Elegant Rosebeds and A Pond of Heart – Kyu-Furukawa Gardens
One of the most important foreign nationals who left a deep grain of cultural impact in Japanese history was Josiah Conder. An accomplished British architect from the mid-1800s to early 1900s, Conder is best known among the Japanese for his design of Western-styled buildings around Tokyo during the Meiji era, such as the Tokyo Imperial Museum in Ueno, Mitsubishi Ichigokan, The University of Tokyo's Faculty of Law and Arts Building, and others. Among them is also the Western-styled mansion and Western garden in the beautiful Kyu-Furukawa Gardens in Kita-ku, Tokyo.
Conder was commissioned by the Meiji government to teach Western architecture at the Imperial College of Engineering (now the University of Tokyo, Faculty of Engineering) in the hope to rebuild Japan’s city architecture with Western ideas. He was also a landscape enthusiast and wrote the Japanese garden classic “Landscape Gardening in Japan,” which consequently paved the way to his artistic touch on the charming Western garden of the Kyu-Furukawa property, completed in 1917.
Entering the elevated gardens, one is instantly confronted by the robust clouds of green surrounding the elegant reddish stone building, now housing the Otani Art Museum, which reflects English aristocratic homes. It was originally the residence of Meiji-era politician Mutsu Munemitsu (1844-1897), whose son was adopted into the Furukawa family. One of the members, prominent businessman Furukawa Ichibei later inherited the estate. Today, covering more than 30,000 square meters, the expansive land is popularly enjoyed for its exquisite rose garden and the sophisticated Japanese garden designed by Ogawa Jihei VII, a renowned Japanese landscape architect of the Meiji period.
Using Conder’s broad knowledge of French and Italian sculptured palace gardens, the Western garden has been creatively formed in a perfectly symmetrical geometric composition of carefully pruned rectangular and circular plant basins beaming with bright roses, azaleas, peonies, and other colorful blossoms. The landscaping is particularly notable for the three-leveled terrace: roses and yucca (or Spanish dagger) flowers on the first level; green shrubs on the second level; and azaleas on the third level. Upon descending the steps to the lowlands, one can grasp a spectacular view of the elevated Western building looking over the sloping bed of colorful pinks, reds, oranges, yellows, and green shrubs everywhere. Every year in mid-spring, the Kyu-Furukuwa Gardens hosts a much-visited rose festival showcasing about 200 rosebushes of 100 different rose varieties. The program includes classical concerts, food and goods stalls, and a special night light up after sunset of the building and the vast lawn.
Further down the slope sits the enchanting Japanese garden, encircled around a heart-shaped pond called Shinjiike that emulates the Kanji character 心 (Shin) for “heart”. Protecting the silent waters, the gorgeous gradation of green varieties aesthetically blended with stone formations highlight the most breathtaking element of the scenery. Nettle trees, cherry trees, evergreen trees, Japanese wax trees, Eurya japonica, Himalayan cedar, pine trees, holly trees, Japanese camellia, bottlebrush, maple trees, Japanese irises, and other species burst delightfully from several viewpoints: Funatsuki-ishi (boat landing stone) on the west side; and Karetaki on the south side. The huge Yukimi-toro stone lantern standing on a layout of rocks never escapes the eye. Whether one is peeping from behind a pine tree, through rich foliage, or from atop the hill, all angles staring down the pond are equally enthralling. Walking further south leads to a waterfall, as though it is locked in a deep valley. Here, professional photographers may be spotted focusing their lenses on birds perched on hidden branches.
Perhaps, one afternoon may not be enough to fully capture the magic of the silent beauty of this traditional scenery where both Eastern and Western flavors bond in utter delicacy, and which makes the Kyu-Furukawa Gardens a well-deserved visit.
1-27-39 Nishigahara, Kita-ku, Tokyo
Open 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Admission fee: 150 yen
Access: Nishigahara station (Namboku line), 7-minute walk; Komagome station (JR Yamanote line), 12-minute walk; Kami-Nakazato station (JR Keihin Tohoku line), 7-minute walk
(Note: The Otani Art Museum building requires a separate admission fee and advanced appointment).