Denjiro Okochi (1898–1962) was a Japanese period film actor famous for his samurai movies and his war movies that were released during World War Two. On IMDb, he has 131 credits listed and was one of the most famous actors of the era. In Arashiyama (Storm Mountain, Kyoto) you can visit the house where he lived and see the immaculate garden which has been preserved exactly as he modeled it.
Walking up through the Arashiyama bamboo grove, you reach the entrance to Okochi Sanso (Okochi Mountain Villa) which is set into the hillside slopes of Mount Ogura. Okochi fell in love with the natural beauty of the area and over his lifetime built up the villa with traditionally styled buildings and perfectly landscaped gardens. The villa functioned as one of his homes and was turned into an attraction for the public after his death in 1962.
The size of the villa is 20 thousand square meters. Many of the buildings were built in the 1930’s and 40’s, but the tea house building was built in the much earlier Meiji period and then later moved to the site.
The garden is supremely beautiful. Okochi designed it so that each of the gardens would be at the peak of their beauty during different seasons. You can follow the narrow pathways around the garden which eventually loops back towards the tea house.
It may sound obvious, but the garden is stunningly green. From the different shades of the leaves on the trees to the moss on the ground, close-cropped grass, and luscious bushes, the garden is like a painter’s palette of verdancy. As well as the garden itself, there is much to see on the horizon. Up on the hill, you are able to get a good view of the city of Kyoto, the Gozu River gorge, and Mount Hiei.
After you’ve finished your walk around the garden, stop off at the Tekisuian (tea house) for your complimentary cup of green tea and a traditional Japanese sweet (included in the cost of your ticket.)
At a 1,000 yen entrance fee (500 for children) many people shy away from visiting this garden, especially when there are so many things to do in Arashiyama, let alone Kyoto. However, during my recent trip to Kyoto, the Okochi Mountain Villa was one of my favourite things. On leaving the garden, another foreigner stopped me and asked what it was like and if it was worth it.
On my reflection, my emphatic declaration ‘It’s Amazing!’ probably made me sound a bit like a country bumpkin – if you like nature, peace and quiet, traditional gardens, a sense of calm and a break from busy tourist spots then, yes, it’s amazing. However, if your penchant is for pachinko parlors, Harajuku crepes, and the Tokyo Skytree, then perhaps you won’t be quite as enamored with it! However, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the tranquil Okochi Mountain Villa.