the Zen word zanshin (literally “remaining mind”), referring to the moment when an act is completed and the mind must prepare itself for profound understanding. Here that understanding comes from the particular expression and memory of Sankei’s hospitality, as it is manifest in the garden design. It is Masuno’s hope that through their experience of the garden, visitors will be able to feel the depth and contemporary relevance of Sankei’s motenashi and that this sense of hospitality also will be handed down to future generations.

Starting from the stone foundations of the residence, the garden moves out in layers. Close to the building, a curb of uneven stones creates an edge for a trough of rough gravel, with its surface at a level slightly below the stone curb. The gravel is contained on the opposite side by another similar stone curb, which in turn also bounds the grassy lawn. The grass extends out, divided in places by a wide gravel path, until it meets a mound of closely cropped azaleas or a line of trees carefully selected for their mix of leaf color and shape. Each room in Kakushokaku has a different view of the garden with a particular focal point—a beautifully shaped tree or a carved stone pagoda, for example. Some views are expansive; others are constricted, like those of the courtyard garden with its surface of rough rocks punctuated with stepping-stones leading to a chōzubachi (stone basin), concealed behind a lace of green leaves.

Another narrow part of the garden features a beautifully figured rock set into a low mound of moss. A carved stone lantern, a single tree, and a few delicate shrubs add a sense of height without overwhelming the space. Taken as a whole, Zanshintei is unpretentious and peaceful. The simplicity of the garden creates a sense of calm and quiet, allowing the focus to be on Sankei’s collection of carved stone lanterns, basins, and objects, which are carefully positioned in the garden to catch the eye and remind the viewer of Sankei and his renowned hospitality, thus bringing the mind back to the concept of motenashi.

Embedded within a mossy mound and set off by the bamboo fence in the background, the carved stone tōrō (lantern) by Nishimura Kinzō is a focal point in the carefully composed garden.