Ritsurin Garden Highlights - 12010.02.25 by Cathy Hirano
There are many things worth seeing in Ritsurin Garden, including, of course, the carefully shaped trees, the emerald ponds with their colourful carp and the different flowers and blossoms in season. Many people, however, fail to notice the architecture, precisely because it is designed to inconspicuously complement the garden. Having once aspired to become a carpenter, the flawless artistry of these buildings takes my breath away.
Kikugetsu-tei pavilion on the shore of the South Pond is the largest and oldest of the original buildings. Built in the 17th century, it was designed in the Sukiya or teahouse style of the early Edo period and therefore strongly reflects the Zen influenced philosophy of the tea ceremony. Rather than an ostentatious display of wealth, the design is characterized by a simple elegance and exquisite sense of proportion that makes it appear almost plain and insignificant to untrained eyes. Its purpose was not to display the lord's wealth and power but instead to instil a sense of tranquility, peace and humility through communion with nature.
Architecturally, the pavilion is miniature in scale with low-pitch double roofs that mimic a much larger building. This technique serves to make the garden appear larger than reality. The ingenious shutter design allows the sliding doors to revolve around the corner posts and be stored out of sight. This means that the walls of the large tatami mat rooms can be thrown open for a spectacular panoramic view of the garden framed by the eaves and wooden posts. Interior walls, doors and bamboo-latticed windows are used to conceal or expose the view, presenting sudden vistas or tempting glimpses of the garden and bringing in the soft, natural light.
Kikugetsu means 'scooping the moon'. The terrace on the east side juts out over the pond like a jetty and the water is very close. Perhaps with the full moon reflected on the surface, it seems possible to scoop it up in one's hands. During the daytime, turtles and koi swim lazily up to check out visitors.
For just 510 yen, or 710 yen if you prefer powdered green tea (matcha), you can go inside for green tea and sweets while enjoying the view.* This gives you the added privilege of spending as long as you want wandering from room to room or sitting in your favorite spot, dreaming of the past when the ruling class gathered here to drink tea, view the moon or compose poetry.
* If you buy a combined entrance and tea ticket at the gate it is slightly cheaper (880 yen for green tea; 1,080 yen for powdered green tea).