Founded in 1655 by the ex - Emperor Gomizuno-o, Shugaku-in is located in the Higashiyama hills, north east of Kyoto city. Today Shugaku-in is a series of three villas, linked by a pine-lined path; after the refined and sophisticated grandeur of Katsura, Shugaku-in presents a far more naturalistic approach to the manner of its landscaping. It is a large site and the main villas are separated by terraced rice fields which lend a strong rural tone to the whole site. None of the original buildings have survived the passage of time, and the present buildings all date to subsequent restorations, mainly carried out in the 19th century.
If the glory of Shugaku-in is in its setting, then there is no better exploitation of the dramatic potential of the site than is found in the siting of the Upper Villa, the aptly named Rinun-tei, “The Pavilion Among the Clouds” ( reconstructed 1824 ). The approach to the pavilion is via a narrow, steep staircase, framed on both sides by tall hedges. As the visitor reaches the top of the flight of steps and the pavilion, a panoramic view is set out before. Below the Rinun-tei is a large pond, created by the damming of a mountain stream, the pond contains two islands linked by an imposing bridge ( Chitose bashi , lit: “The Bridge of a Thousand Years”), added in 1824. The larger of the two islands ( Bansho-u), has a small pavilion, Kyusui-tei, one of the original buildings from the founding of the estate. The west bank of the pond is supported by an embankment covered by extensive hedges.