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Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu)

Katsura Imperial Villa (Katsura Rikyu) Review

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.

Updated: 09-23-2013

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