The small town of Tsuwano at the edge of Shimane prefecture has a host of interesting sights – a stunning hilltop Inari shrine, a lovely old samurai district crisscrossed by canals, and a handful of unique museums. But far and away the best sight in town is one that didn’t even have a sign. Or a brochure at the tourist office. Or any indication that it existed at all.
It’s thanks to my good friend Iwakuni Foodie that I even heard of the Hori Teien, an old daimyo (feudal lord) villa west of town on a twisting winding road. When the Tokugawa shoguns began their multi-century reign at the dawn of the 17th century, they awarded the Hori Family the honor of overseeing the prosperous Iwami silver mine as well as a small copper mine just behind their estate near Tsuwano.
The estate itself is lovely. When a fire took down most of the buildings in 1788, the family rebuilt and it is these 250-year-old structures that still remain today. You can walk around the exterior and into some of the rooms, as well as the adjoining (and much more aesthetically appealing) Rakuzan-so guesthouse.
But it is the garden that makes the visit. Not “makes the visit worthwhile” not “makes the visit memorable”. No. The garden “absolutely MAKES the visit.” You can’t miss the garden. View it first from the guesthouse. You can see it from the first floor living area or you can climb the stairs to view it from the second floor balcony. That second vantage point gives you the full appreciation of this hillside stroll garden.
There is a pond, a bridge, a number of lanterns. A two-tiered waterfall that tumbles down the rocky mountainside. When you actually get into the garden and follow the narrow paths up the hillside, you’ll come across a small shrine. And when you put your back to that shrine, the branches of the 300-year-old maple tree are right beneath you, gathering the garden in their leafy embrace.
I visited this garden in the dead of winter – there was even a snow squall in town the day before – and although I normally don’t enjoy the drabness of Japanese gardens in February, the beauty of this particular place blew me away. There IS a bus to get here, so check with the tourist office in Tsuwano for schedules. There is free parking on site for about a dozen cars and even a small cafe. The entrance fee is ¥500 and the garden is open from 8am-5pm (9am-4pm in winter).