Along Omotesando, Tokyo’s up-scale shopping boulevard, luxury brands have collaborated with star architects to create buildings that are worth seeing even if you’re not interested in the merchandise inside. And if you walk on, past Prada, Comme des Garcons, Stella McCartney and a constellation of Issey Miyake stores, you come to the treasure that is the garden of the Nezu Museum.
This is a garden I visit any time I’m in Tokyo, but it’s a must-see between mid-April and mid-May, when one of the museum’s greatest treasures, Ogato Korin’s iris screen, is briefly on show in the gallery, and is reproduced in real life at the heart of the garden which unfolds down the slopes behind the gallery.
In Korin’s six-panel folding screen, the vivid blue iris bloom drifts across a background of gold leaf that suggests shimmering sunlit water. The beauty and energy of the painting will take your breath away, as it did for Vincent van Gogh, who saw it in a woodblock reproduction nearly 200 years after it was painted and was inspired to do his own version. Down in the garden, the iris bloom along a stream that sparkles in the sun, with spring green maples shimmering in the background.
Nezu Kaichiro made his fortune in railways in the early 20th century and purchased this land in 1906. The natural slopes of the land called for a garden in the traditional “deep mountains and mysterious valleys” style, and though both house and garden were destroyed in fires during the war, the garden has been reformed on the original layout. Two ponds are connected by a stream, and numerous paths wind through slopes of maple, gingko, camellia, cherry and pine.