A Garden Ornament Which Plays for You
The origins of the suikinkutsu trace back to artist and master garden designer Kobori Enshu, born to a samurai family in the late 16th century in Kyoto. The suikinkutsu was originally conceived as a drainage device, known as a “tosuimon” for the “chozubachi” stone wash basin, where visitors cleanse their hands and mouth. When ladled water falls to the small stones at its base, calm, cooling tones echo from under the ground. Suikinkutsu can often be found at temple gardens, parks, and outside the entrance of tea rooms.
A suikinkutsu is basically a large earthenware jar with a hole in the base which is then buried upside down as a water collection device. Water falls through the gaps between the small stones, into the hole, and onto the surface of the water pooled at the base of the jar. The sound of the drops reverberates inside the hollow space, creating the unique tones.
Video of a suikinkutsu:
Take in the Tones of Suikinkutsu Across Japan
This four century-old feature of gardens and temple precincts can still be found today.
For day trips from Tokyo, a 25-minute train ride from Kanagawa Prefecture’s popular Kamakura tourism region will take you to Enoshima Shrine in Fujisawa City. As part of the precinct’s dragon motif, you’ll be confronted by one such creature guarding the suikinkutsu. In Kofu City, Yamanashi Prefecture you’ll find a suikinkutsu on the grounds of Takeda-jinja Shrine, where you can also admire 16th century military general Takeda Shingen’s samurai sword and suit of armor in the shrine’s museum. Or enjoy the sounds of the suikinkutsu and visual splendor of seasonal cherry blossoms, plum blossoms and fragrant kinmokusei at Chichibu-no-Miya Memorial Park in Gotemba City, Shizuoka Prefecture.
Further afield, a two-hour bullet train ride from Tokyo northward to the Tohoku region will bring you to Yasouen Park in Sendai City, Miyagi Prefecture. The ringing tones of the park’s suikinkutsu are complimented by cherry blossoms, hydrangea and stunning autumn colors.
Out west, Kyoto is a great bet to search for suikinkutsu at the city’s numerous temples and gardens. Aside from the aforementioned Hosen-in Temple, there are also sonorous suikinkutsu at Enkouji and Taizo-in Temple to name but two. In the nearby ancient capital of Nara, you are welcomed by the Great Buddha of Todai-ji Temple and herds of deer at Nara Park, where a famed suikinkutsu lies.
On your next visit to Japan, seek out the the serene sounds of suikinkutsu and discover another aspect of what makes traditional Japanese culture so peaceful.