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Visit to Shugakuin Imperial Villa in Kyoto

Yesterday I visited the Shugakuin Imperial Villa in Kyoto. Shugakuin Imperial Villa is a villa designed by the Emperor Gomizuno-o and built between 1655 and 1659, in Edo era. It consists of several groups of villas scattered around a vast site.

During the Edo period, the Emperor was not the supreme authority: Tokugawa Ieyasu and his descendants, who had won the civil war and unified the country in 1603, imposed restrictions on the behaviour of the Emperor’s family by means of a law known as the “Principality Code”. Therefore, Emperor Gomizuno-o was not legally allowed to stay out overnight, and he used to make day trips to the completed Shugakuin Imperial Villa. This is why the villa has been designed with day-trip play in mind.

The majority of the vast site is terraced rice fields. The image below shows the layout of the terraced paddy fields on display in the visitors’ waiting area, with the green pattern resembling fish scales. The design of the garden is unique because of the love for the sight of terraced paddy fields.

The photo above shows the terraced rice fields on the site.

At the top, the Rin-un-tei villa, Kyusui-tei villa and several gazebos offer views of man-made ponds and plantings, terraced rice paddies and fields, distant mountains and the city. The elevation at which this group of buildings is situated is the same as the top of the Kyoto Tower, which is about 150 metres.

I particularly liked the Kyusui-tei. I think it is very unique to have a teahouse with such a great view.

In relation to the design of the tea room, I have written another blog about the Japanese tea ceremony and tea rooms.

I do not know whether the Emperor Gomizuno-o held a tea ceremony here. Even today, restaurants with spectacular views are popular, but it is likely that the Emperor Gomizuno-o, who conceived of a teahouse with spectacular views, had the same sense of fun as we do today.

The pond is intricately shaped and the two main buildings are hidden from view from each other. In order to create a magnificent landscape that makes the most of the natural topography, the Emperor Gomizuno-o spent more than ten years prior to the construction work exploring the terrain, planning the development and studying the layout of each element.

During my visit to Shugakuin Imperial Villa, it happened to be raining heavily, which made the distant view look hazy and magical, like an ink painting. The greenery was beautiful and the rain was in harmony with the view. There were water lilies floating in the pond, which had a somewhat different feel to Monet’s masterpiece of water lilies. I think this is a place where you can enjoy the beauty of each season: autumn leaves, winter snow and spring greenery.

During the tour of Shugakuin Imperial Villa, the guide said: “The best way to understand this place is to think about what you would want to do here if you were allowed to rent it and use it”. It’s interesting to think about that.

This Imperial villa is open to visitors over the age of 18 if you apply four months in advance. If you are in Japan, I recommend you to visit it.