Keiun-kan Imperial Villa

Keiun-kan Imperial Villa

An exquisitely beautiful villa built as a pit stop by Emperor Meiji

place Area: Others access_time Published: 2020.10.07

Name in Japanese: 慶雲館

Pronunciation: kei-un-kan

The Nagahama Railway Museum documents the evolution of rail and steamship travel in Ōmi from the Meiji period. Across the road stands the Keiun-kan, an exquisitely beautiful villa built hurriedly so that the Emperor Meiji could spend a comfortable hour as he transferred between ferry and train in Nagahama on his way between Kyōto and Tōkyō.

In 1887, Emperor Meiji was due to visit Kyōto for a festival honouring Emperor Kōmei. Asami Matazō, a businessman from Nagahama who was then the president of Taiko Kisen, a Lake Biwa steamship company, learned of the plan. There was no suitable place in Nagahama for the Emperor to stay when transferring between steamship and the railway, so Asami had the Keiun-kan built at his own expense on the site of a former temple. Its name derives from Itō Hirobumi, who was then Prime Minister.

Construction started precipitately on November 3, 1886, and it was completed on the morning of February 21, 1887 on the day that Emperor departed Kyōto. There was scarcely time to finish tidying up the construction site. The Imperial couple arrived at Nagahama Port before 13:00, had lunch and a rest in the Keiun-kan, and then headed to Nagoya by train at 13:45.

Twenty-five years after the Keiunkan was built, a garden was added. The main garden is renowned as a masterpiece of its creator, gardener Ogawa Jihē VII, featuring paths that meander up and down between ponds, and a teahouse. The garden was completed in 1912.

The Keiun-kan is a two-storey building in traditional Japanese style. The first floor looks out onto the garden through a long series of windows, creating an extraordinary sense of space and elegance. Below the windows are large flat stones from which you can step out and explore the garden. The second floor is perhaps even more impressive. Two sides of the Imperial parlour are covered in sliding screens painted with cranes in various dynamic poses. On a raised dais are two plump chairs for the Imperial couple. A hanging screen is provided for their privacy. A balcony overlooks the garden and offers views of Lake Biwa.

From January to March every year, an exhibition of the best bonsai plum trees in Japan is held here, and occasional art exhibitions are also held.

There’s also a large garden on the approach to the Keiun-kan, with several stone monuments, very large stone lanterns, and interesting statue of sumo wrestler. You can spend a very pleasant morning at the Nagahama Railway Museum and Keiun-kan.