Murinan is the former home and final residence of Yamagata Aritomo, a Meiji statesman and garden enthusiast. Yamagata worked with Ogawa Jihei on this garden and the attached two-story sukiya style house from 1892 to 1896. As a product of the Meiji period, this home represents a juxtaposition between a classic taste and the Western-influenced modernism that was influential in Japan at the time. The one hectare site is primarily covered with mowed lawn, but two yarimizu streams, clusters of stones and clipped shrubs line the water features that meander across the space. It is one of the finest residential gardens open to the public in Kyoto.
Yamagata Aritomo1, a member of the aristocracy and a veteran statesman the late 19th century, bought land in the Kusakawa-cho neighborhood and proceeded to build a villa and garden there in 1892, completing it in 1896. He hired Ogawa Jihei as his designer. Ogawa will reappear as the designer of a number of gardens in the Meiji period including Heian Shrine and Shinshin-an,and he had a hand in virtually all of those constructed in Kusakawa-cho.
In this case Ogawa created a stroll garden around two pairs of brooks and shallow ponds, all fed by water from the new canal. He "captured alive" (ikidori or shakkei) the entire Higashiyama mountain range through the device of two groves of trees growing in the area around the property. The trees form both the vertical elements and the horizontal trimming line to frame the mountains. Below the gap in the trees, the eye is drawn down a three-tiered cascade from which the water flows over a miniature rapids into the first pond. A second stream flows from the north part of the garden and is spanned by a bridge from which a rock composition at the confluence of the streams can be seen. Other such compositions are interspersed among the clipped shrubs in a way that draws the eye across the intervening lawn space.
A member of the so-called "literary" tradition and considered a progressive thinker in his time, Yamagata's preferences were toward what was known as the "naturalistic" rather than the more stylized gardens and limited palette of earlier periods. Despite this, the garden is firmly rooted in the Edo stroll garden tradition with Ogawa offering little innovation other than the introduction of some European plant materials and the deployment of patches of lawn around the buildings. The topiaried azalea, the use of shakkei to draw outside elements into the garden, and the revealing and hiding of views as one passes around a prescribed path are the techniques that structure the experience of the garden and would be recognizable to anyone familiar with gardens throughout the last two centuries.
1. Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922) was born a samurai of the Yamaguchi clan. The members of this family were leaders in the 1866 revolt that ultimately brought down the Tokugawa shogun two years later. As a result, they were made noble after the Restoration. Aritomo served as Minister of Justice, President of the Privy Council, general in the Sino-Japanese War and Prime Minister. In addition to Murinan, he commissioned the gardens, Chinzan-so in Tokyo and Koki-an in Odawara.
Itoh Teiji. Space and Illusion. Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1973, p. 41.
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