One of the highlights of northeast Kyoto, this superb imperial villa was designed as a lavish summer retreat for the imperial family. Its gardens, with their views down over the city, are worth the trouble it takes to visit. The one-hour tours are held in Japanese, with English audio guides free of charge. You must be over 18 years to enter and you will need to bring your passport for ID.
Construction of the villa was begun in the 1650s by Emperor Go-Mizunō, following his abdication. Work was continued by his daughter Akeno-miya after his death in 1680.
The villa grounds are divided into three enormous garden areas on a hillside – lower, middle and upper. Each has superb tea-ceremony houses: the upper, Kami-no-chaya, and lower, Shimo-no-chaya, were completed in 1659, and the middle teahouse, Naka-no-chaya, was completed in 1682. The gardens’ reputation rests on their ponds, pathways and impressive use of shakkei (borrowed scenery) in the form of the surrounding hills. The view from Kami-no-chaya is particularly impressive.
You can book tickets in advance at the Imperial Household Agency office or online. Same-day tickets (for afternoon tours only) go on sale at the villa from 11am and are available on a first-come, first-served basis.