Most of Nara, a small Japanese town just south of Kyoto and the nation’s original capital, is made up of the famous Nara Park, but there’s so much more to the serene locale. Nara is also home to Isuien Garden, one of the most beautiful traditional gardens in Japan.
At the height of summer, a rain shower having just passed by, cicadas can be heard chirping happily among a landscape so green it could be spray-painted. Turtles happily paddle their way across a pond’s surface while the plumed roof of Todaiji Temple peeks over the garden wall. Everything – rolling green hills, smooth stepping stones and lone koi fish – is framed against a misty mountain backdrop that looks like CGI projected onto the real world.
But Isuien Garden is definitely real, and is easily accessible from Kyoto.
Isuien literally translates to “garden founded on water”. The garden itself is comprised of two ponds fed by the adjacent Yoshikigawa River. The front garden, which you’ll enter first, was created back in the mid-17th century by a wealthy tanner who built two houses in the garden to serve as his family home.
The back garden was built later, in 1899, by a wealthy merchant. Originally, the two gardens operated as separate entities; it wasn’t until 1939 that a merchant from Nara bought and combined the sites to provide a location for the nearby Neiraku Museum.
The only walking garden in Nara, a team of local guides are on hand to make sure visitors meander through in the right direction. There are stone lanterns, willow trees draped across the water and enough moss to make your nature-loving heart skip a beat.[related_articles]42913,51310,49402[/related_articles]
But the atmosphere is like no other place in Japan. After the hustle and bustle of tourist hubs like Kyoto and Nara Park, Isuien feels like a step back in time to the Japan of years gone by. The silence is interrupted only by the soft gurgle of the nearby river and the crunch of shoes on stone, and its position off the main drag means you’ll only have to share your experience with a handful of others.
Plus, it’s frequented by locals – so you know it’s the real deal, the perfect place to stop and recharge your batteries before the next part of your Japanese adventure.
How To Get There
It does take a bit of planning to get to Isuien Garde, but you just have to know where you’re going. At Nara Station, catch the tourist loop bus to the stop outside the Prefectural Government Building. Kofukuji Temple is just across the road, where you’ll likely to get your first glimpse of the iconic Nara deer population.
From there, follow the signs towards Todaiji Temple until you reach an underground walkway. Turn left before the walkway and follow the signs to Isuien Garden until you find the entrance of what looks like a residential street (it is).
You’ll find Isuien Garden (and neighbouring Yoshikien Garden) at the end of the road. Entry costs about $10 (¥900) and includes the services of your guide and the entry to the on-site Neiraku Museum, home to a selection of Chinese and Korean pottery.
Isuien Garden is closed on Tuesdays (or the following day if Tuesday is a national holiday) except in April, May, October and November.
(Lead image: TravelingOtter / Flickr)