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  • Katsura Imperial Villa: A Brief Descriptive Bibliography, with Illustrations
  • Dana Buntrock (bio)

There are three imperial residences in Kyoto: Gosho (京都御所), rebuilt in 1855 and used for formal affairs even today; Shūgakuin1 (修学院離宮), a summer retreat on mountain slopes built in the mid-seventeenth century; and Katsura Imperial Retreat (桂離宮), slightly older than Shūgakuin. Upon the death of the Hachijō imperial line in 1881, Katsura came into the hands of the reigning household; shortly afterward, the Imperial Household Ministry was formed and took responsibility for the care of such sites. Sometimes grouped with the other residences, Nijō Palace was originally built not for the imperial household but for the warriors who effectively ruled Japan from the seventeenth to the middle of the nineteenth century; today, it too is managed by the Imperial Household Agency (the scope and name of the Imperial Household Ministry having changed at the end of World War II). Of these four, Katsura, with its extensive grounds and esteemed teahouses in addition to a large, shoin-style residence, is best known of all, used both at home and abroad to illustrate arguments about architecture and national tradition. Yet even so, much remains to be said about the complex, as demonstrated by this brief descriptive bibliography. [End Page 469]

The first extensive documentation on Katsura was a set of loose-leaf folios, published by subscription under the auspices of the Imperial Household Ministry and dedicated to Baron Hideo Higashikuze, who oversaw artisans in the building trades department of the ministry between 1924 and 1931.2 The folios were explicitly not for sale, but for study and research, a point made repeatedly in a variety of ways throughout the folios. Today, the folios are quite rare; as a result, they have seldom been referenced in subsequent publications.

Granted an unusual level of access by the ministry, Kawakami began conducting surveys in autumn 1927, less than a year after the beginning of the Shōwa era. The first of the folios released (which was, for reasons still not clear, actually the eighth in the series) included an invitation to the elite subscribers—leading industrialists, tea enthusiasts, academics, and architects—to tour another of the imperial residences in Kyoto, the Gosho, in late April 1928, or to arrange for a group tour in May. In 1932, as the folios were completed, the text noted that there were only a few dozen more than two hundred subscribers.

Editor Kunimoto Kawakami extended gratitude to faculty and students from the architecture departments of Tokyo and Kyoto Imperial Universities, including thanking Kyoto Imperial University students for their assistance in surveying, although he seems to have done much of the drawing and photography himself. The extensive documentation for these folios vastly increased the source material available for serious study, especially where Katsura was concerned. (Of the 573 sheets of photos and measured drawings of the four imperial residences—the shogunal Nijō Palace was included—232, or 40 percent, involved Katsura. And of the 130 measured drawings produced for the folios, 56, or 43 percent, also involved Katsura and its grounds.) The great attention to Katsura, often involving careful documentation of the smallest details, underscored that the complex was an important part of the nation’s architectural heritage and worthy of more consideration than it had been given in Japan’s modernizing era.

Today, Bruno Taut is generally credited with “discovering” Katsura in 1933, shortly after the folios were completed (figures 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B, 3A and 3B). In addition to a published sketchbook, which focused exclusively [End Page 470]

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Figures 1A and 1B, 2A and 2B.

Taut’s Houses and People of Japan (1937) includes four photographs from the fifth of the Kawakami folios released in November 1928, including the two sepia-colored images shown on the left, demonstrating Taut had direct access to Kawakami’s unpublished materials. In addition, the shadows and other features of another photo (not shown here) suggest that it, too, was taken at the same time as one in the Kawakami...


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pp. 469-504
Launched on MUSE
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Archived 2020
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