Saturday 27 December 2014

Ogawa Jihei, Japanese Garden Genius

Ogawa Jihei (1860-1933)


Born in Kyoto in 1860 with the name Gennosuke, Ogawa Jihei married into the family of landscape gardeners in 1877, Ogawa was to become became one of the finest garden craftsman Japan has ever produced. His distinctive style of garden design bridges an era of great change in Japan. The Meiji Restoration, when Japan began to look westwards, began when he was eight years old, and with it came the rush toward modernism.

Kaiuso, Kyoto
During the 1890's the temple of Nanzen-ji sold parcels of land on its estate, the land was bought up by wealthy individuals who set about building new estates in the area. The Ogawa family had been long established in the area as gardeners, and much of the work of garden building on these estates came the way of Ogawa Jihei. A key factor in the development of the area came with the completion of the project to bring a canal through the Higashiyama mountains which was completed in 1890. The canal was to provide fresh water to the city from Lake Biwa to the east, which also had the effect of providing a plentiful source of water for gardens.

Ichida Tairyu, Kyoto
One of the first gardens created by Ogawa was for the family friend Namikawa Yasuyuki, this small garden at the residence and studio of the cloisonné artist still exists much as Jihei created it. The main building sits over a pond with an island, and has an beautifully composed balance.  A small waterfall provides just the right amount of sound, and the planting of the garden gives it a refined and naturalistic atmosphere. The stepping stone path between the studio and main house is composed of mainly large stones with a relaxed feel.

Namikawa residence, Kyoto

At Murin-an, Ogawa followed closely the directions of his patron, Yamagata Aritomo (one of the most prominent politicians of the day). Completed by 1897 the garden remains one of Ogawa’s masterpieces. It is a garden that is firmly rooted in the tradition of naturalism and yet was to also look forward to a new era in Japan’s history. A feature of the garden is the large open space in the central portion of the garden that features a lawn. This and the introduction of fir trees were novel features in their day, and showed that Ogawa was willing to extend the vocabulary of the garden. Nestled into the top corner of the garden is a signature three-stage waterfall that feeds a broad, shallow pool, before winding on through the garden as a lively stream. Ogawa was a magician with water, and went on to create some of Kyoto’s greatest water features. It is a characteristic of Ogawa’s gardens that all the senses are engaged, his gardens are above all bold and immersive, and not simply contemplative.

Murin-an, Kyoto

 Following on from this project other commissions in the area were to firmly establish 'Ueji' (his professional name) as a master garden creator. Gardens at the Nomura and Sumitomo villas, the Kaiuso villa of the Omiya family, the I-en garden for the Hosokawa family, the Hisada mansion, were all Ogawa's projects.

Perhaps the best known today is his garden at Heian Jingu shrine. The gardens were begun as part of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto, and the column raising ceremony was held in 1894.The West and Middle gardens were created first and the East gardens were added between 1911 and 1916. A feature of the Middle garden is the Garyū-kyõ bridge which incorporates round stone pads of the old Sanjõ and Gõjõ bridges.

His gardens are set firmly within the ideal of a naturalistic representation of nature, though Ogawa was bold enough to use plants from outside of the normal palette, and he incorporated lawn areas, and also used stone features from ancient gardens as focal points within the schemes. His gardens impress because they are an extension of traditional ways of creating gardens, yet manage to possess a powerful sense of confidence in their own  being. Ogawa knew well his own ability, in speaking of his working method he said,” First I pass my eye over the land. I have years of experience so it only takes a minute to form a general plan for how to create a garden on the site: what stones to place, what trees to plant, where to group things, where to spread them out, where to cut a stream and where to dig a pond. Then I check where the moon rises, where it is in autumn, where the sun shines in warm seasons and in the cold seasons. Finally I estimate how much it will cost. By the way, each garden has its own ambience, so I stick to no definite form, because it depends on the geographic features of the land.” [1]

Today Ogawa’s gardens have matured, merged into the landscapes in which they were created. They are a part of the natural scenery of the place where they were born, indistinguishable from it. To stroll through his garden legacy is to become part of nature itself, its sounds, its scents, its ambience. Many of his Kyoto gardens borrow part of the natural scenery of the Higashiyama hills as an element of their composition; the transition from one to the other and back is a seamless journey

[1] Quoted in ‘Ueji, The Genius of Water and Stone’. Kyoto Tsushinsha Press, 2008

Monday 22 December 2014

Winter Solstice Songs

A crow calling
Stirring a wind symphony in the trees,
Deep in winter woodland
The magical child of solstice peeps out.

Beneath the carpet of wet leaves
A turmoil of roots –
Listen carefully, water sings.

Rising and descending in the darkness
Arms outstretched groping for the Way -
Neither up nor down, inside nor out,
At last, the stream’s song can be heard.

Frosted ground
Bare branches entangling deep sky stars -

Asleep yet not still.

The depth of winter dark
Reaching the bottom of the cycle
Holding to the knowledge
All is spiral, never stilled.

If you enjoyed this blog then try my Facebook page, Robert Ketchell Garden Design. Feel free to leave comments there. Good gardening. If you enjoyed this, or any other post, please let me know! If there are specific aspects of the Japanese garden tradition you are interested in, please let me know. Thanks.

Sunday 30 November 2014

Walking Without Holding Regret

Still retaining
Its ghosted figurine forms
At a point in time’s arc
Where two heart-journeys intersect
The bench may now be empty,
Yet still memory vibrates.

Into dawn’s unfolding light
Always following the same road
Where the mind may stumble
The heart runs arrow straight.

Not knowing the destination
Nor caring to know either,
Just trusting the heart’s navigation –
So seeing again hills and valleys.

A deep carpet of ginko leaves
Treading softly here and there,
As pond skaters glide
Across the skin of the Universe.

Standing at the gate
Only room for one to pass –
This time no regrets

Parting without parting.

If you enjoyed this blog then try my Facebook page, Robert Ketchell Garden Design. Feel free to leave comments there. Good gardening. If you enjoyed this, or any other post, please let me know! If there are specific aspects of the Japanese garden tradition you are interested in, please let me know. Thanks.

Thursday 27 November 2014

Texture And The Japanese Garden

Ritsurin Koen, Takamatsu
Fresh in mind from a recent visit to Japan I am reminded of the importance of texture to our perception and reception of Japanese garden. Texture is something that we tend to take for granted visually, our eyes seek out forms in a vague belief that these hold the key to the garden. We scan a garden view flitting from rock to rock, plant grouping to plant grouping, from tree to tree, sensing in these concrete aspects of the garden that there is some notion of idea here. If there is idea inherent in the forms, then we can find ‘meaning’, and so make ‘real’ our relationship with the garden. The fact that I couch certain key words within apostrophe marks is indicative of a hesitancy in expression, as I unconsciously recognise that what I have written is only partially true at best.

Saiho-ji, Kyoto

Time after time as I sat and observed garden scenery it came to me that what I was responding to was only partially the forms within the garden, but it was moreover the textures of the garden that made somehow the greater sense, the greater impact on myself as a responsive being absorbing the garden. It is the textures of the raked gravel, the texture of light playing across water, the texture of stone surfaces, the texture of the plants, and so on. My experience of the garden is an interplay between the substantive and the ephemeral aspects before me. These forms I respond to and recognise primarily with my visual senses, and given the relative importance of the visual senses therefore I tend to grade these as being the dominant elements of the garden.

Adachi Museum, Shimae Prefecture
But my senses are tricking my cognitive brain into an illusion of sorts. The essential magic of the garden does not lie primarily in the visual realm. When I am viewing garden scenery I am responding to much more than visual clues. Emotionally I am also profoundly engaged with the textural qualities of the garden. These qualities of texture I seem to recognise primarily through senses other than the visual. On further reflection I can begin to understand that the principal source of contact with texture is through the heart as an organ of perception. The heart does not discriminate, intellectualise, nor categorise what it perceives. It simply responds without analysis to any given situation. Ordering our experience takes place in the brain through cognitive process we apply to the information we garner from our environment. The illusion is that we take for granted that this filtered experience has some primacy of reality, that it is our experience. In fact the gestalt of our experience is unfiltered and beyond discrimination, nor is it fixed in time and space. The garden we are viewing is constantly shifting and metamorphosing before out eyes, as what we experience is constantly in a process of change.

D T Suzuki Museum, Kanazawa
Texture is what it is because of the interplay of light across substance. The texture of bark is a result of the falling of light across the surface of the tree. The texture of water is the interplay of light falling across the skin of the pond or stream. The quality of light is constantly changing from moment to moment, the gradations may be infinitesimally small, but they are in a process of ceaseless change and shift. This is the reason a photograph of a garden cannot do justice to what we experience whilst observing, as the camera lens freezes a particular aspect representing say 1/500th or 1/125th of our immediate experience (the image is further inhibited by the technical limitations inherent in the camera itself), which is in itself on-going.

Ryugin-an, Kyoto
The Zen masters of old teach us not to be attached to what we understand through the intellect, not to accept the apparent forms of the world as being an ultimate source of reality. To do so would be to elevate a photograph, a ‘snap shot’, of our perceptions as an absolute representation of something that is infinitely complex. Perceiving texture gives us an understanding that the nature of the reality we are dealing with in experiencing a garden (and indeed all aspects of our environment) is a process that is in constant motion, constant transformation and evolution. The genius of the Japanese garden is that it recognises just that a garden is not merely an assemblage of forms; but a process which may appear to be stable, but is actually in ceaseless movement and change. All the interpretations as to the ‘meaning’ of a garden are just that, interpretations after the event of perception. In engaging with the Japanese garden we are brought closer to an awareness of being in the very moment of the creation of the world about us; the creation of which we are wholly engaged with as an active participant in the process.

If you enjoyed this blog then try my Facebook page, Robert Ketchell Garden Design. Feel free to leave comments there. Good gardening. If you enjoyed this, or any other post, please let me know! If there are specific aspects of the Japanese garden tradition you are interested in, please let me know. Thanks.