The Nezu Museum and its gorgeous Japanese garden are a just short walk from the Nishi Azabu Juban wildness, the Kakuremino bar, and lush sidewalk garden. Many people come to the newly rebuilt Nezu Museum for its exquisite collection of pre-modern art, or the new building designed by Kuma Kengo. I am a huge fan of its garden that combines tea houses and paths in a setting that seems ancient, slightly overgrown, bigger than its footprint, and entirely removed from city life.
When I visited recently, just before closing time towards the end of a long, hot summer, I was enchanted by how the light struck this worn boat, the plants growing in its bow, and the illusion of minimal human habitation in an endless jungle. I was also surprised to see Japanese maple leaves already turning red, despite the temperature being above 32 celcius (90 fahrenheit) for many weeks.
Taken together, these four posts about Nishi Azabu Juban speak to the wide range of nature in the city: professional and amateur gardens, single plants and total environments, built and wild, public and gated, destinations and everyday experiences. Plants grow wild even in the densest cities, but how we choose to nurture them provides endlessly varied results. I am inspired by the full range of possibilities.
It’s been Tokyo’s hottest summer on record. While officially summer is over, it’s still 35 celsius during the day and not much cooler at night. That’s why I was so surprised to see this red maple leaf at the Nezu Museum garden last Thursday. This sign of fall seems a cruel joke.
Diane Durston of the Portland Japanese Garden invited me last week to visit the Nezu Museum, which recently reopened. The art collection of scrolls and screens representing nature from the fourteenth century are stunning, as is the new building designed by Kuma Kengo is a wonderful example of “wafu modern” (和風モダン), a modernization of traditional Japanese design. But mostly I was drawn outside to the large garden.
The winding paths and unexpected size make you feel far from Aoyama. Although just outside the main exhibit hall, the garden is marred by the sight of the strangely tall and also squat Roppongi Hiills Tower, once inside the garden it is a fantasy of forest punctuated by old tea houses, streams and ponds. The garden has been revived yet retains a look of simplicity and wildness. Originally it formed part of the home of the museum founder Nezu Kaichiro, the Tobu Railway president and industrialist who was a collector of pre-modern Japanese and Asian art.
Perhaps even better than Kuma Kengo’s main exhibit hall is his modern take on the Japanese tea house. The new cafe is incredibly light and airy, opening out on to the garden and with an interesting ceiling light that looks like illuminated stone.
Since our visit last Friday, the weather has turned much cooler, especially at night. The next few weeks will have wonderful fall foliage in the garden.