Skip to Content

Kyoto, JAPAN – December 8, 2017 – The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto, surrounded by the 36 mountains of Higashiyama, invites its guests to discover the history and culture of Japan’s ancient capital, with exquisite gardens based on the Taoist principle of shijin-so-o,  upon which the very city of Kyoto was founded itself. In order to create authentic Japanese gardens in harmony with the traditional architectural principles and techniques of ancient Kyoto, the internationally-renowned gardener Kanji Nomura was appointed to plan the beautiful gardens prior to the hotel’s opening in 2014.

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto Gardens based on the concept of shijin-so-o
The term shijin-so-o refers to the traditional concept of selecting the most ideal topography on which to build a capital city in accordance with the 'Four Gods' that govern the four directions of the heavens in Chinese, Korean and Japanese mythology. According to the Taoist beliefs of the Heian Period (794-1185), the north is guarded by The Black Turtle, the east by The Azure Dragon, the south by The Vermilion Bird, and the west by the White Tiger. It is widely believed that the location of Kyoto was chosen as an ideal spot to build a new capital according to the shijin-so-o concept, thanks to it being surrounded by rivers and mountains. The gardens of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto were designed in a similar way to the original layout of Heian period Kyoto, separated into the following four distinct areas that reflect the principles of the `Four Gods`.

  • The North – Genbu no Niwa aka “The Garden of The Black Turtle Genbu”
    Genbu no Niwa, aka “The Garden of The Black Turtle Genbu”, is located within 5th floor suite room Tsukimi, on the north side of the hotel. The colors of the garden are mainly black, with a bamboo fence complete with a turtle motif that represents The Black Turtle Genbu. Furthermore the garden path features hifumi-ishi (one-two-three pebbles), a traditional Japanese aesthetic originating in Buddhism created by putting pebbles in small irregular groups, inspired by the stone garden at the  Shugakuin Rikyū Imperial Villa, located near Mount Hiei in the northeast of Kyoto.
  • The East – Ten no Seiryu-tei aka “The Heaven of the Blue Dragon”
    Located on the east side of the hotel’s 5th floor, garden terrace suite room Tatami features a karenagare, or “dry flow” rock stream, which depicts the body of a dragon ascending to the heavens above the Higashiyama mountains of Kyoto. Reflecting how Enshu Kobori, Governor of Komuro in Shiga Prefecture (near Kyoto) during the Edo period, built eight different bridges over the ponds of Sentō Imperial Palace (a secondary palace adjacent to the Kyoto Imperial Palace), this garden also features a total of eight bridges - five stone bridges, two wooden bridges and a sawawatari steppingstone bridge.
  • The South – Suzaku aka “The Vermillion Bird”
    With a large water feature, maple trees that produce bright red leaves in autumn and cherry trees that produce pink blossom in spring, The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto`s south-facing main entrance represents Suzaku, aka The Vermillion Bird, which protects the south. The entrance also features a Korean-style stone lantern, expressing the hotel’s cosmopolitan influences, as well as the desire to treasure past traditions and connect them to the future.
  • The West – Byakko aka “The White Tiger”
    On the west side of the hotel lies a narrow rock garden featuring a pattern made out of white stones which symbolizes Byakko, The White Tiger that protects the west. Kanji Nomura planted bamboos around this rock garden as a reference to the seikorin paintings of the Edo period, which were in turn influenced by the paintings of China’s Yuan and Ming dynasties. The narrow strip represents the shijin-so-o concept that a wide road should be built in the west.

The garden at the center of The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto that represents the principles of Buddhism
Designed to radiate a sense of peace and relaxation to the modernly-designed inner rooms of the hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto’s central garden is a traditional Japanese garden that reflects the principles of Buddhism. The hotel’s core consists of an inner garden in an atrium, creating an open space throughout all the floors of the hotel. Kanji Nomura installed hoto lanterns which represent shumisen, aka Mount Meru, a cosmological mountain that, according to Buddhism, is considered to be the center of all the physical, metaphysical and spiritual universes. The mountaintop is said to reach the world of the gods and is surrounded by the sea and mountains. At night time the lanterns are lit up by surrounding lights, representing the nine mountains of Buddhism, thus presenting the principles of Buddhism within this confined space. In addition the garden features pines, plum trees, bamboo and red pines – auspicious plants that were often depicted in the Chinese-inspired bunjinga style of  painting that flourished in the Edo period. These specific plants are known for their durability and strength against the cold of winter and thus represent the ideals of friendship expressed in the Chinese philosophy on which this movement on art is based.

Vegetation planted in accordance with ancient Japanese onmyōdō cosmology
is a traditional Japanese esoteric cosmology, based on traditional Chinese philosophies of Wu Xing and yin and yang. Within this cosmology, the direction of northeast is believed to be the direction from which demons enter, and therefore architects and town planners during the Heian period avoided building water facilities on the northeast side of any building or garden. In accordance with this way of thought, the Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto has a two square-meter cut-out on the northeast side of the premises, where a Japanese mahonia has been planted in order to ward off demons and protect the hotel from any disasters.

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto’s gardens display a unique blend of ancient and modern wisdom. Crafted by the hotel’s  highly skillful master gardener, the gardens transform beautifully through the four seasons. Guests are also welcome to take an Art Tour through the gardens and immerse themselves in the ancient stories of Kyoto, passed down for generations, thus deepening their experience and understanding of Japan’s ancient capital.

The Ritz-Carlton, Kyoto is excited to be able to inspire our guests with many unforgettable memories of Kyoto during their visit.  We hope that our guests will truly enjoy the spirit of the New Year holiday through our seasonal offerings.

Profile: Kanji Nomura
Title: Head of the Nomura Teien Kenkyujo (“Nomura Garden Research Institute”)

Born in Aichi Prefecture in 1950, Kanji Nomura graduated from the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Junior College, and then studied garden design under renowned landscaper Mirei Shigemori. He has carried out surveillances of over a hundred Japanese gardens, including Kyoto’s Katsura Imperial Villa, and world-famous temples Kinkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji. He also oversaw the design of the Japanese Garden at the Aichi Expo Memorial Park, which opened in 2005. He is Vice Chairman of the Kyoto Rinsen Kyokai Institute, which researches historical gardens. He is also a member of the board of The Academic Society of Japanese Gardens, as well as a part-time lecturer at Mie University. He was awarded Tokyo University of Agriculture’s Grand Prize in Landscape Architecture for his work designing seven Japanese gardens in Europe.