Thursday, January 5, 2012

Imperial Villa

I'm catching up on some overdue blog posts.  In mid-December, we went with our friend Sharon to the Imperial Villa (Shugakuin) which is north and east of the main part of Kyoto (but still within the city).  This Villa was built in the mid 1600s as a place for the retired Emperor to retreat. It has changed a bit over the years, and was rebuilt and restored in the 1800s.  Now it is home to three separate levels; the lowest has some paths and buildings, the middle is where the emperor's daughter built a temple and founded a sect of Buddhism (Ryinkuji) and the upper is a stunning 'reveal' of the landscape that was designed by the garden architects.  You climb up some stairs with tall hedges on both sides blocking your view, and then, right at the top, the hedges fall away leaving you with a breathtaking view of the lake and landscape.

We thought it was really interesting to compare this constructed landscape with a traditional European constructed landscape; the traditional garden.  In the west, it seems like the garden represents people's dominance over nature (angles, straight lines, highly manicured bushes).  The gardens are beautiful, but beautiful like mathematics is beautiful: precise, straight lines, geometry.  In the east, a whole lot of effort is expended to make a landscape that looks natural... but better. Taking what nature has and putting the best aspects all in one place.  It looks like the whole garden *could* have been natural.  Very different styles.

Here are some pictures:
I love the beautiful trees here!

This is the view looking up the path from the middle to the upper level.

This set of shelves in the middle garden is one of the most famous sets of shelves in all of Japan.  

The buildings and nature blend so nicely

Although these are NOT the steps to the upper level, it gives you an idea of the "blocked view" that we had while climbing.

This is the view to the north once you clear the hedges going up to the upper level. It really is breathtaking, not only the view, but the way it is revealed to you as you climb up out of the hedges.

This rock is where the emperor tied his boat.  The bridge in the background was built much later.

There are active rice paddies in the villa (they have been there for centuries but were only purchased to prevent development within the last few decades).

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