Here’s a question…What do you do to encourage visitors when you build a museum containing some of the finest works of Japanese art in the midst of rural Japanese farmland?
The answer, if you are Zento Adachi, a farmer’s son turned influential art collector, is to build one of the most beautiful gardens in the world in the land around the museum.
But, if you are a perfectionist as Adachi was, you go one step further.
Instead of simply letting people wander around the gardens aimlessly to view them, you build windows in the museum that frame the gardens like paintings and highlight their beauty just as you envisaged it. And then ask that they are viewed from the inside.
The result is a stunning display of living paintings that circle the museum building. And a melding of art and nature that’s seen US magazine, The Journal of Japanese Gardening, award the Adachi Museum of Art Gardens the prize of most beautiful Japanese Garden in the world every year since 2003.
Here’s a few cool things I discovered when I went to visit it recently.
A Few Secrets to Know
There’s not just one garden at the Adachi Museum, there are seven – each one beautiful, each one slightly different and most of them hiding a few quirky secrets that I heard about on my tour and that made me beam with joy.
Secret One: The main garden, known as the Dry Landscape Garden, is framed by huge floor-to-ceiling windows. While it’s easy to get caught up in the close-up detail of the perfectly smooth gravel, the manicured grass and the round moss-covered boulders, also look way out into the distance.
Notice how the way the gardens blend completely into the mountains behind them? That’s no accident.
All of the land involved in creating that view has been bought by the Adachi family – and they had any utility wires removed to ensure the view was completely uninterrupted.
Secret Two: The gardens took 15 years to create and even now a team of gardeners work tirelessly to ensure there’s not a branch or leaf out of place. Every morning the whole thing is combed and primped so it looks perfect for the first visitors.
Behind you on the wall when you stand
Secret Three: In the far right of the White Gravel Garden (pictured above) you’ll spot the Kikaku Waterfall that tumbles 15 metres down from the nearby Mount Kikaku.
Looks natural right?
Erm no. It was built in 1978, to mimic the look of a painting called Waterfall in Nachi by Taikan Yokoyama one of Adachi’s favourite artists.
A copy of this is on the wall by the waterfall’s best the viewing point so you can compare how similar the two look and admire the dedication to art that saw a man making an actual waterfall to match his favourite painting!.
Secret Four: As you walk outside the building to the Pond Garden, turn round and look at the small tatami mat-filled room behind you – and this fantastic framed view within it.
The story goes that when Adachi was planning the gardens, he decided he wanted to create a long view like the scrolls many Japanese paintings are displayed on.
The architects he was working with said it wasn’t possible.
Adachi thought it was so he basically picked up a hammer and knocked a hole in the wall to see….looks like it worked.
When’s The Best Time to Visit The Adachi Museum Gardens?
The garden has been designed to look amazing in every season with evergreen trees, water features and rock displays to give interest even when things aren’t flowering.
I went in late February just as Spring was springing and it was beautiful, tranquil and very, very green. Later in Spring, dots of pink appear as flowers also bloom among the moss-covered rocks.
In the depths of winter, the area can get snow creating a perfect blanket of white.
However, from the pictures I’ve seen though, the absolutely most stunning time to visit the Adachi Museum is autumn when the leaves on the mountainside turn a golden brown and many of the trees in the garden’s turn bright red.
What’s the Art Like?
As I said above, on this trip I was hosted by the JNTO,
I like modern art but am not normally a huge fan of fine art – but, I hadn’t seen Japanese fine art. This I liked.
It uses a lot of blank space and very fine detail that appealed.
I also loved the fact that very few of the works were in frames – they were either displayed as scrolls or had been painted on large screens.
It took away a lot of the stuffiness and formality of European paintings and immediately made me like it more.
Much of the work is by Taikan Yokoyama, a painter with whose work, I think it’s safe to say Adachi was slightly obsessed.
Yokoyama’s work includes lots of nature, sea, beaches and a series of paintings picturing Mount Fuji. It’s really serene and calming.
The portraits in the museum of maiko and geisha are also particularly impressive.
There’s also a downstairs gallery dedicated to paintings aimed at children featuring animals, gnomes and fairytales.
It says a lot for my art appreciation that these were my favourite. I even bought a print of one of them to go on the wall in my office – and I never buy souvenirs.
Note: while you can take photographs of the gardens in the museum, you can’t take pictures of the artwork itself so the example of Yokoyama’s work above has been kindly provided by the Adachi Museum team.
How to Get To the Adachi Museum of Art
The Adachi Museum of Art is located in the north of the main Japanese island of Honshu.
The nearest touristy town is Matsue, which is home to a perfectly preserved castle and a wealth of samurai history.
To get from Matsue to the Adachi Museum of Art, you simply take the Limited Express train 15 minutes to nearby Yasugi Station (it costs 410 yen plus a seat fee – or is available on the Japan Rail Pass if you’re using it).
From Yasugi, a free shuttle bus will take you to and from the museum. Find the timetable for the Adachi Museum Shuttle Bus here – buses run every 30 minutes. There are also details of a normal local bus on that page if the shuttle bus is full.
When you get to the museum, pick up a ticket for the shuttle you intend to return on to ‘book’ your spot.
I stayed in Matsue on my trip to the Adachi Museum and you could easily spend a day or two here checking out all the individual sights.
If that sounds like your idea of fun, then check out the Matsu Excel Hotel which is close to all the main sites and right next to Matsue station.
Getting to the Adachi Museum from Okayama, Osaka, Kyoto or Hiroshima.
If you can’t quite spare the time to stay overnight in Matsue, don’t worry. The Adachi Museum of Art is also connected to a major bullet train station at Okayama, Southern Japan.
Using a Japan Rail Pass, Okayama can be as little as 50 minutes by bullet train to Osaka, 40 minutes from Hiroshima and 70 minutes away from Kyoto, making the Adachi Museum of Art, a long, but doable, day trip from any of these destinations. It’s a bit faster if you pay for the journey on the quicker Nozomi train.
From Okayama a limited express train will take you to Yasugi in two hours and 20 minutes – and again, the shuttle bus will then ferry you the last 20 minutes to the museum itself.
If you do have more time, Okayama is an excellent jumping off point for heaps of cool places – I stayed here on a previous trip to Japan and used it as a base to visit Naoshima, the art island most famous for its brightly coloured giant pumpkins and Okunoshima, also known as Bunny Island or Rabbit Island, because of the thousands of cute hoppy ones that call it home.
If do you decide to stay in Okayama, the Matsui Garden Hotel is just a few steps away from the station making it a perfect base for day trips.
Disclosure: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links which mean I earn a small commission if you use them to book. This does not cost you any extra.
My trip to Western Japan was hosted by the Japan National Tourism Organisation who paid for my flights and hotel and organised the itinerary. However, they have not had any input into what I write about, or what I say about it, all opinions and excitement are
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