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'Divine Management': Adachi Museum of Art is Japan’s Best Garden for 19th Consecutive Year

Characterized by a fusion of nature and technology, the garden epitomizes the belief of the founder, Zenko Adachi, that "a garden is a form of painting.”



The dry garden of the Adachi Museum of Art, which was selected as the best in Japan for 19 consecutive years. Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture. (Photo provided)

The Adachi Museum of Art is known for its collection of modern Japanese art by many artists, including Yokoyama Taikan. But for much of the world it is known for its beautiful garden, and indeed it was selected in March as the best garden in Japan by Sukiya Living, The Journal of Japanese Gardening, a prestigious magazine in the United States. This is the 19th consecutive year that the museum has been ranked number one. 

Located in Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture, the garden is characterized by a fusion of nature and technology, epitomizing the belief of the founder, Zenko Adachi (1899-1990), that "a garden is a form of painting.” 

This article will explore the management system known as the “Adachi Method” that continues to sustain the beautiful garden. 

White sand and blue pine garden with the motif of Yokoyama Taikan's painting (Photo provided).

A Standout Among Japan’s Prestigious Gardens 

The picturesque garden, including the mountains in the borrowed scenery behind it, encompasses 165,000 square meters. It is located in the suburbs, about 20 minutes by bus from JR Yasugi Station. Upon visiting it in late March, the trees were shining in the spring sunlight as if to rejoice after the long winter of the San'in Region in southwest Japan.

“We do maintain the garden to the standard of the best in Japan, but I was relieved to find that the record was not broken," said Ayaka Kanno, the museum's 31-year-old public relations manager.

The Journal of Japanese Gardening, a specialty magazine, has featured the Top 50 Japanese Gardens every year since 2003. From around 1,000 candidate sites in Japan, experts from around the world make their selections based on criteria such as the quality of the gardens, harmony with buildings, and the staff’s hospitality to visitors. 

The Adachi Museum has always been ranked first, having maintained its position ahead of the Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto and other famous gardens.

The Japanese garden at the museum was started in 1968 by local businessman Zenko Adachi. Although he initially commissioned a prominent landscape architect to design the garden, he later directed the gardeners himself, saying, "I want to create my own ideal garden." 

It took Adachi about 15 years to create the basic form of the present garden. It consists of a Japanese rock (dry) garden (karesansui), a moss garden, a white gravel and pine garden, and an artificial waterfall named the Kikaku Waterfall, which was inspired by a painting by Yokoyama Taikan.

Nobuhiko Kobayashi of the Adachi Museum of Art Garden Department, Yasugi City, Shimane Prefecture (Photo provided.)

Tending to the Garden 365 Days of the Year

The Adachi Museum of Art has a garden maintenance division, which is unusual for an art museum. It also employs eight full-time gardeners.

The head of the division, Nobuhiko Kobayashi, who is 59 years old, is one of those who were trained by Zenko before his death. “Not a single stray leaf is left behind before the opening of the museum," he says. “We follow Zenko's words that even small acts add up over time.”

The museum has never closed for even a day since it opened in 1970. 365 days a year, the staff, including those not working in the garden division such as the coffee shop staff, clean the garden with a bamboo broom to start their day. 

The gardeners arrive to work at 7:30 AM and spend an hour tending to the garden before the museum opens. During the opening hours, the gardeners stay busy with pruning and replanting.

The garden division is led by Mr. Kobayashi, the oldest member of the team, and includes members as young as in their 20s. Instead of recruiting elites such as experienced gardeners and competition winners, the museum’s gardeners are hired from the local agricultural and forestry high school. They learn the Adachi Method from the bottom-up while working in the garden. 

"We want them to acquire skills that are suited to this garden,” says Ms. Kanno. “For example, of the approximately 800 red pines in the garden, more of the trees in the front are thinned out and as many as possible are left in the back so that they blend naturally with the mountains in the background.”

Gardeners in the garden department of the Adachi Museum of Art, who care for the garden. (Photo provided.)

'Divine Management'

In addition, trees ー including approximately 400 red pines alone ー are grown in temporary planting areas near the museum. And when the pines in the garden grow too large, they are replaced. Every morning, Director Takanori Adachi takes photos and checks their condition. If a plant grows too large, the stones in the garden will look too small, so he is constantly checking to see if there is any imbalance in the scenery.

These efforts have been praised by the magazine as "divine management," and have led to the garden being ranked the best in Japan for 19 consecutive years.

What is the Adachi Method? 

According to Ms. Kanno, it means that “All the museum staff share a common sense of beauty based on the ‘Zenko mindset’.” In order to achieve this goal, the museum has meticulous pruning methods and temporary planting sites.


Yusuke Yamamoto, a 22-year-old gardener in his fifth year, says, "We want the garden to look good from any direction.” “We are the best in Japan in every aspect of the garden, including the cleanliness of every corner," he boasts.

The number of visitors to the museum, which used to exceed 600,000 thanks in part to the effect of its increased publicity in the rankings, has dropped to over 200,000 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Zenko mindset is still in place. 

“Zenko used to say, ‘Whether it is one person or hundreds, it is our job to impress them when they see the garden.’,’’ says Mr. Kobayashi. “We believe gardens are the most beautiful when they make the most of nature, and we just do our best to preserve them.”


(Read the article in Japanese at this link.)

Author: Yuri Fujihara