+44 (0) 20 7225 0277

Contact us

Sydney Street

+44 (0) 20 7225 0277

151A Sydney Street

Kensington Square

+44 (0) 20 3761 9691

13 Kensington Square
W8 5HD

In our address book

In our address book

How the beauty of Kyoto came to W8


Words by Henry Synge

The fascinating story behind Holland Park’s exquisite Japanese garden

Discovering Kyoto

In the centre of Holland Park lies a magical space. Step through the bamboo fencing that surrounds the site, and you will find avenues of acers leading into a sheltered garden. In spring, the sakura trees produce beautiful pink cherry blossom; in autumn the maples turn a vibrant crimson shade. Cobbled pathways lead between carved lanterns and stone bridges. Water pours down a multi-tiered rock formation into a pond filled with Koi carp. Peacocks roam across the tended lawns. This is the Kyoto Japanese Garden.

Gardens are an important part of Japanese culture. The first chronicle of Japanese history, the Nihon Shoki, describes how their emperors built pleasure gardens as far back as the year 74 CE. At first, these were strongly influenced by Chinese gardens, but over time they developed a distinct aesthetic of their own. Following Zen and Shinto design principles, Japanese gardens became places of meditation. To British tastes they can look minimal, in part because flowers are far less important, but this simplicity results in tranquil settings where you can contemplate nature and the passing of time.

Japanese gardens contain three essential elements: stones, plants and water. Trees are the most important plants, chosen for their spring and autumn colours, as well as the sound of their branches in the wind. Stones are arranged to suggest a natural landscape and weathered as if left in place for a long time. The sound of flowing water is considered calming, but fountains are avoided. Finally, Japanese gardens are often designed to be seen from a single perspective: whether from a path, a tea house, or even a rowing boat.

The Japan Exhibition

The first authentic Japanese garden in London was created for the Japan Exhibition of 1910. Trees, stones, shrubs and wooden bridges were shipped across the world to White City, where they were arranged by the celebrated designer Tassa Eida. Afterwards the Chokushimon – a replica of a wooden temple gateway in Kyoto – was permanently moved to Kew Gardens.

This exhibition was orchestrated by the Japan Society (UK). This society had been founded in 1891 by Arthur Doisy to encourage better relations between Britain and Japan. In 1991, another festival of Japanese culture was held to celebrate the society’s centenary. Highlights included sumo wrestling in the Royal Albert Hall – the first official tournament ever staged outside Japan – and Kabuki at the National Theatre. There were also Japanese-themed exhibitions at the British Museum, the V&A, and the Barbican.

The Kyoto Garden in Holland Park was created as a lasting legacy of this festival. It was a gift from the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce and designed by Shoji Nakahara, the leader of the Kyoto Garden Association. Although small, it was intended as a ‘stroll garden’, where visitors take their time walking along carefully designed paths, creating a series of beautiful vistas. Many of the plants were sourced from Japan, but the glacial boulders and beach cobbles were acquired from the Scottish Highlands.

The purest example of Japanese aesthetics

That garden was opened in September 1991 by King Charles, then the Prince of Wales, and the Crown Prince of Japan, who is now the Emperor. In 2012 it was extended with the Fukushima Memorial Park designed by Yasuo Kitayama. This was a gift from the Japanese Embassy to commemorate the Fukushima earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster. It contains a plaque with a message from the Emperor of Japan, thanking the British people for their generosity in the wake of that disaster.

These are not the only traces of Japanese culture in the neighbourhood. The Japanese Garden in Hammersmith is on the site of the original 1910 exhibition. Japan House in Kensington provides a modern centre for Japanese craft, cinema, and cuisine. And Ichiba, the largest Japanese food hall in Europe, can be found in the Westfield shopping centre. However, for the purest example of Japanese aesthetics, you have to visit the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park.


An estate agency for London's most beautiful homes

Subscribe to Our Newsletter