Garden of the Otomo family residence

otomo garden

Little original remains of Oita City’s samurai heritage but in 2020 the long lost landscaped garden of the Otomo family residence was opened to the public after a painstaking recreation. In 1998, an archaeological dig in central Oita City led to the unearthing of the compound, the yashiki residence, of the Otomo samurai family that ruled much of northern Kyushu during the 16th Century. A grand affair, the yashiki reflected the wealth and power of the Otomo family especially Otomo Sorin (1530-1587), who boosted his family’s power by opening his domain up to Portuguese Jesuit traders and becoming a christian.

Otomo Sorin and his legacy are still held in high esteem by the locals and, since the site’s discovery Oita City has embarked on an ambitious and unique plan to recreate the complete yashiki in time for the 500th anniversary of Sorin’s birth. Individual parcels of land spread over the large urban block, under which the residence was buried, have been purchased. The garden is the first stage to be completed and it is unique in Japan as it retains a style common to the era. This has otherwise since been long lost in other residential samurai gardens found elsewhere as these were altered over the centuries in accordance with the fashions of the day. 

In common with many traditional Japanese gardens, the garden at the Otomo residence is a man-made embodiment of the natural landscape. Its central feature is an elongated lake representing a sea within which rises Nakajima, an island. Stones laid aside the lake delineate Suhama, a beach. Other features include a hillock representing Tsukiyama, a mountain, two waterfalls and boulders placed to complement the whole scene. The garden’s landscape is divided into west and east elements. The former uses smaller stones and pebbles with few large boulders in a more open calm setting, while the latter creates a sense of dynamism through the use of larger stones and a greater number of boulders set in a narrower more embracing scene.

Work is now being carried out on reconstructing the Otomo family’s palatial reception halls and living quarters that surround the garden in Japan’s internecine Sengoku Warring States period (1467-1590). An exhibition space on site details progress on site and the life of Otomo Sorin.

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