'Shakkei' is the Japanese term for the use of ‘borrowed scenery’ or ‘borrowed landscape’ as part of the integral composition of a garden. The term itself was not used in Japan until the nineteenth century, though the idea of using elements of the landscape external to the garden certainly predates this time. It was also widely used in Chinese gardens, and may also be found as a design device in Western gardens too. Capability Brown the renowned 18th English garden designer was familiar with incorporating elements of landscape beyond the garden.
The Japanese garden is composed of a series of subtly structured views. One can appreciate the gardens as being a cross between painting (two dimensional representation) and sculpture (representation in three dimensions). As such a view will require a framing device, for example by means of architectural elements such as frame posts, garden walls, hedges or earth works and so on. The framing device is a way of limiting the borrowed scenery to the desirable elements, thereby concentrating the impact in terms of the composition of the garden.
Shakkei is always balanced in the composition by the arrangement of the garden composition in the foreground of the scene. Thus the middle ground becomes the fulcrum of the scene as a whole. Usually at this point there is a 'cutting device', often the straight line of a hedge, or perhaps a capped wall. It also becomes a point at which the borrowed scenery and the garden proper meet. The sharp line of distinction between the two aspects actually emphasises their union, pulling the two elements together rather than creating a separation. Interestingly shakkei is not often used in the Tea garden, where the intention is to direct the attention of the viewer inwards, and not to create a distraction from this end. Many old gardens which featured shakkei have lost their views through modern day urban development
|Entsu-ji, Kyoto. Mt Hiei 'captured' between tree trunks. The view of this once isolated temple|
is under threat from the encroachment of the city.
Teji Itoh in his book 'Space And Illusion in The Japanese Garden' (http://www.amazon.com/Space-Illusion-Japanese-Garden-Teiji/dp/0834815222) lists six of the most common ways of creating shakkei:
1) with tree trunks.
2) with planting.
3) with posts and eaves.
4) with the sky.
5) with garden ornaments, i.e. a stone lantern.
6) with a window.