Japan has plenty of gardens designed to look at not walk through. Zen gardens, most famously Ryoan-ji’s raked white gravel and 16 rocks, invite meditation, not exploration. But the gardens at the Adachi Museum of Artgo a step further, and put the gardens mostly behind glass. They become live landscape paintings framed by windows in the walls of the museum.
The Adachi Museum is the legacy of Zenko Adachi, who made millions in real estate, textiles and rice in the mid-20th century. He created his eponymous museum in his native Yasugi, Shimane Prefecture, in 1970. It showcases various Japanese art forms, including ceramics, painting – and gardens. The gardens were designed by Kinsaku Nakane with input from Adachi himself, and it’s the gardens that draw crowds off Japan’s usual tourist trails.
Some views of the gardens are open, others are behind glass. There’s a Kyoto-style moss garden of haircap moss and the clipped, wind-twisted forms of red pine; a pond garden, heated so that its gliding carp need never hibernate; and a monochromatic slope of white gravel and curving black and red pines that brings to life a painting by Yokoyama Taikan, one of Japan’s leading 20th century painters, whose work hangs in the museum.
The central feature, though, is a dry landscape garden, framed through large windows as if it were a traditional Japanese screen. The garden links seamlessly with the mist-shrouded hills in the distance, eliding space, and obliterating a busy road with a perfectly positioned grove of pines. The waterfall that tumbles down a cliff face in the distance is also part of the composition, built in 1978 to celebrate the museum’s eighth anniversary.
In the foreground the water becomes metaphorical, represented by white gravel that forms rivers around azalea mounds and boulders chosen specifically for the way they soak up water and glow black in the rain.