In November, right before the first heavy snowfall, I had the chance to visit the famous ryokan (traditional Japanese guesthouse) Ryugon.
The Ryugon opened its doors in 1964, the same year the Olympics took place in Tokyo. However, most of the buildings on the grounds are much older!
Utsugi, the founder of this ryokan, saw a lot of the old buildings in his hometown demolished in the sixties and searched for a way to preserve the traditions of the snow country, how Niigata is also called.
All seven buildings were built in chuumon-zukuri style between 1804 and 1829. This style was used by the vassals of Uesugi Kenshin, a famous daimyo at the end of the Sengoku period (a turning point in Japan’s history when Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to power and established the Tokugawa Shogunate).
What is younger than the buildings is the large garden in the middle of the ryokan. It is the main garden with a large pond. Some smaller gardens, all connected through lively rivulets of water which is present everywhere in this area of Niigata, are embedded between the old houses.
The main garden is a typical garden of the Showa period, featuring some large rocks and a fountain. The other gardens are less in dramaturgy, but not less interesting! Every single one of them has a different atmosphere and style.
There is a courtyard garden, designed as a hill surrounded by water, a long and narrow garden, implying a scene in a mountain setting and a small river running between the buildings, reminding me at the temple garden of Erin-ji in Yamanashi prefecture.
Soon, the Ryugon will face some transformation to fit the expectations of future guests. I am honored to function as an adviser for the gardens (which will see less transformation than the interior of the guesthouse) together with two local specialists.
I am grateful that I was able to visit the Ryugon previous to the changes and will, hopefully, also be able to visit it when the renovation works are completed.
A book about the Ryogon is also planned. But this time, it may appear in a slightly different format than our regular books.
For more insights into Niigata or rope works, please see also our other articles:
- [Book review] The Garden’s rope work / 目で見る庭のロープワーク To be published in February
- Snow protection for trees and shrubs in Niigata – Yukigakoi 雪囲い To be published in March
I don’t receive money from Ryugon for advertising for them. Ryugon was so kind to cover the travel expenses so I was able to view the garden and give my opinion and advice. There is no other agreement between Ryugon and Real Japanese Gardens than that I do this publicly.