Ritsurin Garden-Another World2010.02.18 by Cathy Hirano
Although Ritsurin means 'chestnut grove', there are only a few chestnut trees left. A grove planted near the North Gate as provision against famine was removed long ago because it interfered with duck hunting. Instead, the garden boasts about 1,400 pine trees, close to 1,000 of which have been expertly trained for centuries to twist in fantastic shapes.
Ritsurin Garden is an exquisite example of a Japanese landscaped garden and one of the most renowned in Japan. In fact, it was awarded the top rating of 3 stars in Michelin's Green Guide. Despite its popularity, however, it is so large that it never feels truly crowded. One can always find a secluded spot to relax and enjoy the beauty. Although it is in the heart of the city, the hum of traffic on the main street outside can sound deceptively like the river that once flowed there.
Like all Japanese gardens, Ritsurin is designed to represent nature within a small space. Six ponds, thirteen artificial hills, and many rocks, trees and shrubs have been subtly arranged to mimic mountains, rivers, lakes, and forests set against the backdrop of the steeply forested slope of Mount Shiun. This blending of the garden with the surrounding environment is known as shakkei, literally 'borrowed scenery'. The scattered teahouses, paths and bridges are also deftly integrated into the landscape so that the human hand is never obvious.
Ritsurin Garden was made for strolling, with strategically placed viewing points that are now popular spots for artists and amateur photographers. The most picturesque area is the older southern garden, which still retains its original classical design and perfectly orchestrated views. However, I also love the wilder northern garden with ponds where the ruling class once enjoyed duck hunting. The lotus flowers in one pond are absolutely stunning when in bloom (June through August) and the path near the North Gate becomes a shimmering tunnel of cherry blossoms in the spring.
The entrance fee is a very modest 400 yen (children 170 yen) and the garden is well worth repeated visits to enjoy the different views in the changing seasons. For those of you who live near enough to go on a regular basis, a yearly pass is only 2,500 yen.
*Please note: the hours change every month to coincide with sunrise and sunset but it is open from 7:00 AM at the very latest and closes at 17:00 at the earliest. For more information on admission etc. click here: http://www.pref.kagawa.jp/ritsurin/gaiyou_e.html