On Thursday Phil and I were fortunate to be taken across to the island of Shiboku, to the south of Awaji Island, to visit the world famous Ritsurin Garden.
At 75 hectares in size Ritsurin is Japan’s largest landscape garden and was designated a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1953. It is also Japan’s premier pine tree garden with over 1,400 pines planted around the grounds. Construction of Ritsurin Koen began in the 17th century, during the early Edo (Samurai) period and continued under three successive generations of feudal lords, taking over 100 years to bring to fruition. The garden was finally completed in 1745 by the Matsudaira family (lords of the Takamatsu Domain during the Edo period) who used it as a family home until 1870. Ritsurin garden is typical of the Edo period – a ‘strolling garden’, with meandering paths affording the visitor myriad views of the beautiful lakes, islands, bridges, rocks and artificial hills set within a spacious landscaped garden. Mount Shuin appears as a backdrop to the garden, a wonderful example of the Japanese art of ‘borrowing’ the natural landscape and seamlessly blending it into the edges of the manmade garden. The Japanese understand more than anyone that each season has a part to play in the beauty of a garden and Ritsurin Koen’s many views are ravishing in every season. The garden at Ritsurin also features a large tea house, typical of the Edo period. The Edo garden style is a dramatic change from the minimalist gardens of the preceding Muromachi period as the feudal lords rediscovered their love of extravagance and recreation, creating strolling gardens in their home towns and the secondary villas they used to fortify Edo. Hence why these ‘strolling gardens’ are often found in former castle towns such as Takamatsu City where Ritsurin Koen is located.