Shugakuin Imperial Villa (修学院離宮, Shugakuin Rikyū) was built in the 17th century by Emperor Gomizuno and is now managed by the Imperial Household Agency. It consists of the Upper, Middle and Lower Villa areas, each featuring gardens and buildings of the traditional imperial style.
Shugakuin's name comes from a former temple built on the same site in the tenth century. The Imperial Villa was constructed between 1655 and 1659, with a palace for Gomizuno's daughter added ten years later. More recently in 1964, the surrounding farmlands were bought by the Imperial Household Agency. They are leased out to local farmers who continue to work the fields.
Shugakuin is only accessible to the public through guided tours. Tours last about one hour and twenty minutes and take visitors through all three villas, pointing out the significant garden features and structures. The tour is held in Japanese; however audio guides in several foreign languages are available.
As with all Imperial properties, it is not possible to enter any of the buildings. However, for those interested in Japanese design and architecture, several buildings are left open along the tour route so that visitors can see inside. Important features such as elevated tatami mats and painted panels are pointed out by the audio guide.
The closest station to Shugakuin is Shugakuin Station on the Eizan Railway Line, from where the villa's entrance gates can be reached in a 10 to 15 minute walk.
From Kyoto Station, take the JR Nara Line to Tofukuji Station (3 minutes) and transfer to the Keihan Line to its terminus, Demachiyanagi Station (10 minutes). From there, take the Eizan Railways to Shugakuin Station (7 minutes). The entire trip costs 630 yen and takes about 40 minutes.
Free tours of Shugakuin Imperial Villa are held five times per day except on Mondays (or the following day if Monday falls on a national holiday).
To book a tour, you need to apply in advance with your passport at the Imperial Household Agency's office in Kyoto Imperial Park (8:40 to 17:00, closed on Mondays, or next day if Monday falls on a national holiday). Alternatively, a small number of tour spots are available for reservation over the agency's website (see links below); however, these often get booked out. Online reservations must be completed several days before the intended visit.
In addition, a limited number of same-day tickets for some of the tours are distributed at the Shugakuin Imperial Villa from 11:00 on a first-come first-serve basis.