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Katsura Imperial Villa

Modelled on a setting in a novel, this site has one of Kyōto’s greatest traditional gardens and architectural treasures.

The Katsura Imperial Villa on the Katsura River was built by Prince Toshihito in the 17th century. It was designed to look like a location described in the famous 11th-century novel The Tale of Genji.

In his design, Prince Toshihito was interested less in opulence and more in recreating the setting of his favourite novel. He poured all his resources into creating the gardens, teahouses and villa buildings that make up the palace. After his death, his son continued the project, increasing the scale of the garden and the number of teahouses.

During the 20th century, the villa featured in a book by German architect Bruno Taut, and gained great popularity among modernist architects, such as Le Corbusier and Walter Gropius.

Though you are not allowed to enter the buildings, you can get a good view from the outside of the mostly unadorned and geometric interior surfaces which the modernists so admired.  

On arrival, you watch a film with information on the villa, and some rules to follow during your visit. The rules include where photography is allowed. Guided tours are in Japanese, so it’s best to get an English audio guide for your tour of the grounds.

There are four teahouses, built of rustic materials. Each is designed for a different outlook. The Moon-Wave Pavilion is designed to give the best view of the harvest moon reflected in the pond, while the Flower Appreciation Pavilion is surrounded by cherry trees, and has the best view over the villa.

In the gardens, you’ll see some very old gardening practices. Handmade bamboo fences and gates separate spaces in the gardens. In the cooler months, sago palms are wrapped in straw bedding to ensure their survival during winter.

Although entry to the Katsura Imperial Villa is free, permits must be prearranged a few days ahead at the Royal Household Information Office in downtown Kyōto. You must present your passport when applying for the permit. The villa is usually open during week days only. It’s accessible by bus from Kyōto Station, the city’s main transportation hub.


Guide to Exploring Katsura Imperial Villa


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