Construction of the villa began in the sixteenth century, on a site on the banks of the Katsura River, southwest of Tokyo, and took more than fifty years. It was originally a summer home for Prince Toshihito Hachijo. Now considered one of the most perfect examples of traditional Japanese architecture, in addition to the villa proper the compound includes an ornamental pond surrounded by a garden.
Although it is possible to visit the gardens on request, the villa itself is closed to the public and few photographers are admitted. Yasuhiro Ishimoto, born to Japanese parents in San Francisco in 1921, was granted the privilege twice by the Imperial Household, which remains responsible for the estate.
As a recent graduate of the Chicago Institute of Design, Ishimoto first photographed the villa in 1953. His black and white photographs, of which the CCA Collection holds 139 images, were collected in Katsura: Tradition and Creation in Japanese Architecture, published in 1960 in collaboration with architect Kenzo Tange. In this series, Ishimoto takes particular interest in the structure’s geometry, plans, and lines, deliberately avoiding its curves and ornamentation. Nearly 30 years later, in 1982, the photographer returned to the site and, guided by different aesthetic principles, photographed Katsura in colour, this time inspired by the juxtaposition of austerity and ornamentation, exploring the details of shapes and colours. A portfolio of twelve colour photographs by Ishimoto, accompanied by a text by architect Arata Isozaki, was produced by the CCA at that time.