Saturday, 15 June 2013


The temple of Chishaku-in (Kyoto) was moved from present-day Wakayama prefecture, south of Kyoto, by order of Shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu in 1598. Its garden is attributed to Sen no Rikyu,the tea master, although this is not proven and probably rests on the close relationship between the two men.  The temple was rebuilt in 1677 and again extensively repaired after a fire in 1947. The buildings have also undergone extensive renovations in the last ten years.  Originally the garden was laid out as an extensive stroll garden with views out over the Higashiyama hills (a mountainous ridge that runs along the east side of Kyoto, beyond which is Lake Biwa).  The present, smaller, garden is centred about a large pond which extends under the veranda, probably as a result of alterations to the garden carried out in the Edo period.  Across the pond a small steep-sided hill merges skilfully into the landscape beyond.  A tall stone rising from the pond denotes a cascade in the 'muko ochi' style.  A promontory projects a low narrow bridge of rough-hewn stone slabs across the pond; from the bridge a steppingstone path leads up and over the hill.  The steep banks are studded with many rocks; the stream feeding the waterfall is itself bridged by a slightly curving piece of cut granite.

The planting is mainly of azaleas clipped into rounded forms, and pruned pines.  The extensive planting merges into the less controlled background trees.  The focus of the garden is now the veranda.  A large upright stone with a flat top scooped out as a water drain stands by the veranda, rising straight from the pond itself, a pond within a pond.  The garden has an air of quiet restrained delicacy; its consummate fusion of garden and architecture gives a clear sense of intimacy and closeness to nature. The garden today is viewed from the interior of a large reception room, which frames beautifully the view onto the garden. The waterfall provides a gentle soundtrack of falling water to give another sensory dimension to the garden view.

detail of planting in a tsuboniwa (courtyard garden) space

Chishaku-in expresses a feeling of wabi which is much appreciated.  There is no obvious symbology to attract the intellect, rather it is a garden that gently calls upon the heart.

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