The Japanese garden tradition is one of the oldest continuous garden traditions in the world. The creation of gardens dates back to the time of the earliest official contacts between Japan and its continental neighbour China in the 7th century. At this time in China landscape gardening was already highly developed and being practised on a very sophisticated and extensive scale. Landscape gardens were created following the Paradise model, that is, gardens were created as an evocation of an idealized state of being. Hence from the very beginning of the tradition gardens were created for purposes that reach beyond the simply ornamental. The concept of gardens containing a spiritual element has been embedded in Japan from the outset.
|Kyuseki Teen, Nara|
It was usual to create sections of gardens that recalled or referred to renown landscapes both in Japan as well as in China. Many of which would have been known of through poetry. The aristocracy travelled rarely beyond Kyoto itself, so these features in gardens became popular. The practice also indicates how important the imagination of the viewer was in interpreting, understanding and appreciating garden scenery. Poetry was important in the lives of the Heian elite, particularly classical Chinese poetry that was rich in references to nature, it underlines the acute awareness of connectivity with the natural world to the lives of people of the era. Gardens were an extension of this ontology, and in many ways could be said to be the stage on which the lives of people of the time unfolded.
A section of the text is taken up with taboos, principally associated with the placement of stones in the garden, and it observes that even if one taboo is violated it may cause grievous harm. The Sakuteiki notes, “”Do not set a stone that is higher than the verandah in the immediate vicinity of the house. If this rule is not obeyed, troubles will follow one after the other, and the master of the household will not live for long. However, temples and shrines are exempt from this rule.” Great emphasis has always been associated with the setting of stones in the garden, and it is regarded as the benchmark of the skill of a garden creator in Japan to this day.
The 16th century onward saw the emergence of a new style of garden, the Tea garden or Cha niwa. The samurai classes were an avid proponent of tea ceremony, and with their support tea culture was able to permeate deeply into the wider society. Not only were artisans needed to create implements for the drinking of tea (pottery, metalware, bamboo wares etc.) but also to build the simple, yet highly refined tea-houses, and create the gardens. Tea culture was also linked with a reassessment of aesthetics and this was to have an important bearing on the creation of gardens too. Cha no yu (tea ceremony) in the hands of masters such as Murata Shukō (1423-1502), Takeno Jōō (1502 - 1555) and Sen no Rikyū (1521-1591) underwent a profound re-examination and development of particularly Japanese aesthetic values.
In 1603, Tokugawa Ieyasu rose to take supreme control of Japan. In order to assert and consolidate his authority, he decreed the main administrative capital to be moved away from the strife-torn Kyoto to the small fishing village of Edo, where the Tokugawa family seat was. The feudal lords were required to spend part of the year at Edo where their activities could be monitored. In building their new homes, new gardens were to spring up.
For garden makers the environs of Edo held few advantages compared to the area about Kyoto, with its sheltering mountains and plentiful supply of freshwater. The land near the town (Edo), where the new estates developed was generally flat with little fresh water and few natural stones available for rock arrangements. Despite these drawbacks gardens were constructed.
One of the earliest and grandest was Korakuen, the construction of which was begun in 1629, on the behalf of Tokugawa Yorifusa, and was further developed and maintained by his son Mitsukuni. Eventually the garden was to cover over sixty acres. A notable feature of Korakuen was its depiction of notable scenic views from both Japan and China, parallels may be drawn with Katsura Rikyu in this regard which was constructed around the same period , and features extensive use of the interpretation of famous scenic views. Though Japan was closed to the outside world during this period, there was an influx of Chinese, including a number of scholars fleeing the downfall of the Ming government. The particular influence of Chinese and Confucian ideas at Korakuen, has been attributed to Chi Shun-shui , who was patronised by Mitsukuni. Korakuen survives today, albeit on a much reduced scale as a public park, it still retains traces of its former grandeur.
The lack of supplies of freshwater for gardens in Edo lead to innovative solutions, one source of water that was exploited was the tidal flow of water from the bay. Water was drawn into the gardens at high tide and the held in the garden lakes by elaborate system of water-gates. One garden where this was practised was at Hama Rikyu (the Beach Palace), originally created for Matsudaira Tsunashige, a relative of the Tokugawa family. The garden covered some ninety-six acres, the main lake being over six acres in extent, it was created beside the river, with a canal surrounding the remaining three sides. It too survives in part into the modern day as a public park.
One other garden of note from this period, also called Korakuen is to be found in Okayama Prefecture, some four hundred miles south of Edo (Tokyo) . Begun in 1687 by the feudal lord of Okayama, Ikeda Tsunamasa, as a stroll garden, it was further enlarged and developed by his descendants. The garden of is of an open character and featured lakes, stream courses and hills, another interesting feature of the garden was the creation of rice fields and miniature farms as part of the garden scenery. The garden held many pavilions and tea houses, the use of stonework was sparse reflecting the prevailing style of the time. Again, the garden remains to the present day as a public park, though the use of lawn areas is more extensive than in its heyday.
Of the gardens built on a smaller scale, there is a prevailing interest in the use of the karesansui style, and also with the use of clipped shrubs as formal elements within the garden composition. Commonly seen today as part of garden design, it was in the Edo period that the use of rounded, and flat-topped plant forms became particularly popular and widely used.
During the Edo period one sees the development of a class of professional landscape gardeners. For an art form that had for centuries occupied the attention of artists, scholars, aesthetes and priests, there came to augment them professional gardeners and nurserymen, keen to supply the demands of a developing middle class. Garden building was becoming popularised also through the publication of garden manuals, such as Tsukiyama Teizoden. Within a society that was rigidly controlled, and lacked free access to contact with the world outside its shores, inevitably the garden tradition begins to show a concern more with creating gardens to set formulae and patterns.
|Shugakuin Rikyu, Kyoto|
In the Edo period (1603- 1867) various pruning techniques became popular. Clipped hedges began to appear in gardens, sometimes making dominant features. Azaleas and other shrubs would be planted en masse and clipped into controlled shapes. The relative proportion of plant forms is important to maintain, as the garden composition is seen as a whole. Hence the importance of pruning skills as part of regular garden maintenance begins to emerge throughout the Edo period. Garden creators such as Kobori Enshu (1579 - 1647) created innovative gardens by this means. Evergreen plantings formed the bulk of plant species used in garden compositions, and the larger daimyo (feudal lord) gardens made use of zonal planting, to emphasis the seasons. Hence areas were planted with plum and cherry trees, and even small paddy fields with rice and medicinal herb gardens could be found.
later Edo period, with the rise of a wealthy mercantile class, private gardens
began to develop. Many of these were initially of a modest size, as to be a
merchant was viewed as a low status in the samurai
dominated society. Isui-en in Nara, originally featured two 17th
century gardens attached to two residences, created by Kiosumi Michikyo a
wealthy tanner. The two gardens were merged in 1939 by Seki Tojiro, a Nara
businessman. Private gardens followed the patterns which were now well
established where larger gardens were a blend of stroll gardens with an
influence of tea garden elements. In residential houses the garden spaces were
often small open spaces within the architectural elements. Most Japanese houses
have a relatively narrow frontage, with open spaces retained to allow light and
air to circulate in the rooms, an important consideration in densely developed
urban areas. In these areas known as tsubo
坪庭 (tsubo being
a unit of measurement, 3.95 sq yd, 3.31 sq. m), a creative variety of gardens
were created, often featuring water basins, lanterns and planting.
|Daichi-ji, Shiga Prefecture|
During the rise of Japan as an industrial superpower many fine gardens were created for wealthy industrialists, such as the Nomura garden in Kyoto. Some survive to the present day, but unfortunately are rarely accessible to the public. Many of these gardens followed on from the stroll garden concept, as garden creators both looked back to traditional values, whilst also introducing new ideas. Ogawa Jihei, Shigemori Mirei, and Nakane Kinsaku were the leading garden creators of the 20th century. It is a remarkable feature of the Japanese culture that there is an apparently seamless continuity of tradition which reveals an innate conservatism in the culture. The garden tradition had established its norms and conventions relatively early and maintained them with great consistency over the years. Young trainee gardeners today still study the Sakuteiki, and Kyoto remains a centre of garden culture in Japan. It also has the greatest concentration of historic gardens, and several temples have been designated as World Heritage sites.