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Katsura Imperial Villa

Close to where I work there is a palace. It once belonged to a line of princes, close relatives of the Japanese Emperor. Nowadays, the line has died out, and the palace is open for visits. Still, you can’t just go there. You have to make an appointment with the Imperial Household Agency. So that is what I did. I became originally interested in the villa simply because I found it on a map. But when I researched it, I remembered a book that I had once borrowed from the university library in Konstanz many years ago. In it, the German architect Bruno Taut was gushing about the restrained elegance of some Japanese villa and how it presented the ultimate achievement in architecture, or something to that effect. Finally, after so many years, I understood that he was talking about the Katsura Imperial Villa and its gardens and that I would get to judge them myself. In the past, not only Taut had become interested in the villa but other architects as well, such as famous asshole and genius Le Corbusier. Clearly, many people seem to hold the villa in high esteem. According to Wikipedia,

Its gardens are a masterpiece of Japanese gardening, and the buildings are even more important, one of the greatest achievements of Japanese architecture.

The main building cannot be visited, unfortunately, but the gardens and pavilions can be explored on a guided tour. One enters the garden via a path lined by bushes. At the end of the path, there is a tree. The tree is supposed to only give you a taste of the garden lying beyond it but mostly shield it from your view. I took a picture to give you a feeling for the wished-for effect.


However, the fine garden planners simply could not imagine that there ever would be people nearly two meters in height, and so I was able to peek over the bushes quite easily and see the gardens all at once. We followed the guide through the gardens and listened to his explanations of the layout, the architecture, subtle details of construction and detailing, and the stories behind the buildings. Well, I didn’t understand all of this, because it was in Japanese, but I had a audio guide which seemingly gave me most of the information. A friendly foreigner who spoke perfect Japanese relayed especially interesting stuff to me from time to time (which I have all since forgotten).



At the center of the park lies an artificial pond around which tea houses and pavilions were placed. From there the scenery can be appreciated from many different angles.









This is a view onto the main house, where the prince actually lived. To the right you can see the moon-viewing platform. I bet this was a great place to impress the ladies.



  1. So ein schöner Garten. Wie alt wohl die Bäume sind?
    Darf man in Japan alte Bäume umarmen?


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