Japan is replete with beautiful gardens, and it’s hard to imagine how any particular specimen – much less a relatively new arrival to the scene – could possibly stand above the many other horticultural masterpieces sprinkled across the country. Indeed, one might argue that no single Japanese garden can rightfully seize the crown of “undisputed best” in what is, after all, an immeasurably vast collection of incomparably different works of landscaping art. Nevertheless, with sufficient breadth of time and travel, one is likely to compile a mental catalogue of those special places that could, at the very least, be advanced with confidence as potential claimants to the throne.
And on a rainy July day last year, I added one more garden to my list.
First, let’s take stock of our present location.
After downing a quick breakfast at my hotel, I headed straight for Matsue Station and caught a JR San’in Main Line service to the neighbouring city of Yasugi (a little over 20 minutes by local or rapid train).
Once there, I kept my eyes peeled for the free shuttle that would take me the rest of the way. It wasn’t hard to find – after all, my destination’s name was plastered along the side of the vehicle in huge letters.
Founded in 1970 by local businessman and art collector Adachi Zenkō (1899-1990), the Adachi Museum of Art (足立美術館, Adachi Bijutsukan) features a large collection of modern Japanese paintings. There’s a particular emphasis on works produced by Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958), but even this core assemblage of about 120 works forms just a small part of the approximately 1,500 items in the museum’s catalogue.
The exhibits are certainly worth a leisurely and appreciative glance – though by themselves, perhaps not sufficient for everyone to justify the steep price of admission – but the main attraction for many visitors isn’t what’s inside the rather unremarkable building…
…but what sits outside and around it.
Now then, time for a not-so-subtle hint.
Year after year, the Adachi Museum of Art’s traditional gardens have come out on top of a list compiled annually by an American journal on Japanese gardening. It’s the sort of distinction that one would normally feel a little sceptical about, but having seen these gardens for myself – and I’ve seen many gardens in my journeys across Japan – I’d say the accolade is well deserved.
It’s a real shame that conditions weren’t prime for photography. Dim, wet, heavily overcast day; woefully unskilled picture snapper (that’ll be me); a mobile phone camera instead of a proper shooter … you get the idea. Moreover, one can’t enter and walk across the gardens themselves: they can only be viewed from within the museum through large plate-glass windows (or from a few outdoor observation points) so a closer look isn’t possible. That said, the landscaping was an absolute delight to gaze upon even from a distance, with the minutely composed elements in the foreground working in seamless perfection with the borrowed natural scenery in the background.
As one would expect, the lovingly tended grounds don new colours with each passing season, and I’m quite eager to return at a different time – autumn, for example.
After spending a couple of hours at the museum, I returned to Yasugi Station and took a limited express service back to Matsue. There, I tried a regional speciality and viewed some of the city’s historic treasures…
…but that’s a story I’ll be saving for the next post.