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The Gyokudō Art Museum, a rare treat for garden-lovers living in Tokyo, is located on a forested hillside overlooking the Tama River, opposite the small town of Mitake in the beautiful Okutama area of Tokyo. Although these concrete and steel facilities, which were designed to recall the sukiya-zukuri (数寄屋造り) style by architect Yoshida Isoya (吉田五十八 1894-1974), house a substantial and representative collection of Gyokudō’s works together with artifacts from his life, it will likely be for the exceptional dry landscape garden that garden-lovers will make the two-hour trek from downtown Tokyo on the Ome Line. The museum also houses a recreation of Gyokudō’s studio, and its panoramic windows look onto a part of the dry landscape garden.
This impressive garden runs the entire length of the main galleries in an extended L-shape, providing an unmatched backdrop to the exhibition space. Nine spectacular rocks taken from the Tama River punctuate the L-shaped expanse of crisply-raked gravel, with a tenth almost hidden amidst the closer of two “landscapes” of closely-clipped azaleas in the karikomi 刈込 style. A nobedan 延段 path intrudes on the expanse of gravel, running perpendicular to the galleries. This horizontal alignment is reinforced by the bold run of the tile-capped wall that surrounds the garden on two sides, and the strong verticals formed by the trees – maples and gingko – growing just beyond act as contrasts. The trees form a middle ground with the hillsides of the opposite bank of the gorge providing a distant background – an exploitation Japanese gardeners call shakkei 借景, or “borrowed scenery”. The Tama River itself cannot be seen from the buildings or the path that parallels them, but the constant sound of the torrent as it roars through the rocky gorge below makes it an ever present element, and drowns all the hectic noises of the modern society beyond the U. A visitor feels completely surrounded by the beauties of the natural world.
Gyokudō Kawai (玉堂川合 1873-1957), who was one of the great masters of Japanese-style painting (Nihonga 日本画), spent the last decade of his life in Mitake, from Showa 19 (昭和 19; 1944) through Showa 32 (昭和 32; 1957). His residence was subsequently incorporated into the museum which currently occupies the site. Landscape architect Ken Nakajima (中島建 1914-2000) was asked to assist Yoshida in the design and construction of the karesansui 枯山水 garden when work on the museum began in 1959. The museum and garden were first opened to the public in 1961.