Kyoto, Japan, October 2011 travel blog

Ganko Sushi's garden at night

Stag lantern much like the one in the Portand Japanese Garden.

Our group waiting for our Sayonara dinner.

DIY dinner--lots of great food, just waiting for us to cook it!


We are winding down the official tour part of this trip. Today, small groups from our main group went to Katsura Rikyu Villa, one of the most famous gardens in Japan.

It is difficult to visit Katsura. Access is granted by the Imperial Household Agency, and one must apply. Japanese nationals can only visit by lottery, while visitors from outside Japan can gain access by applying by showing our passport and completing an application. We applied last week and were given a specific time to become part of a tour group. My group of three arrived a bit early at 9:30 for our 10 AM tour. We were issued English-language cassette tapes, while the live tour guide spoke only Japanese.

The guide was at the front of our group, and a uniformed guard brought up the rear. We were hustled along, with limited time to enjoy views or take photos. Katsura is often considered the ultimate Japanese garden. It was built between 1620 and 1645, the Edo period. It is the earliest known “stroll garden.” It invites visitors to promenade along a predetermined route. Gravel or stepping stones pave the featured path, with landscape elements such as shrubs, hedges, and fences modulating the pace, eye level, and vistas opening to more distant parts of the garden. A body of water is always to the viewer’s right. It borrowed inspiration from the aesthetic of tea gardens. Many literary images incorporated into the garden’s design enhanced the appreciation of its maker’s intentions, a complete classical education allowed entry into its world of literary references as well. One garden scene might refer to a famous site in Japan, or views described in classical literature. This garden is as much about architecture as it is about gardens. It is considered classical and the ultimate in dwellings, tea houses, etc. Katsura is especially noteworthy for its clever and subtle placement of stepping stones, which control movement as well as views. The designs of certain paths, for example, make walking in kimono difficult, coaxing visitors to look down to watch their steps. By lowering the eye to the ground, the designer cleverly prepared the visitor for a special prospect unveiled when he or she looked up. Garden makers arranged their paths with varied formality; walking thus paralleled experiences in life. I took the information above from one of my guide books.

Unfortunately, I had problems with my camera and didn’t come away with any great photos except on my cell phone, which I cannot upload from here. Here’s a link to some photos you might enjoy: http://www.google.co.jp/images?sourceid=ie7&q=Katsura+Imperial+Villa&rls=com.microsoft%3A*%3AIE-SearchBox&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&rlz=1I7SKPU_enJP453&redir_esc=&ei=clKhTvWBCvDPmAXa-MSaCQ&oi=image_result_group&sa=X

After our visit, several of us went exploring. We had lunch in a small local restaurant, an excellent “typical Japanese lunch” of salad, chicken, rice. We then visited the Urasenke Tea Ceremony museum which has a special exhibit of impressive tea equipment. Two of us walked as far as we could before taking a subway back to the hotel.

After a quick shower, we met in the lobby for the subway ride of the Ganko Sushi Restaurant, where we had our sayonara dinner. We made shabu-shabu, a communially cooked dish, said our thank-you’s and goodbye’s, and prepared for our indiviaul trips and tours for the next several days.

This was an interesting study in group dynamics. The 13 of us bonded easily and quickly. Though we were from different countries, we shared a passion for Japanese gardens. We got along well, and everyone was respectful of everyone else’s time. Everyone was prompt, which made it easy for us to get to our appointed experiences on time. Now, we hope to get together in our respective cities.

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