Adachi Museum of Art: Discover why this garden has been called ‘the most beautiful in Japan’ for 20+ years

Adachi Museum of Art Japan
The museum was founded in 1980 and is now run by Adachi's grandson. Courtesy: thanyarat07/iStock Editorial/Getty Images

Although there are several beautiful gardens in Japan that receive a lot of attention on social media, many Japanese people will pledge their allegiance to one that is off the usual path: the garden at the Adachi Museum of Art in the picturesque Shimane prefecture, which is three hours’ train ride from Osaka.

The Adachi Museum has received the highest honor—most beautiful traditional garden—from the US-based Sukiya Living magazine (previously Journal of Japanese Gardening) for more than 20 years running.

Though the museum and gardens have received recognition from outside Japan, they are still not as well-known as those in Kyoto and Tokyo.

When they visit a Japanese garden and don’t see a single blossom, many foreign tourists to Japan become perplexed. Japanese gardens emphasize various plant species, such as moss or trees, or they could just be composed of rocks in a perfectly groomed bed of sand. There’s more going on here than just huge, vibrant flowers; there’s a more nuanced dynamic at work.

The author of “The Japanese Garden,” Sophie Walker, says that  “Gardens in Japan do aspire to high art in a way that they don’t in the West.”

Imagination can soar when one imitates. Even though you can see a rock and understand that it is a stone the size of a human, you can suddenly approach it and see it as a mountain. The garden’s power, in my opinion, stems from the fact that it is dependent on the viewer. The mindset you approach it with matters what you bring to it.

A sense of place

Some of the greatest modern Japanese painters can be found hanging on the walls of the Adachi Museum of Art. However, a lot of customers would rather spend their entire visit staring out the window and completely ignore the building.

The various gardens, which include a moss garden, a rock garden, and a pine grove, are meant to be observed but not explored. Rather than using oil and pastels, they were designed to resemble paintings using trees and other vegetation.

Conversely, the museum’s design aimed to “frame” the garden, with its enormous picture windows crafted to accentuate the landscape’s most remarkable elements.

Adachi Museum of Art Japan
thanyarat07/iStock Editorial/Getty Images

Gardens are easy for anyone to look at, whereas Japanese paintings are difficult to appreciate, even when people come to see them, says Takodori Adachi, the museum’s current director, and Zenko Adachi’s grandson.

You can look at these Japanese gardens and study them in this order before looking at Japanese paintings. The design of the art museum aimed to make it more visually appealing.

In an effort to acknowledge that people are behind the seemingly carefree elegance of the gardens, signs in both Japanese and English apologize that gardeners or other maintenance personnel may be working in the garden during the day.

It takes some travel to get to the museum itself. The two prefectures with the lowest population in all of Japan are Shimane and its neighbor Tottori, which together make up a portion of the rural San’in area.

Adachi clarifies, nevertheless, that the gardens’ surroundings are just as important to their uniqueness as their contents.

The mountains in the background are integrated with the Japanese gardens, he claims. Although they are tiny and condensed, Japanese gardens can be found throughout Kyoto along with shrines and other locations. As soon as you walk into this museum, the mountain behind you seems to become a part of you.

The Adachi Museum of Art’s attractiveness cannot be expressed anywhere else; these kinds of Japanese gardens were constructed specifically because of this location.

Visiting one of the museum’s tea rooms is another option to take in the scenery. Here, matcha and pastries are served while guests take in the breathtaking views through windows strategically placed for optimal viewing.

Making the journey

Shinkansen, Japan’s opulent high-speed trains, don’t stop here.

Alternatively, visitors can take the fast train from Osaka or Tokyo to Okayama, where they can change to a slower local train that lumbers northward over Honshu Island until reaching Matsue, Shimane’s city.

Travelers should take the local train from Matsue to the smaller town of Yasugi in order to arrive in Adachi. People can take a free shuttle from the Yasugi rail station to the museum and return.

The bus only has 28 seats, which can be a problem during the busiest travel seasons in the spring and summer when lines form early in the day.

Return journeys to Yasugi are complimentary; however, visitors who wish to guarantee a specific return train ticket need to get a laminated ticket from the Adachi lobby.

Helpful maps and printed train timetables in both Japanese and English can be found at the Matsue tourist information center, housed in a glass box just outside of Matsue station.

The numerous souvenir shops at the Adachi Museum are also well worth a visit. The stores, housed in separate buildings between the bus stop and the museum entrance, feature specialties from Shimane, usually in the form of food and drink, rather than solely selling postcards and other products printed with popular pieces from the museum.

Highlights include soft-serve ice cream flavored with wild pears growing in the area, Genji maki (sweets with red bean paste inside tiny crepe-like pancakes rolled up into triangles), and a line of craft beer named after Lafcadio Hearn, the Greek-born writer who lived in Matsue for the majority of his life.

With the exception of the soft serve, the majority of items are conveniently packaged in attractively designed boxes, making them a great option for mementos.

And everything in the shops, down to the smallest cookie, was perfectly organized, just like everything else at Adachi. The director of Adachi says, “If (the museum) becomes famous, it will also promote the local area.”

For the time being, nevertheless, the museum is a haven in a nation where over-tourism is plaguing some of its most well-known locations.

For example, Mount Fuji is currently dealing with the immediate effects of an excessive number of visitors. There are worries that the revered monument may lose its UNESCO World Heritage designation as a result of trash, erosion, and “reckless” trekkers.

Credits: CNN

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