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3 Impressive Kyoto Villa's

Luke K.

by GoWithGuide travel specialist:Luke K.

Last updated : Apr 23, 20236 min read

Things To Do

Kyoto is known for its serene nature and beautiful views. If you are planning a trip to Kyoto, then you can enjoy these three villa's all year round, and their gardens offer beautiful views where you can see the changing of seasons. Why not stop off at a traditional Japanese tea house or enjoy a stroll through a bamboo forest. Entry is somewhat limited, and you may need to apply in advance. Details are included below:

Shugaku-in Imperial Villa

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Shugaku-in Villa, which was constructed in 1655 by Emperor Go-Mizunoo at the foot of Mt. Hiei, is composed of 3 gardens which are called Kami-no-Ochaya (Upper Garden), Naka-no-Ochaya (Middle Garden), and Shimo-no-Ochaya (Lower Garden). The grand Upper Garden has the Rinun-tei and Kyusui-tei teahouses and is centered around the huge Yokuryu-chi Pond. The Middle Garden has the Kyaku-den reception hall while the Lower Garden consists of a pond garden in which the Jugetsu-kan villa is situated. Connecting the three gardens are fields, and the teahouses are linked by a narrow path. Including the fields, the gardens are maintained as national properties and even now, the entire villa is known as a popular tourist spot of Kyoto where visitors can enjoy the beautiful scenery of teahouses and nature.

The villa can be toured free of admission, but reservations must be made in advance. Applications can be done from the homepage. Reservations for the Kyoto Imperial Palace and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo can also be done from the same site. Just select Shugaku-in Imperial Villa and the month, date and time at which you would like to visit. As a note, only adults 18 and over can apply. 

Around the villa, there are various other shrines and temples, and the area is perfect for a leisurely stroll. There is Manshu-in Temple which has a dry landscape garden that utilizes stone and sand to express water, and Sekizanzen-in Temple which is famous as a place for the fall colors. Along with these historic sites within this area of serene nature, there are also plenty of cafes and boutiques with an antique atmosphere.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Shugaku-in Imperial Villa
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Shugaku-in Imperial Villa
Tours of Shugaku-in Imperial Villa

Katsura Imperial Villa

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Construction was initiated in 1615 by Prince Tomohito, after which this Imperial villa was completed in 47 years. With an area of 69400㎡, you can see structures such as the Old Shoin (Drawing Room), the Middle Shoin and the New Palace, and there are other drawing rooms and tea rooms surrounding the Japanese garden pond where you can stroll around, a magnificent combination of garden and architecture. It can also be said to be the culmination of Japanese garden beauty. Under administration by the Imperial Household Agency, visits are appointment only from the 1st day of the 3rd month before the visit via return postcard or Internet to the Kyoto Imperial Palace from which people are selected by lottery and then can visit for free. Open only on weekdays, visits are only possible with an Imperial Household Agency official leading a 1-hour tour.

Since the number of visitors is restricted, the garden is well-preserved and it is maintained daily by gardeners. It is a strolling garden where bridges, each with their own distinctive character, connect to 5 pond islands of varying sizes. You can enjoy the expression of the four seasons via the condensed beauty of nature. There is also the thatched-roof Miyuki Gate which is the entrance used by the Imperial Family, the tea room Gaikoshikake waiting area where you can see over the entire garden, and the Suhama beach which evokes images of a cape and a lighthouse. In the villa, there is the most formal tea room, Shokin-tei, whose external appearance from the 3 directions of east, north and west each provide different impressions. You can see over the villa from the Shoka-tei tea room on a slightly elevated hill. Also, the Onrin-do was a place to lay ashes of the dead, but currently only the building remains. And through your guided tour, you can visit Shoiken, a tea room whose moon-shaped windows are impressive, and Geppa-ro, a tea room which has been designed so that the moon can shine in through the front.

Admission: Free

Guidebook from Planetyze about Katsura Imperial Villa
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Katsura Imperial Villa
Tours of Katsura Imperial Villa

Okochi Sanso (Mountain Villa)

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Okochi Sanso consists of a villa and garden created by movie actor Denjiro Okochi. From the age of 34 (1931) to his death at 64, Okochi used a majority of his earnings in film to build this mountain villa. The most interesting place is the garden which uses the technique of “shakkei” that incorporates the view of distant mountains and nature as if they were part of the garden.  You can enjoy the beautiful scenery of the four seasons embracing the cherry blossoms in spring and the changing leaves in autumn. With Arashiyama in back of the main house of Daijokaku, you can view Mt. Hiei with the Daimonji Festival, the Higashiyama Sanjuuroppo mountain range, and the Narabigaoka ridge associated with the “Tsurezuregusa” collection of essays. Daijokaku is the central building within the villa that was run by Okochi, and is characterized by its unique design of combining Japan’s traditional private house styles of shinden-zukuri, shoin-zukuri and sukiya-zukuri so it is well worth a look.  

Further going along the garden path, there is a jibutsu-do hall where Buddhist statues are enshrined in a place that brings to mind a traditional dry garden with low pines planted in white sand. Going beyond that, you will reach the Tekisuisan tea room constructed as a quiet space with moss everywhere. As you go up the path while seeing Teskisuisan, the panoramic view of Arashiyama and Ogurayama cradling Hozu-kyo Gorge unfolds before you. This scenery will sear itself into your memory. Arashiyama has long been known as a famous area, but Okochi Sanso is that rare place where you can get a taste of the true charm of Arashiyama. This type of scenery with its large changes is said to have been an idea by Okochi himself.

After a walk in the garden, you can get the hospitality of some matcha tea and confections. The bamboo forest that spreads out from the windows is very soothing. Spending a comfortable time there, you will be satisfied with one of the leading gardens in Japan and the scenery of the nature-filled Arashiyama.

Admission: Adult: ¥ 1,000 / Child: ¥ 500

Guidebook from Planetyze about Okochi Sanso (Mountain Villa)
Reviews from TripAdvisor about Okochi Sanso (Mountain Villa)
Tours of Okochi Sanso (Mountain Villa)
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