Sunny summer Shikoku skies – whew, now that’s a tongue-twister right there – gave me the perfect excuse to go on a day trip from the hustle and bustle of Ōsaka to the relative peace and calm of Takamatsu, capital of Japan’s smallest prefecture.
Of course, the fact that the city had a splendid traditional garden and a well-known castle also helped tip the scales in favour of this lengthy detour.
I’ve written about the journey itself in an earlier post, so let’s jump right to the sightseeing.
My first stop: Ritsurin-kōen (栗林公園). This splendid traditional garden was (like so many others in Japan) originally the private preserve of an Edo-period daimyō, in this case the Lord of Takamatsu Domain, but noble pedigrees are no longer a prerequisite for enjoying this splendid specimen of horticultural artistry.
The only requirement: having at least 410 yen in one’s pocket for the entrance fee.
I’ve seen plenty of gardens across Japan through the years, but Ritsurin-kōen easily held its own amongst the rest with its rich and varied vistas. Almost every step I took on its long, winding paths opened up a new landscape: some with the delightful contrast of the garden’s lush greenery against nearby buildings, others with the borrowed verdure of Mount Shiun as a natural backdrop, still others with nothing more than the sky both above and beyond.
The grounds are sprinkled with the usual oddities that make exploring Japanese gardens almost like an exercise in treasure hunting. One example is this rather unremarkable-looking group of not-particularly-noteworthy pine trees known as the O-teue Matsu (お手植松)…
…the ordinariness of which melts away when one learns that they were personally planted by members of not just one, but two royal families. From the right, moving towards the left:
There used to be another tree in this group, planted in 1914 by then-Crown Prince Hirohito (later the Shōwa Emperor), but it was killed by a lightning strike in 2005.
Now amongst the garden’s many features, one particular treasure impressed me the most: a centuries-old teahouse known as the Kikugetsu-tei (掬月亭). Constructed in 1640, the building acquired its present name in 1745 when the then-Lord of Takamatsu Domain, Matsudaira Yoritaka, gave it the epithet “Moon Scooping Pavilion” after a line in a Tang Dynasty poem.
Lovely to look at from the outside…
…the Edo-period structure is a masterpiece of refined beauty on the inside. If I were given a blank cheque and told that I could use it to build my dream home, the end result would probably look very much like this.
A few hundred yen gets you a bowl of freshly whisked green tea and a traditional sweet – along with the perfect excuse to linger for as long as one’s heart desires.
(Well, not quite. Given the freedom to do so, I’d have probably taken up residence here permanently.)
Emerging from the garden relaxed and refreshed, I set out to complete my visit to Takamatsu by exploring its eponymous castle…
…but we’ll talk about that in the next post.