Friday, August 5, 2011

A Silent-Movie Star's Estate

If you walk through the bamboo grove I talked about a few days ago, you come to Okochi-sanso, the villa and five-acre estate of Okochi Denjiro (1898-1962), who played swashbuckling samurai in the early years of Japanese movies.

Kyoto is the Hollywood of Japan. Indeed, one of the city's sights is the Toei Uzumasa Eigamura—"movie village"—a film set and theme park that has replicas of traditional Japanese buildings used as settings for historical movies and TV dramas. There are streets depicting Edo Period town scenes, a replica of the Nihonbashi Bridge, a traditional court house, and part of the former Yoshiwara red light district. Actual film shooting takes place occasionally, and you can watch the action.

Okochi-sanso is in Kyoto's northwestern hills, in the Arashiyama district. The villa itself is not open to the public, but the real attraction is the stroll garden, a path that winds through the grounds. The route is designed so that the walker sees different views...a mountain...a gorge...the city...a tea house (above)...and a tea garden designed to make you feel you are in a remote spot in the mountains, miles from the city.

Everyone I've taken through the garden has been moved by the experience. Walk a few steps along the rough stones that make the path and suddenly a new scene confronts you. Take in as much of the beauty as you can stand, move along the path several yards and suddenly there is a new scene. Extraordinary.

There is an admission fee, but for it attendants in a pavilion give you a bowl of special green tea (matcha) and a sweet.

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