Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Fences in Japanese Gardens

Gardens require boundaries and they require enclosure. This may often be achieved by the use of heavy planting, often clipped into formal shapes as hedges, but another means of achieving this to create fences. In the Japanese garden fences are used as boundary markers, and they also have a role as spatial divisions within the garden as well.  These spatial divisions sub-divide the garden space, enabling the garden creator to emphasise a layered unfolding of the garden experience. Probably the most common material used in fence work is ma-dake (Phyllostachys bambusoides, or Giant Timber Bamboo). It grows tall, 15-20m is not uncommon, is very straight, the intermodal spaces are long and it resists rot after being cut. Bamboo was a feature of Heian period gardens (794-1185), it was associated with the quality of coolness in summer and was often planted on the north side of nobles residences. Bamboo was regarded in both China and Japan as having the moral qualities of resilience and fortitude.  Fencework has developed into a veritable art form with numerous types of fence patterns, with many variations to be seen.
Brushwood fence with thin bamboo branches.

The earliest types of fence work in Japan were probably brushwood fences. Such fences probably predate the Heian period by many centuries. These would have been constructed by gathering thin branches of various types of trees, also thin bamboo branches, and gathering them together vertically with horizontal support poles.  Brushwood fencework can still be seen in Japan today, such as Kuromoji-gaki (Spicebush fences, composed of thin Lindera umbellate branches), Hagi-gaki (Bush Clover fences, Lespedeza bicolor) and Takeho-gaki (Bamboo branch fences, using thin side branches).

One of the commonest styles of fence work is known as Yotsume-gaki (literally 'four-eyed fence). The simplest variant is composed of three bamboo horizontal sections divided by equally spaced verticals. The intersections are tied with kai nasa, a coarse hessian string usually dyed black. Yotseme-gaki is a see through fence that creates a sense of enclosure yet still allows the eye to penetrate beyond. It is often used in tea gardens and it is likely that it developed in the 16th century with the tea garden itself. There are  many variants, and these fences are used within garden spaces.

typical basic yotsume-gaki

yotsume-gaki with the vertical poles doubled

Another type of see through fence is known as teppõ -gaki (literally 'rifle barrel' fences). These fences are composed of round sections of bamboo or other materials arranged in vertical sections alternating front and back of the horizontal supports (oshibuchi). Teppõ -gaki are often seen as screening fences with the vertical sections set close to. In these instances they are used as boundary fences. The more open types are used within gardens.

teppõ -gaki used as a boundary fence
teppõ -gaki with bush clover

A third type of fence is the woven style known as õtsu-gaki or ajiro-gaki. In this type of fence several horizontal supports are attached to posts and then the vertical sections are woven between them. These may be split bamboo sections, or thin bamboo unspoilt. Variants include interweaving brushwood sections between bamboo sections. The angle of weave may even be set on the diagonal. These fences are almost always used as boundary fences as they cannot be seen through.

ajiro-gaki made with split bamboo

Katsura-gaki named after the boundary fence of the Imperial building
Ginkaku-ji gaki, named after the famous temple, this fence work is usually mounted on top of a wall or set on stone supports.

Sode-gaki, or Sleeve fences are narrow sections of fence work usually found attached to the sides of garden buildings or tea houses. They are intended to create a partial screen which interrupts a view, thus developing a sense of surprise as the viewer walks around the fence to be offered a new view. these fences are created in many different styles and materials.

Timber is also used as a fencing material particularly in boundary fences, where the fence acts as a wall. A characteristic is in the use of the timber that brings out the quality of the wood. This gives the fence a lighter feel than if it were created as a clay plaster wall. Many beautifully simple variants can be seen.

This simple timber fence exudes sobriety and elegance

In this example the fence planks have been charred as a means of preservation. The black is highlighted by the subtle use of red paint on the support posts and the interwoven horizontals.

To follow this blog: the 'Follow by E-mail' facility is now operating. Don't miss a beat and sign in.