Study Aid 5: Eternity in an Hour: Japanese Gardens in the 16th
and 17th Centuries

Kyoto, laid out in the orthogonal pattern borrowed from the Chinese, was one of the most important cities in Japan. A center of culture, it was the home of the Japanese emperors for hundreds of years and is still graced with a number of beautiful palaces and gardens. The most famous is the villa and gardens of Katsura Rikyu, 1620-1663. It is likely that the designers were also the patrons of this complex, Prince Toshihito and his sons (Prince Noritada and Prince Toshitada), who probably relied on assistance from notable professionals. The villa features mortise and tenon timber construction and is laid out using the woven tatami mat (approx. 3 x 6 feet) as the basic planning module. Sliding sh-oji screens of rice paper also create light-filled, free flowing interior spaces that allow unobstructed views of the garden in good weather. The gardens feature paths, water features, and plantings laid out in an irregular, naturalistic manner and feature several pavilions for conducting special activities, such the tea ceremony. Similar gardens in Kyoto include Shugaku-in, an imperial villa built in 1655 by ex-Emperor Gomizunoo.

Near Kyoto is a garden of a very different sort. Ryoan-ji, (c.1499-), is a dry garden without plants that is composed of carefully placed stones and raked sands meant to assist Zen Buddhist monks in meditation. Abstract and allusive, the garden perfectly embodies the ascetic philosophy of Zen Buddhism.

Katsura Rikyu

Date: circa 1620-1663
Location: Near Kyoto Japan
Architect: Unknown
Patron: Prince Toshihito and Sons

Aerial View of Villa and Gardens

View of Villa with Old Shoin

View of Villa with Middle Shoin and Music Room

Interior of Villa

Plan of Villa

Plan of Villa and Gardens

View from Villa into Gardens

Verandah with Sh-oji Screens

Garden in the Rain

Shokentei (Tea Pavilion)

Shokentei (Tea Pavilion) Interior

View of Garden

View into Garden From Tea Pavilion


Date: circa 1499-
Location: Near Kyoto Japan
Architect: Unknown

Approach to Monastery

View of Garden with Deck of Meditation Hall

View of Garden

Plan of Garden

View of Garden

View of Garden

Interior View of Meditation Hall

Detail of Deck, Paving, and Gravel