Sumitomo Kakkien Garden

Kakkien’s garden emerges seamlessly from the landscape, embodying the “wabi” aesthetic of rustic simplicity, freshness and tranquility

Sumitomo Kakkien Garden

A room in summer
Mountains and garden
Come in too

Matsuo Basho composed this poem while visiting his disciple Shuo in Nasu during his epic journey known as Oku no Hosomich (The Narrow Road to the Deep North). This poem alludes to the lush summer foliage covering the mountain slopes at the back of the house and the flourishing garden. Everything is so vivid and overflowing with life that it seems to leap into the room. Likewise, at Kakkien, one can savor such a memorable experience. The world of “wabi” depicted by Basho, in all its rustic simplicity, freshness and tranquility, comes alive as one views the garden and mountains from the house.

Teigo Iba purchased the land at Ishiyama in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture, in 1887 when he was 40. In the prime of life, he decided that he would spend his retirement here. With that in mind, he planted pine, cedar, and maple seedlings whenever he could spare the time. A man with a plan, he knew that the trees he planted would be flourishing by the time he retired.

Over 100 years have passed since Iba lived in the house and delighted in the garden. The Japanese maple in front of the sitting room has extended its boughs. The shafts of sunlight through the cedars illuminate the velvety moss-covered ground. In summer, the garden and mountain slopes express the life force so vividly that its dynamism pervades the house.

On the other hand, the artificial hillocks and ponds that are staples of Japanese gardens are notable for their absence at Kakkien. Although one encounters a pond as well as a pathway of roughly hewn stones on the approach from the gateway to the residential compound, these are not visible from the rooms of the Japanese-style building. Indeed, virtually no artificial elements are visible from there.

The rooms afford a panoramic view southward with Mount Garan framed by maples and cedars. It is a fine example of how to complement the small scale of a garden in the foreground with the large scale of a scenic view in the background.

Residence in harmony with nature

The original site of Kakkien was about 15,000 tsubo. But the subsequent construction of the Meishin Expressway and the Tokaido Shinkansen railroad has left a site of about 2,500 tsubo, roughly one-sixth of the original size. When Iba lived here, the absence of tall buildings meant that the garden overlooked by the Japanese-style building blended seamlessly into the surrounding landscape, including Mount Garan, without a single false note.

Following the winding pathway from the gate to the tea house and you find yourself in the midst of an idyllic natural world. From here, your spirit soars to the summit of Mount Garan.

Of course, the garden is not nature in the raw. It is meticulously shaped and maintained. Shrubs are painstakingly trimmed. In the moss garden, the meandering white-graveled path invites the contemplative stroller. One can imagine Iba strolling along this path life in his latter years, perhaps pausing to admire a flowering shrub or a fluttering butterfly.

From the Western-style building, one can see Lake Biwa to the north and the Seta River to the southeast. Iba considered a pond unnecessary because of the expanse of water in the background. He thought the calm surface of the lake and unhurried flow of the river give the finishing touches to Kakkien.

Iba’s conviction that architecture must blend with the surrounding landscape and nature is certainly evident at Kakkien. Reflecting this design philosophy, not only Mount Garan but also Lake Biwa and the Seta River are part of this deeply satisfying whole that delights the eye and nourishes the spirit.