Lying at the foot of Hiei-zan, this superb imperial villa is one of the highlights of northeast Kyoto. It was designed as a lavish summer retreat for the imperial family. The gardens here, with their views down over the city of Kyoto, are worth the trouble it takes to visit.
Construction of the villa was begun in the 1650s by Emperor Go-Mizunō, following his abdication. Work was continued by his daughter Akeno-miya after his death in 1680.
The villa grounds are divided into three enormous garden areas on a hillside – lower, middle and upper. Each has superb tea-ceremony houses: the upper, Kami-no-chaya , and lower, Shimo-no-chaya , were completed in 1659, and the middle teahouse, Naka-no-chaya , was completed in 1682. The gardens’ reputation rests on their ponds, pathways and impressive use of shakkei (borrowed scenery) in the form of the surrounding hills. The view from Kami-no-chaya is particularly impressive.
One-hour tours (in Japanese) start at 9am, 10am, 11am, 1.30pm and 3pm; try to arrive early. A basic leaflet in English is provided and more detailed literature is for sale in the tour waiting room.
You must make reservations through the Imperial Household Agency – usually several weeks in advance.