In the garden yūgen arises as part of our emotional response to the scene before us, it is that which holds us there, caught by the desire to remain in the spell we have entered into. A garden such as the dry landscape garden at Ryōan-ji is an example of yūgen, most who have sat and contemplated the scene recognise the quality even if they may not apply the term. The garden is mysterious; it offers us no obvious clue as to how we are to engage with it. Yet we are aware we have left convention behind. The garden space is complete in itself, only requiring the presence of the viewer to be the experiencer. Bounded with the space is a self-contained universe, where change is subtle and movement shrouded by stillness. Think of the mysterious interplay of light and shade, of time passing yet seemingly being held in quietude. The primary elements of the garden (the stones and their relationships to one another) do not alter, it is us who alters and changes.
Thus yūgen lies in the realm of suggestion, of the unformed, it posits a direction or place we may move toward. I would suggest yūgen is not found in the full bloom of the cherry trees so beloved by the Japanese, or in the fiery blaze of autumnal colours of maple trees in autumn. Rather it is revealed in the buds of the cherry before they open fully, or perhaps in autumn colour momentarily reflected from some unlikely source. It is a quality veiled by a certain sense of mystery, contained in that which is fleeting, ephemeral and not obvious.
|Matsuo Taisha shrine, Kyoto|
|Raikyu-ji, Okayama prefecture|