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Takamatsu, a city of art facing a jewel of the world: the Seto


Ritsurin Garden-Another World

2010.02.18 by Cathy Hirano
One of my favorite places in Takamatsu is Ritsurin Garden. Stepping inside it is like slipping into another world and another time: the land of Sanuki in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) to be precise. Although the first garden on the site was actually built around the year 1400, it attained its current size and form when the Matsudaira family ruled over Takamatsu. From 1642 to 1741, successive rulers expanded and developed it as a summer retreat. The garden covers an area of 75 hectares (185 acres), including Mount Shiun, the steep hill to the west. Fortunately for the rest of us, it became a public park in 1875 following the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate.

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 

This blog's writer

Cathy Hirano

I've lived in Japan since 1978. After graduating from a Japanese university with a BA in cultural anthropology in 1983, I worked as a translator in a Japanese consulting engineering firm in Tokyo for several years. My Japanese husband and I moved to Takamatsu in 1987 to raise our two children in a slower-paced environment away from the big city pressures. We've never regretted it. I work as a freelance translator and interpreter and am involved in a lot of community work, including volunteering for Second Hand, a local NGO that supports educational and vocational training initiatives in Cambodia, and for the Takamatsu International Association. I love living in Takamatsu.

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