Imperial Villa Katsura
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Architect Kobori Enshu
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Location Kyoto, Japan   map
Date 1620 (circa)   timeline
Building Type palace, large house
 Construction System wood timber frame with tile roofs
Climate temperate
Context quasi-rural
Style Traditional Japanese
Notes tatami modular layout. "marriage of house and garden"


Photo, exterior overview, across water.


Plan Drawing

Plan Drawing

Axonometric Drawing

Site Plan Drawing

Discussion Imperial Villa Katsura Commentary

"Set in wooded surroundings within the ancient perimeter of the imperial capital, Kyoto, the rikyu, or separated residence, of the Katsura Palace is the finest product of a secular and unofficial tradition. It was built in the opening decades of the 17th century by Kobori Enshu, tea ceremony master and architect, who sought to express his ideals of rustic simplicity and picturesque nature on a larger scale than had been attempted before.

"Of the three main component buildings, Ko-shoin, Chu-shoin and Shin-goten, the first is in the more ceremonial shoin style and the latter two in the more intimate sukiya style. From the 14th century the cultivated nobility increasingly rejected the ornate grandeur of the town palace for an architecture designed above all to harmonize with a natural setting. Sukiya traces its origin to the farmer's cottage and the mountain hut, whose aesthetic was already distilled in the ceremonial tea-hut."

— John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World. p20.


"The buildings of the Katsura were framed in light timbers, using the triangular truss in the roof, and closed by plain walls, lacking the pillars, brackets, foundation podium and lean-to ambulatory of the Chinese style. Intimacy, almost too carefully contrived, is the keynote. From the start, the rooms and bays were laid out in multiples of the tatami, or rice-straw mats, used on floors in all classes of domicile for sitting and lying. Wood was left plain, sometimes even retaining its bark."

— John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World. p20.

Sources on Imperial Villa Katsura

Francis D. K. Ching. Architecture: Form, Space, and Order. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1979. ISBN 0-442-21535-5. LC 79-18045. NA2760.C46. perspective drawing, p27. plan with tatami layout, p372. — A nice graphic introduction to architectural ideas. Updated 1996 edition available at

Michio Fujioka. Kyoto Country Retreats: the Shugakuin and Katsura Palaces. Photographs by Shigeo Okamoto. Translated by Bruce A. Coats. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1983. floor plan of main building, p43. interior photo of veranda, plate 16, partial image. exterior photo of yokuryuchi pond, plate9, partial image.

Arata Isozaki. Katsura Villa, Space and Form. Photographs by Yashuhiro Ishimoto. Axonometric drawings by Makato Suzuki. Translated by John D. Lamb. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1983. interior photo of outside through veranda room of music suite, p106.

Akira Naito. Katsura, A Princely Retreat. Photographs by Takeshi Nishikawa. Translated by Charles S. Terry. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1977. exterior photo from island, p33, plate 34.

John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World. New York: Random House, 1975. ISBN 0-394-49887-9. NA200.G76. discussion p20.

John Julius Norwich, ed. Great Architecture of the World. London: Mitchell Beazley Publishers, 1975. photos, cutaway drawings, p20-21. Reprint edition: Da Capo Press, April 1991. ISBN 0-3068-0436-0. — An accessible, inspiring and informative overview of world architecture, with lots of full-color cutaway drawings, and clear explanations. Available at

Henri Stierlin. Comprendre L'Architecture Universelle. Paris: Office du Livre S.A. Fribourg (suisse), 1977. plan drawing, p340. [DP]

Hiroshi Tomioka, ed. The Kyoto Imperial Palace and Imperial Villas. Kyoto Imperial Palace Photos by Tatsuo Kumagai. Katsura Imperial Villa Photos by Seiji Akiyama. Tokyo : Konishiroku Photo Ind. Co., 1964. exterior aerial photo of the villa grounds, p100, plate 41.

Mortimer Wheeler. Temples, Tombs, Palaces & Fortress of Asia . London: Spring Books, 1965. exterior view from across pond, p.276.

Kevin Matthews. The Great Buildings Collection on CD-ROM. Artifice, 2001. ISBN 0-9667098-4-5.— Available at  Find books about Imperial Villa Katsura


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