Monday, 22 July 2013

Daigo Sambo-in


This garden set in the grounds of the Buddhist Shingon Buddhist temple a few miles to the south of Kyoto was once part of the home of one of the most powerful political  figures in Japan’s history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Set in an area long famous for its cherry trees, the temple was evidently a favoured place of the Shogun Hideyoshi who it is recorded to have visited the temple a number of times. Hideyoshi who rose from humble origins to become the supreme political master of Japan had a base at the nearby Fushimi Momoyama Castle. 

The site dates back to the Heian period, and formed part of extensive property holdings of Daigo-ji temple. By the beginning of the sixteenth century the temple had fallen into a state of disrepair, and it was after a chance meeting between the Shogun and Gien, the head of Sambo-in temple, that sufficient funds became available to set about restoring the former glories. In the spring of 1598 Hideyoshi decided to hold a cherry viewing party on the site. It is said that there was only six weeks available to prepare the temple building and garden for the event. The cherry viewing was a great success and the party lasted a number of days. In the aftermath of the festivities work proper began on the construction of the grand stroll garden, with upwards of three hundred workmen toiling under the direction of Yoshiro, a master gardener who had himself risen from humble origins as a kawaromono (literally the 'riverbank things', an underclass in society that dealt with tasks such as butchery, tanning, burial of the dead etc). In fact many highly skilled gardeners were to emerge from the kawaromono, and they formed the beginnings of a professional group of landscape gardeners.

The Fujito stone can be seen centre background

The garden like its patron is an expression of richness and extravagance, the huge number of stones in the garden set about a convoluted pond with a number of islands. An interesting feature is the earth covered bridge that takes the viewer across the pond, without necessitating a change in the texture of the path. The garden is composed of a number of interlocking vistas that are unfolded before the viewer as he moves about the garden. The pines planted on the islands are thought to be over 500 years old and are probably part of the original garden layout. A remarkable feature of the garden is the placement of a large rectangular  stone, set into the background of the composition, known as the ‘Fujito stone’. The stone, one of the first to be brought to the garden was purchased by Hideyoshi (in itself noteworthy coming from a man more inclined to procurement by threat), for the vast sum of 1000 koku  of rice. A koku being sufficient rice to keep a man alive for one year.


Hideyoshi was never to see the garden completed, as he fell ill and died in the early autumn of the year following the great cherry party. His gardener Yoshiro continued to work over the design of the garden until its eventual completion in 1618. The garden was duly hailed as a masterpiece and Yoshiro was given the honorary title of ‘Kentei’, meaning “Excellent Gardener”. The garden reflects well the personalities and temper of the particular period, which was very much one of extravagant display, and richness. Not a period of simplicity and restraint the period was a very much a reflection of the tastes of the character who dominated the times.