The setting for this villa is a perfect example of Japanese integration of nature and architecture. Here you find Japan's oldest surviving stroll garden, dating to the 17th century, with pathways that take you through an encyclopedia of famous Japanese natural sites and literary references, such as the 11th-century Tale of Genji. Not satisfied to create simply beautiful pictures, landscape architect Enshu Kobori focused on the rhythm within the garden: spaces open
then close, are bright then dark; views are visible and then concealed.
Built in the 17th century for Prince Toshihito, brother of Emperor Go-yozei, Katsura is in southwestern Kyoto on the banks of the Katsura-gawa, with peaceful views of Arashiyama and the Kameyama Hills. Look out at the garden from the three shoin (a type of house that incorporates alcoves and platforms for the display of personal possessions) and the four rustic tea arbors around the central pond, which have been strategically placed for optimal vistas. Bridges constructed from earth, stone, and wood connect five islets in the pond.
The villa is fairly remote from other historical sites—allow several hours for a visit, for which you must secure advance permission from the Imperial Household Agency. To reach the villa, take the Hankyu Railway Line from one of the Hankyu Kyoto Line stations to Katsura Station, or catch Bus 33 from Kyoto Station to Katsura Rikyu mae. You can also take a taxi for about ¥800.
Katsura Rikyu Shimizu-cho, Kyōto, 605-8014, Japan
Oct 21, 2005
Many books rave about Katsura -- as did a good friend who had lived in Japan. It is nice -- but we found it disappointing given all the hype. It is not as beautiful as many other sites and gardens we saw right in Kyoto and Nara. The mosquitoes are horrible! We were eaten alive -- thank goodness a sweet older Japanese woman had brought repellant and an itch stick which she graciously shared. As for ease -- you need to go to the administration office
at the Imperial Palace in Kyoto to get tickets (you can't purchase them at Katsura). You have to take your passport to prove you are foreign -- as Japanese citizens wait for months to get tickets. It's a ways out of the heart of Kyoto -- but there is a train that comes close and you can easily walk from the station to Katsura. Unfortunately it is not a train commonly used by tourists so there is nothing to guide you in English (other than the very kind Japanese people in the stations). Not the easiest place to see. We both really wanted to love it -- but were both disappointed and wished we had spent the time seeing something else.