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(Some names and terms used in this section may have attached definitions and/or links to further information.  Mouse over for the definition and kanji, or click to be taken to more information.)

From Don Pylant:

The Katsura Rikyū (Imperial Detached Palace) is one of three Imperial Villas of Kyoto and known for its architecture and stroll garden.   Originally the estate of Hachijo-no-mia Imperial Family1, it is thought to have been designed by Prince Toshihito as Katsura Sanso Estate in the Edo period, although some attribute its design to tea master, Kobori Enshū.  The garden contains three main ‘pleasingly rustic’ buildings; Ko-shoin, Chu-shoin and Shin-goten.  For the most part, they are constructed with simple, unfinished wood with scarce ornamentation, harmonizing well with the natural surroundings of the hill and pond stroll garden.

Katsura Oribe Lantern

Katsura Oribe Lantern. See also Oribe Lantern.

Prince Toshihito was well read and familiar with the classic writings of the time such as ‘Tale of Genji‘ and the poems of ‘Kokinshu Anthology’, both containing many references to the moon.  Writings of the Prince along with elements of the garden and buildings point to his fondness for the moon and its light.  The stone lanterns located throughout the garden are placed to cast their light in poetic and inspiring ways.  Among these are the Oribe Toro, Sanko-dorou and Mizu-Hotaru Toro.

Facing the street there is a fence surprisingly made of woven living bamboo known as ‘Sasa-gaki’.  The entryway is lined with the well-known Katsura style bamboo fence (Ho-gaki) with its characteristic checkerboard of small and large bamboo waddle and pointed uprights.  Inside the gate, one notices that there is no place to stand to see the entire garden – the only way to see it all is to walk the pathways and bridges.  This artfully done display of hide and reveal offers a visitor views designed after famous places, poems and well known writings of the time.   Dimensions of structures and garden elements add to the illusion that makes this garden feel so much larger than it is.  It has the feeling of a scroll painting that reveals its story as it is unrolled a section at a time.

Down the Mikyuki-michi Lane there is an interesting hill planted with sotetsu named SotetsuyamaBeyond this hill and the the larger Momiji-yama (maple mountain) the Sotokoshikake tea arbor faces the lake, offering guests waiting to be invited into the tea ceremony a thoughtful view.  There is a tsukubai arrangement here with a square basin  It is of a style called niju masu 二重桝, meaning double measure for the diamond-shaped hollow within the square shape cut of the stone. The basin provides water for washing of hands and face, removing the dirt, cares and troubles of the world.

Shin style paving

Shin style paving called ‘Shin-no-Tobiishi’ in front of Okoshiyose landing of Ko-shoin (Larger)

Katsura Rikyu is also known for its tasteful stone pathways that lead around the pond to bridges that join the different islands.  There are different styles of pathways represented here including Shin, Gyo and So.  Characteristic paving styles give support to the idea that Enshū at least consulted on the design.  One such arrangement is the “Enshū” arrangement of 5 stepping stones set in a way to control the visitor’s direction of view.  The path here is of the ‘Gyo’ style.

A peninsula known as the Suhama beach tapers out into the lake, punctuated with an oki-doro lantern in the Misaki-gata style to light the point in evenings.  Beyond this is a sand spit known as Amanohashidate after the famous sand bridge spanning Miyazu Bay in northern Kyoto Prefecture, then the arched ‘Shirakawa Bashi’ granite bridge leading to the first tea house.

Shokin-Tei interior

Shokin-Tei interior (Larger)

Out of the five original tea houses, three survive:  Shokin-tei (Pine Harp Pavilion), Shoka-tei (Flower Pavilion), and Geppa-ro (Moon Wave Pavilion.  The path leads us first to Shokin-tei.  Above this tea house is the Manji-tei style Azumaya, named for the arrangement of the seating, where no bench faces another, allowing time for introspective thought and preparation for the tea ceremony.

From here and across a high bridge to Oyamashima (Great Mountain) is the second tea house, Shoka-tei.  The path leads passed a temple named Onrin-dō where remains of ancestors were once held.  This building  stands out as the most ornate in this complex.  Leaving Oyamashima via another high bridge, the Shoikin tea arbor offers another nice view of the lake and the third arched bridge, high enough to let the Prince’s pleasure boats pass below.

Approaching the three main buildings, the Tsukimidai 月見 (Moon-viewing Platform) pays homage once again to the attention paid to the moon and light in this garden.

The Kumamoto En Sister City Garden in San Antonio, Texas contains examples of some of the many garden elements of Katsura Rikyu, including lantern, fence and paving styles along with a replica of the azumaya.


1  Unknown author and publisher. Taken from a booklet provided by the Imperial Household at Katsura Rikyu.


Some Information from Wikipedia:

(Katsura Rikyu), or Katsura Detached Palace, is a villa with associated gardens and outbuildings in the western suburbs of Kyoto, Japan , separate from the Kyoto Imperial Palace. It is one of Japan’s most important large-scale cultural treasures.

  • History
    The Katsura district of Kyoto has long been favored for villas, and in the Heian period, Fujiwara no Michinaga had a villa there. The members of the Heian court found it an elegant location for viewing the moon.Prince Hachij? Toshihito ( 1579–1629), the founder of the Katsura Imperial Villa, was born on February 13, 1579. He was the sixth son of Prince Sanehito, and a descendent of Emperor Ogimachi. In 1586, Toshihito was adopted by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, but they separated in 1589 when Hideyoshi had his own son. He presented Toshihito with land that yielded 3000 koku (15,000 bushels of rice) and allowed him to establish a new house in the imperial line, which became the Hachijo family lineFrom an early age, Prince Toshihito was very familiar with the Tales of Genji, the Poems of Past and Present, and the works of Po Chu-i.He was incredibly fond of these works, and was said to copy passages from the works for leisure. One such passage, from the Tales of Genji, had written:“Far away, in the country village of Katsura, the reflection of the moon upon the water is clear and tranquil.”
  • When Toshihito obtained land along the south bank of the Katsura River, the location of the novel the Tales of Genji, he set out to construct a villa modeled on passages from it. However, because he lacked wealth and resources, the first constructed villa was similar to “a teahouse in the melon patch” . However, after the marriage of Tokugawa Kazuko to Emperor Go-Mizunoo, which Toshihito had been active in creating, construction of the villa began. As Prince Toshihito became a greater figure in public life, more guests came to visit the Katsura Imperial Villa. By 1624, he had devoted more of his resources to the expansion of the villa, and it was recorded that hills had been formed and a pond had been dug in the middle of the garden. A priest that visited Katsura in 1624 wrote that it had the “finest view in Japan”. By 1631, the villa was called a “palace”

A link to the Official Website in English

A link to Bowdoin College site with excellent visual tour:  Bowdoin College Katsura Rikyu