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Neiraku Museum and Isuien Garden

The Neiraku Museum and Isuien Garden complex is a good place to take a break from temple viewing and to experience the tranquility and unique landscape of a traditional Japanese garden. It is a bit off the main tourist path, nestled in a residential neighborhod just west of Todaiji's Nandaimon (Great Southern Gate). In contrast to the busy crowds near Todaiji, the Isuien Gardens are quiet and relaxing. The gardens may not be the easiest destination to find in Nara, but it is well worth the effort.

front garden
Isuien Front Garden
The approach to the garden is along a gravel driveway leading to the main house. The Neiraku Museum is located to the left of the driveway and the Isuien Gardens is hidden behind a bamboo fence on the right. Tickets are sold in the vestibule of the main house, next to the garden entrance. The Isuien Garden is located along the Yoshiki River and is the only Japanese garden of its kind in Nara. It represents the height of garden engineering of the Meiji Period (1868 - 1912). In fact, Isuien is actually a combination of two distinct promenade-style gardens connected by a narrow path. The front garden lies to the west (right side of the entrance) and the rear garden lies to the east.

The front garden was once a part of the "Manishu-In" which belonged to Kofuku-ji Temple. In the Enpo era (1670's) the wealthy Kiyosumi family bought the area and changed the layout of the garden. They constructed a villa consisting of two thatched roof houses (Sanshu-tei and Tei-shu-ken) and often invited their literary friends, artists and people of refined taste to enjoy the tea cermony and the beauty of the garden. The front garden seems to encourage the visitor to look inward, towards the center. This feeling is re-enforced as you descend the stone steps and are drawn into to the peaceful environment. The focus here is on the central pond and the arrangement of the lush greenery around it. As you circle the pond, the path leads you away from the introspective front garden and towards the back. This path meanders through a small forest, past the small Teishu-ken tea ceremony house and into the rear garden.

Rear Garden
Isuien Rear Garden
The rear garden was complete in 1899 by Mr. Tojiro Seki, a prosperous merchant of Nara. As you enter the garden you will come to a large house, this is the Hyoshin-tei. Fom here the garden spreads before you and, in contrast to the front garden, the rear garden's focus is on the scenery in the distance. Mt. Wakakusa, Mt. Kasuga, Mt. Mikasa, the tile-roof of the Todaiji's Nandaimon and the neighboring pine groves supply the central view. This technique is called "borrowing scenery" and gives more depth to the garden than the actual grounds of the gardens themselves. Another important element in the rear garden is the large pond and stream which runs through it. The path continues around the pond passing through groves of plum, maple and cherry trees as well as large hedges of Azalea. The selection of trees and flowers has been carefully planned to provide color through the seasons.

As you leave the gardens you will pass by the Seishu-an tea ceremony house. It is a duplicate of the famous Yuin-seki tea ceremony house of the Ura Senke School of Tea Ceremony. The 12th Head Master of this school was in charge of the planning and design of the Yuin-seki, and the tea house reflects the tea ceremony aesthetic.

neiraku museum
Ceramic display in Neiraku Museum
The entry fee also includes addmission to the Neiraku Museum. It is located across the driveway from the gardens and displays ceramics from ancient China and Korea. If you are not a ceramics connoisseur, perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the display is how similar they look to ceramics today. The collection is in excellent condition and some pieces really look as if they could have been purchased yesterday.

How to get to Isuien Garden and Neiraku Museum

1: From Kintetsu Nara Station:

Take Hanna Road (the main street in front of the Kintetsu station) and walk east toward Nara Koen. Continue on this road until you see the Nara Prefectural Office. Turn left (North) at this intersection. Follow this road and take your first right (east). You will be in a small street that will lead you to the Garden entrance.

Tours - The Japan Discovery Tours visits Neiraku Museum and Isuien Garden
Click here for more information regarding when Discovery visits this destination.

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