Murin-an Garden

  • AddressNanzenjikusagawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City
  • Style

    Others (Modern Japanese garden

  • Outline of garden

    Address : Nanzenjikusagawa-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto City

    Telephone : +81-(0)75-771-3909 (Murin-an Management Office)

    : +81-(0)75-366-1498 (Cultural Property Protection Division, Kyoto City Hall)

    Period of garden construction : 1894-1896

    Garden designer : OGAWA Jihei VII

    Garden style : Others (Modern Japanese garden)

    Designations and registrations : National Place of Scenic Beauty

    Site area : 3,135 m2 (designated area)

    Public openness : Open (Admission fee)


    * * * * * * * * * *


    Murin-an was constructed between 1894 and 1896 as a villa of YAMAGATA Aritomo (1836-1922), an army general and a prime minister during the Meiji period (1868-1912). The former prime minister, who had a refined artistic sense, purchased some land near the Nanzen-ji Temple area and planned to build a third Murin-an, after the first one built in his hometown, in Yamaguchi prefecture, and the second one in the center of Kyoto. The name "Murin-an" means "hut with no next-door neighbors." The villa covers around 3,000 square meters and, in addition to its garden, includes the main house, a western-style building (completed in 1898) and a teahouse.


    The western-style building has two floors; An exhibition room is located on the first floor for the interpretation on technical skills used to maintain Murin-an as it is. On its second floor, there is a room decorated with a wall painting by a painter from the renowned Kano school and where the Murin-an Conference, in 1903, was held to decide Japan's diplomatic policy just prior to the Russo-Japanese War. A view of garden from the second floor can be enjoyed and somewhat different from the view at the ground level, though it is necessary to make a reservation to use its tearoom in advance.


    Photo-1©. Murin-an - a villa of YAMAGATA Aritomo.jpg

    Photo-1©. Murin-an - a villa of YAMAGATA Aritomo


    Yamagata procured the property for the current Murin-an, and the garden's actual construction took place from 1894-96. Yamagata the politician and military leader was also a considerable cultural connoisseur (sukisha) and, especially when it came to gardens, he seems to have been staunchly devoted to his own taste. Yamagata preferred a naturalistic and open lawn space when creating a garden, as opposed to the traditional symbolic garden style featuring moss and a tranquil pond. This Murin-an may also be said to be a pioneer of the modern Japanese garden that created a new garden style for the Meiji period. Ogawa Jihei VII (1860-1933), also known as Ueji, was the one who undertook the construction of Murin-an's garden. He was also involved at this time in creating the Shin'en Garden for the Heian Jingu Shrine, and he had just begun to be known by the public. Yamagata, however, led Ogawa with respect to both Murin-an's design and construction. By responding to Yamagata's direction, Ogawa acquired many skills that provided the impetus for the many famous modern gardens he later went on to create. Murin-an was donated to Kyoto city in 1941 by the Yamagata family. In 1951, it was designated a National Place of Scenic Beauty as a pioneer of the modern garden style. (Murin-an is still owned by Kyoto City today and managed and operated by Ueyakato Landscape Co., LTD. under the Designated Manager System in Japan.)


    Photo-2©. A relocated teahouse stood apart from the main house.jpg

    Photo-2©. A relocated teahouse stood apart from the main house


    Yamagata's vision for making his garden was to use a stream, grass lawn, flowers and pruned shrubs to create the atmosphere of a mountain stream, thus completing the garden's look as a modest space with a bright atmosphere. When viewed from the main house, which was also built at this time, one can appreciate Yamagata's idea of the garden creating a bright and simple atmosphere with its expansive sloping lawns, tiny wildflowers, ground cover plants, pruned azalea shrubs, and mountain streams. The garden feels much larger due to the use of the borrowed landscape of the Higashiyama range as background scenery.


    Photo-3©. Expansive sloping lawns and the borrowed landscape of the Higashiyama range.jpg

    Photo-3©. Expansive sloping lawns and the borrowed landscape of the Higashiyama range


    Walking along the garden path from the main house, the open lawn area continues to a shady forest, and then, at the edge of the forest, there is a three-step-waterfall, which is said to have been modeled after that at Sanboin Garden of Daigo-ji Temple in the southeast of Kyoto. Water is drawn from Lake Biwa Canal into the garden, which is directly connected to Lake Biwa through the area around the Nanzen-ji Temple completed in 1890. Water incorporated from the Lake Biwa Canal falls down from the waterfall, runs through a pond resembling a wide stream, and passes in front of the main house, creating a light rhythmic sound as it winds around the open lawn space.


    To set off the borrowed scenery of the Higashiyama mountains seen from the main house, the garden avoids setting up an arrangement of tall stones; instead, the scene is completed with shrubs, including pruned satsuki azaleas at the shore, and flowers. This approach creates an atmosphere that is both lighthearted and sparse and that, despite the constant passage of vehicles outside the property, maintains a scene like that of a mountain village brook.


    Photo-4©. Three-step-waterfall at the edge of the forest.jpg

    Photo-4©. Three-step-waterfall at the edge of the forest


    Photo-5©. Water drawn from the Lake Biwa Canal into the garden.jpg

    Photo-5©. Water drawn from the Lake Biwa Canal into the garden


    There are also many maple trees planted that allow autumn leaves to be enjoyed and Japanese red pines (akamatsu) planted in key areas of the garden. It is thought that these choices were not simply Yamagata's preferences, but that trees were planted to create a scene integrated with the Higashiyama mountains.


    Photo-6. Meandering water flow with riverside stone arrangement.JPG

    Photo-6. Meandering water flow with riverside stone arrangement


    Photo-7. A stream with a rhythmic sound.JPG

    Photo-7. A stream with a rhythmic sound


    Murin-an today is being impacted by the changes occurring in its surrounding scenery. The vegetation of the Higashiyama mountains has changed from red pine forests to evergreen forests within several decades, thus the feeling of unity with the garden has been weakened.

    When viewed from the area around the main house, one can see that the cedars, cypresses, firs and other trees planted at the border have been pruned slightly high so that surrounding objects such as buildings and electrical wires are hidden as much as possible while still maintaining a look integrated with the Higashiyama mountains. Thanks to restorative pruning finished in 2013 as having largely restored the original borrowed landscape, the Meiji garden atmosphere of a mountain stream in a forest is still conveyed today.


    Photo-8. Pruned border trees hiding the surrounding buildings.JPG

    Photo-8. Pruned border trees hiding the surrounding buildings


    Photo-9. Enclosed garden inside the main house.JPG

    Photo-9. Enclosed garden inside the main house


    Photo-10©. Forest and flowing stream in fall.jpg

    Photo-10©. Forest and flowing stream in fall




    *©-marked photos provided by Ueyakato Landscape Co., LTD.



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