This was a smaller 'detached palace' found on the southeast corner of the Nara Imperial Palace compound. From historical literature, we can infer that there were probably several gardens in Nara during the period when the capital was located there, but only about ten of them are known by name and To-in is one of them. As a site that has been both extensively excavated and and one that has a relatively wide range of historical documents, this is a truly significant garden.
From the extensive excavations of this site, it is thought that there was an original garden built here in the early 8th century, but that this was radically changed in the mid-8th century. The old garden was covered over and the new one built on top.
The To-in that was excavated was probably similar to other gardens of its time. It had the basic sinuous shape of a kyuseki or gyoseki garden. But unlike Kyuseki site, To-in's pond was only lined with stones around the edge. A large garden pavilion was located on the eastern edge of the pond with an island located within, possibly in reference to the Taoist Island of the Immortals (Kuitert 1991). The basic layout and geomancy of the garden has been compared to that of Anap-ji in Korea, though this latter site is at least ten times larger (Kuitert, 1991 ; Song, 1982). There are also two bridges connecting the pond edge with the island.
The design elements are all present on this early site, though not yet refined into their later form, for what would, in the Heian period, become a ubiquitous design pattern. Ponds with pavilions above the water, islands and bridges to them would later be known as the Pure Land style. It is a design thematic that can still be found in Japan today.
Kuitert, Wybe. "Two Early Gardens". The Aesthetic Garden: A Symposium on Gardens. edited by L. Tjon Sie Fat and Eric de Jong. Project #128 of World Decade for Cultural Development of the United Nations. 1991.
I. Song. Kankoku kodai teien to nihon kodai teien no hikaku kenkyuu. lit. 'Ancient Korean Gardens and Ancient Japanese Gardens: A comparative study.', Thesis at the Institute of Landscape Architecuture, Kyoto, 1982.
The rippling wisteria
That I planted by my house
As a momento
Of thee whom I love
Is at length in blossom.