Monday, September 14

The Samurai's garden

My company booked me into the New Otani Hotel during a recent trip to Tokyo. I've never stayed there and wasn't sure what to expect. Online the complex appeared large and sprawling, boasting 643 rooms in three high-rise towers. I assumed the worse - a sterile, slightly aging establishment. Reality proved me wrong.

The hotel actually sits on the site of a former Samurai castle. More than four centuries ago, Kiyomasa Kato (1562-1611), ruled much of the surrounding area from here. Towards the end of his tenure the castle grounds were landscaped into a classic Japanese garden. More than ten acres of land were transformed into a series of ponds, waterfalls and immaculately manicured gardens. At the time the garden was for his exclusive use and thus remained largely hidden from view.

Incredibly, the grounds have been carefully maintained by each successive owner until they were finally sold to a hotel developer last century. The sale was made on the condition that the garden be preserved. As a result, hotel guests and visitors can still stroll through a stunning landscape of more than 800 mature trees and natural beauty. A number of elegant stone lantern dot the landscape, some date back to the garden's creation, while others have been relocated from even older garden. The oldest lantern is almost 700 years old. The end result is a true oasis in the midst of a large and sprawling metropolis.

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