Murin-an: An Enduring Inspiration for Modern Japanese Garden Design

Secreted away behind external walls that hide the beauty of Ogawa Jihei VII’s pioneering masterpiece is Murin-an, Kyoto's hidden gem in Higashiyama

Murin-an: An Enduring Inspiration for Modern Japanese Garden Design

By: Rachel ET Davies
December 10, 2021
CREDITS:
View of the Murin-an's garden and its famous "shakkei" (borrowed scenery) of Kyoto's Eastern mountains. Image: @ Ueyakato Landscape

Secreted away behind external walls that hide the beauty of Ogawa Jihei VII’s pioneering masterpiece, Murin-an is the kind of garden that leaves a lasting impression. The astonishing mountain view, the soothing warble of the dynamic water stream, and the tranquil village atmosphere emanating from the bright lawn space come together to form the indelible beauty of Murin-an.

Created in 1896, Murin-an was originally the residence of Yamagata Aritomo, a military general and well-known politician who twice served as prime minister of Japan. Yamagata enlisted Ogawa Jihei to realise the garden of his dreams, “the main ideas behind the composition of Murin-an came not from Ogawa Jihei VII, but from Yamagata’s naturalist garden vision. The result was a garden that radically departed from traditional Japanese gardens created until that time,” Michael Shapiro of the Heritage and Garden Artistry Division of Ueyakato Landscape, the company responsible for the management of Murin-an, who undertake such a role in accordance with Yamagata’s original desires, “it is allowed to be wild and free, but manicured as long as it looks natural, because nature cannot be controlled.”

The garden, roughly 3,000m², has the trademark Ogawa elements: a bright and spacious lawn, a rhythmically flowing water stream that opens out into an unconventionally naturalist pond and a vista incorporating mountain scenery into the background. The pond was made possible by the building of the Lake Biwa Canal that brought water from neighboring Shiga prefecture into the Nanzenji region of Kyoto in 1890. 

The deliberate rustic nature of Murin-an can’t be appreciated from a brief stroll. To understand it, you have to take your time, feel every nuance and realize each considered constituent part has been brought together to make you experience the garden in exactly the way it was intended. From the uneven stepping stones that train the eye to the ground as you enter, giving way only when the view is the most spectacular along perfectly placed flat stone viewpoints from which to gaze upon the garden. These are the best areas to take in the surrounding scenery; undulating lawns punctuated with wild but kempt shrubs and border trees that subtly but completely frame the Higashiyama mountains in the distance, seamlessly incorporating them into the design of the garden. “Unlike previous Japanese gardens that used borrowed scenery (shakkei) to incorporate external landscapes, Murin-an not only “borrows” the Higashiyama mountains into its scenery, but makes them into the very center point of its landscape,” bringing the visitor to feel as though they’re actually amidst the mountainside.

The creator of many enduring Kyoto landscapes, Murin-an was one of the first to catapult Ogawa into becoming a landscaper whose name is synonymous with modern gardens in Japan. The garden itself expresses Japanese style in a way unbound by tradition. Wild in essence, Ogawa manages to highlight the garden as a living place, taking Yamagata’s wishes and bringing this garden to life; not just as a place of contemplation, but one to be appreciated with all five senses. The scent of wildflowers, the otherworldly aura of freshly fallen rain clinging to branches and blades of grass, the sound of the trickling stream, one that is flanked by ferns, the use of such plants a groundbreaking inclusion at the time of creation. Quietly contrasting with this full-scale naturalism is a small and somber teahouse whose understated scenery captures the very epitome of wabi sabi.

Exterior view of Murin-an's main house. Image: Rachel ET Davies
Image: Rachel ET Davies
Image: Rachel ET Davies
No items found.
KEITH HARING
Title
KEITH HARING
Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus.
KEITH HARING
Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus.
KEITH HARING
Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus.
No items found.
No items found.
The creator of many enduring Kyoto landscapes, Murin-an was one of the first to catapult Ogawa into becoming a landscaper whose name is synonymous with modern gardens in Japan.
Murin-an's head gardener Kenta Deguchi carefully tends to the moss. Image: @ Ueyakato Landscape
Murin-an's teahouse is a replica of Ennan, a famous teahouse in Kyoto. Image: @ Ueyakato Landscape
Today, the teahouse is used for tea ceremony classes, reserved events, and private reservations. Image: @ Ueyakato Landscape

It’s clear that Japanese gardens have garnered much attention the world over, and Michael believes this may perhaps be due to their “beauty that appears totally integrated with nature.” Though these gardens look relatively untouched, he tells me that from the moment a garden is born, it must be continually cared for, “trees grow and change shape with each passing season, but Japanese gardens always look beautiful, as though no work had been done on them at all. This is because successive generations of gardeners have given each tree the care necessary to its growth in each season, at a level of detail so fine that it goes unnoticed.”


Ogawa’s pioneering techniques, principles and practices still offer an enduring inspiration for modern garden design today in Japan and abroad, to create adaptations in their own homelands. Could one of his gardens be adapted to the context of a country outside Japan? Michael believes this to be attainable with the correct approach. “Pursuing such a project requires cultivating an understanding of the principles and techniques of Japanese gardening and also of a garden's history and the original intention behind its creation. Understanding Japanese gardening history, consulting with other gardeners or landscape designers, and understanding the garden site's topography are all quite important.”

You may be interested in

You may be interested in

No items found.
Incense-making workshop with a local master in the heart of Tokyo
Incense-making workshop with a local master in the heart of Tokyo
No items found.

Murin-an: An Enduring Inspiration for Modern Japanese Garden Design

This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
This is some text inside of a div block.
No items found.

Secreted away behind external walls that hide the beauty of Ogawa Jihei VII’s pioneering masterpiece is Murin-an, Kyoto's hidden gem in Higashiyama

Great link
Great link