Saturday 29 March 2014

Katsura Rikyu

The main building was raised to prevent flooding from the nearby Katsura river.
Created between 1620 and 1660, the Detached Palace of Katsura, features one of the great gardens of the world. The palace created on the banks of the Katsura river (from which it takes its name), was begun by Prince Hachijo no Miya Toshihito and completed by his son, Noritada. The grounds to the palace complex cover 13.8 acres. The complex garden layout is linked by a series of paths that draw the viewer through a variety of landscape scenery types. Through poetic associations a number of scenic locations in Japan are evoked in the garden.

The scenery of Amanohashidate recreated in the garden
At the heart of the garden is a lake of approximately 2 acres, with a highly convoluted shoreline with five islands. Water was brought into the garden from the nearby river, and because of the low lying nature of the site there are no cascades in the garden higher than a few inches. The garden around the lake takes the form of a 'Stroll garden' (Kaikyu Shiki teien), an elaborate system of paths and bridges (16 originally) take the visitor through an ever-changing series of vistas and set-piece views. There were originally five Tea Houses in the garden, each with its own views over portions of the garden.

Informal stepping stones
An intermediate path

A feature of the garden is the variety of paths, there are reputed to be over 1700 stepping stones. The paths are divided into three categories derived from calligraphy, shin, gyo and sõ; 'formal', 'intermediate' and 'informal'. The formal lengths of path are found nearest the main palace building, and dissolve into informality the deeper one penetrates the garden. By varying the style of paths the experience of the garden is varied for the viewer. Stepping stones slow down the pace at which one can walk, as the attention of the viewer is drawn downwards. In this way the experience of the garden can become rhythmic, as views open and close about the viewer.

The buildings frame views over the garden.

Natural textures define the buildings
One finds at Katsura, a blend of the Heian aristocratic 'shinden zukuri' style, infused with the spirit of the Tea garden (cha niwa), there is an almost palpable sense of longing for the past glories of the aristocratic court society expressed in the garden, overlain as it is with the new aesthetic arising out of the world of Tea. The subtlety of the overall design and the emphasis on refined detail prevents the garden from becoming trite or sentimental in any way. The particular style of the architecture at Katsura allows for an unrivalled penetration of the architectural interiors by the external spaces. Having gone through a long period of decline, Katsura has been sensitively restored since the 1960's, so now visitors can enjoy one of the great marvels of garden art.

All about the garden views are carefully framed

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Songs For The Unborn Dreamer

Cherry blossom bring their light
Now we can see the garden;
Form and spirit flowing to the sea.

Never passing the river-rock twice.
As willows sweep the earth
Free of tears for the past.

Only breath
Holding this world from an other -
The forsythia glows white
Under the city night sky.

Books stacked along the shelves
All these voices.
Silent, maybe.

Dear child
In your world of dark water
Do you hear the poet’s songs?
Your voice will arrive soon enough
As you break through into light and air.

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Thursday 27 March 2014

The Arc Of The Sky

Shadows shift and shudder
In the stirring of the earth –
Awakening the unborn.

The arc of the sky
The cry of the kite
The wake of pond skaters,
As dreams fold in on themselves.

Caught in histories
Of our own creation,
Even when passion waxes and wanes
Spring blossom scattered along the path.

Just that touch alone,
Awakening in the night
To know the warmth of presence.

From across the pond
The scent of Daphne odora -

A curious robin awaiting crumbs.

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On Japanese Garden Styles

There are broadly four different types of garden that are found in Japan, though it should be noted that these are not necessarily exclusive to one another. It is often the case that within the precincts of an institution, residence or temple more than one type of garden may be found. Also, that some gardens may contain a mixture or blend of elements from differing styles. In other words there are no rigid rules, as the garden creators felt free to delve into the richness of the garden tradition when drawing upon inspiration.

Pond and Island Gardens

Shugaku Rikyu
This is the ‘oldest’ type of garden to be found in Japan, and it has its origins in the very earliest gardens that were created there. The original conception of garden creation was to create an environment that would tempt the deities down from heaven to dwell in proximity to human beings. These are gardens that were created to be both visually accessed from the interior of buildings, as well as to be seen whilst walking around them. Dependant on the area available to be developed as a garden, these gardens can cover several acres and the pond was often made large enough to accommodate boating excursions (a popular activity particularly in the 10th and 11th centuries).

Katsura Rikyu
As with nearly all Japanese gardens the layout of the gardens attempted to evoke the sense of being complete landscapes, hence they were also known as tsukiyama niwa (‘man-made hill’ gardens), as they would feature areas of raised ground depicting mountains or hills. In many gardens it was fashionable to recreate well-known beauty spots, both within Japan and also from China too. These would be known to the educated classes from sources such as poetry, also the symbolic representation of far distant landscape scenery allowed the visitor greater freedom to travel imaginatively whilst touring the garden. The gardens were often laid out in accordance with geomantic considerations, which governed, for example, the orientation of water inlets and outlets, as well as features such as important stone arrangements.

This garden style also featured in Jodo (‘Pureland’) temple gardens (11thC and 12thC AD) where the garden was a deliberate attempt to create a paradisial world separated from the cares and concerns of the world of man. A surviving example of this is the famous Moss Temple garden at Saiho-ji.
Dry Landscape style Gardens

The karesansui garden was a development that is most often associated with the sophisticated culture of Zen Buddhist temples. The particular characteristic of these gardens is the intimation of the presence of water, which is usually suggested by gravel raked in long, flowing, fluvial lines. The content of these gardens varies from the absolute simplicity of Ryoan-ji (Kyoto) to such highly complex rock arrangements such as at Daisen-in temple, Kyoto. The karesansui style probably developed from the Chinese practice of creating trayscapes, which featured small stones and sometimes, penjing (bonsai), arranged in flat dishes, which would be set on a table to be admired. The profound simplicity and discipline of these gardens, offers the garden creator immense scope to improvise.

The principal gardens that are created in Zen temples, occupy a position to the south of the main building. These courtyard spaces are usually surrounded by clay walls, and within these spaces the arrangement of sometimes large stones may be set to give a stirring sense of visual drama, counter-balanced by flat open areas of raked gravel or ‘empty’ spaces. The arrangements themselves are frequently symbolic depictions of images intended to arouse the notion (and awareness?) of paradise (nirvana) in the viewer, such as turtles, cranes and the mystic isle Mt. Horai. In other words the gardens are intended to communicate directly with the viewer.

The karesansui style of garden is probably the most widely imitated style of garden outside of Japan, and has laterly become synonymous with the term ‘Zen garden’. Its pared back, sparse style allied to a powerful visual expression, makes it appear simple to imitate. Though most versions found outside of Japan, and several within, only prove the depth of subtlety at play in these most enigmatic of gardens.

Tea Gardens
What we understand as Tea gardens today begin to appear in the 16th C, under the influence of Tea masters such as Sen no Rikyu, Furuta Oribe. Essentially the Tea garden is a path that transits between the world of everyday affairs with the teahouse interior. Also known as Roji, or ‘the Dewy Path’. The whole ambiance of the garden is intended to evoke the sense of a path in the mountains, the teahouse a ‘simple’ rustic dwelling. This image of rustic simplicity, and by extension an implication of spiritual contentment, goes to the heart of aesthetic ideals in the East. From China, Japan absorbed the notion of Nature (in particular remote mountains) being a location where spiritual enlightenment can take place. Indeed the very image of the remote rustic retreat can be read as a metaphor for spiritual development and achievement, for it was to the mountains that the sages retired to search for just that knowledge and illumination. Much as early Western Christian mystics turned toward nature to seek a place of contemplation.

The garden is often divided into two parts, the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, a division being made by a simple bamboo gateway. The two parts of the garden are notional, which adds a sense of transition to the progression. The visitor moves through the garden space by traversing a stepping stone path. The principal visual features of the garden being a stone lantern and a water basin arrangement. Stone arrangements are relatively few, and determinedly low key; the planting a selection of primarily evergreen planting, and the principal groundcover being a carpet of verdant mosses. Everything in the garden is intended to calm the senses, rather than creating a sense of visual excitement or drama. The form and manner of the roji was to become another constituent element feeding into the overall garden tradition.

Courtyard Gardens

Tsubo niwa are the relatively small spaces found between buildings that are developed as garden areas. These are gardens that were to be found scattered among the residences of the aristocracy, in temples, as well as in the more secular settings of merchants’ houses. If there is a continuity of character in these gardens it is that they do not fit easily in any particular tightly defined category. Rather it is as if they appear as ‘fragments’ of gardens, which nevertheless are capable of standing alone in their own right. Thus a garden may feature a solitary planting of banana trees (a plant much appreciated for the sound raindrops make falling on the broad leaves); whilst another space may simply contain an ancient stone lantern, or a rustic water basin.

In the context of the architectural arrangement these spaces offered an important function of creating an opening to the sky, allowing light and air to circulate. It should be borne in mind that architectural interiors were often dark, gloomy, spaces, in part because of the wide overhanging eaves that extended the roof well beyond the walls to cover the wooden walkways (verandas) that usually surrounded the buildings. Therefore a tsubo niwa would provide a vibrant connection with open space, as well as having the function of drawing nature into close contact with the lives of the people occupying the interiors.


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Aesthetics and the Japanese Garden

Japanese culture has developed a highly refined sense of aesthetics, which can be applied to all the art forms, including the gardens. The various aesthetic concepts offer a series of prisms through which the art forms can be more deeply appreciated. Much of this aesthetic sensitivity has arisen from a deep respect and awareness of nature, this pattern was established as early as the Heian period  (785-1185), and has been continued and developed into the modern age with a remarkable continuity.

The observation and appreciation of detail is a characteristic aesthetic quality which underlines many of the cultural terms and conditions. It is more widespread than residing only with a cultural elite, traces and influences of such thinking can be found throughout Japanese society. 

Garden design, being heavily influenced by the landscape painting tradition, took the core of aesthetic ideas from these sources.  Suggestion, irregularity and transience are important aesthetic elements underlying this way of perception. Cha no yu, the Tea Ceremony, added greatly to the aesthetic depth of gardens, particularly from the 15th century, with an influence which is vibrant and ongoing today. wabi & sabi

"Yugen can be apprehended by the mind, but it cannot be expressed in words. It may be suggested by the sight of a thin cloud veiling the moon, or by autumn mist swathing the scarlet leaves on a mountainside. If one is asked where in these sights the yugen is, one cannot say, and it is not suprising that a man who fails to understand this truth is likely to prefer the sight of a perfectly clear, cloudless sky. It is quite impossible to explain wherein lies the interest in the remarkable nature of yugen." Shootetsu (15th C. monk)

In Japan, one can argue that aesthetic sensibility has traditionally held greater sway over intellectual prowess. Historically there never really developed a concern for intellectual speculation, rather it is the quality of emotional experience, and the appreciation of that experience which established a cultural dominance. 

Underlying all aesthetic experience is the concept of aware, as with many such terms there is no direct equivalent in English. Generally the word is used to express the pathos inherent in the beauty found in Nature. Pathos arising from the knowledge that nothing is destined to last for ever, all is transient and fleeting. Ivan Morris (in 'The World of the Shining Prince') suggests that the stress in aware was placed on the direct emotional experience, rather than on a religious connotation. The function of beauty in art is to heighten the awareness of a gentle melancholy in the viewer. While this is closely allied to the Buddhist perception of the ephemeral quality of all things, aware arose separately from any religious conditioning.

The prevailing preference in Japanese aesthetics is for monochrome.  The use of colour was highly regarded and appreciated in Heian times. The art of dyeing materials, for example, became highly sophisticated, and sensitivity to colour was profound. Colour, and its display was used to send coded signals in social contexts. The combination of colours was seen as being a benchmark of critical sensibility and taste. With the rise to pre-eminence of Zen Buddhism during the Muromachi period (1334-1568) the use of colour became of less importance.  During the following Momoyama period (1568-1603), colour briefly re-established favour in the arts. Though the gardens have always reflected a more consistent concern with texture, sculptural form, and the use of space. These concepts have been seen as having a more consistent, lasting impression, whereas colour is seen as being transient and fleeting.

Saturday 15 March 2014

Shifting Light: Musings On The Japanese Garden

Shifting patterns of light
Something that becomes obvious in viewing a Japanese garden is that the garden appears to exude a quality that is more than simply the sum of its parts. As a viewer we become engaged with the garden, seemingly drawn into a relationship with it. We do not simply view the garden from the outside, rather we are drawn inexorably into the fabric of the garden. As the viewer we observe the garden, and the garden forms itself within us. For the most part, viewing Western gardens does not embody this same quality to the same degree. The likelihood on experiencing a Western garden is that we and the garden remain apart. We observe the beauty of the garden as if we are standing outside of it.

The garden brings Nature into our daily lives

There is in the creation of a Japanese garden a deliberate attempt to break down the barrier between subject and object. There are multiple focal points which draw the eye to certain places. These can be stone arrangements, stone ornaments such as lanterns set within the composition, or view lines through the garden and even beyond to the landscape outside of the garden space. The garden composition is carefully contrived to engage the eye of the viewer. Providing movement and flow, the very same organic processes that we carry within us. Emphasis is placed on the textural qualities of the materials, be it plants, stone or water. Composition with regard to the whole visual field is also important, where all the elements of the composition play a role in supporting each other.

Shifting patterns of colour
All this calls for intention on behalf of the garden creator, a keen eye for detail and a sensitivity to the manner in which the garden unveils itself as an inclusive experience. Intention is important, for what the garden creator carries within will become part of the fabric of the garden itself, and as such will inevitably become part of the matrix of the embodied experience of the viewer. Thus if the garden creator seeks to install a sense of harmony and stillness into a composition then those very qualities must be held in the heart of the garden creator. In this way a garden creator becomes a gateway through which the garden manifests itself. Not through the force of will, for that implies the dominance of the ego in the process, but rather the garden creator is the guiding medium through which the work emerges from disorder into order.

A waterbasin as a focal point
Gardens are rarely seen and approached as works of art. Perhaps this is partly because their form can never be fixed. In creating a painting the artist lays down colour and line, and these do not necessary change and alter to any particular degree. A sculptor assembles or releases form from material, again once fixed by the hand of the artist these forms do not alter significantly. A garden creator on the other hand is working with dynamic, ever shifting, patterns of energy that are ever shape-shifting and transforming. A plant is an obvious example of this, as it responds both to time and fluctuating environmental conditions. Even stones set in the garden are patterns of energy that shift, and transform, albeit at a much slower pace than a tree or shrub. Is it perhaps this very quality of changeability that precludes a garden from being seen as a work of art.? Does that quality make it too ephemeral to be monetised, too ''unfixed' to be assigned value?

Empty space defines form

The Japanese garden is a means of connecting with spirit of Nature. Connecting with the essence of that by which we are supported, and enabled to  take our place on the stage of life. Nature and landscape are essentially non judgemental, as they are ego-less. A tree is a tree, a rock embodies the quality of stone, and water flows. The outer forms of the gardens it manifests itself is peculiar to the cultural conditions that gave birth to those forms, yet within those forms are encapsulated qualities that are beyond cultural limitations. If the garden creator digs deep enough into that soil, all manner of treasures can be revealed.

Beauty in Nature is ephemeral

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Shigemori Mirei, A Modern Master



Shigemori Mirei is becoming more widely regarded as one of the great garden creators of the 20th century. His chequer-board design of stone and moss rectangles at the rear of the Abbots Hall, Tofuku-ji temple in Kyoto features in nearly every contemporary book on Japanese garden design. Its conception is both simple and yet visually beguiling. Born in 1896, he came relatively late to garden design, though he had observed both his father and grandfather involved in creating gardens. Mirei was born in the small village of Yoshikawa, near Okayama City, and his initial aim was to study flower arrangement (ikebana), painting and philosophy. In 1917 he moved to Tokyo to study art at Tokyo University, and in 1923 he moved back to his hometown, and this is where his path as a garden creator begins.
Tofuku-ji Hojo garden
“My goal is to create a modern garden, not by replicating traditional gardens of old times,  but by studying carefully and learning from them.”
The garden at Zuiho-in, Kyoto. This superb arrangement shows Mirei's grasp of composition that drew on his study of flower arrangement.
In 1929 he decided that he wanted to move back to Tokyo together with his wife and two sons. Reaching Kyoto they decided to break their journey, and eventually settled in the ancient capital city. In 1935 he began to undertake a major survey of historic gardens across Japan. He surveyed, sketched and researched the temple records of nearly 250 gardens, it was the first time this had been done. Eventually his efforts were rewarded in the publication of 26 volumes of his ground breaking research (‘Nihon Teinshi Zukan’, ‘Illustrated Book on the History of the Japanese Garden’).
The central section of the arrangement at the Mirei Garden Museum, his home in Kyoto for many years.
The interior of the tea house design by Mirei, shows both the chequerboard design and the wave form. Two motifs scattered through his garden work. Mirei Garden Museum, Kyoto.

In 1939 Shigemori Mirei was given his first important commission, the building of the gardens at Tofuku-ji temple’s Abbots Quarters. Mirei’s philosophy regarding garden design was rooted in an appreciation of the depth of Japanese culture, to this he introduced modernistic themes and motifs drawn from abstract art. Mirei absorbed a deep appreciation of Japanese culture from his study of ikebana, tea ceremony and painting, and to this he brought a desire to infuse core Japanese spiritual values with a contemporary looking vision. At a time when many Japanese artists were rejecting traditional values and looking to the West for inspiration, Mirei infused his work with values from both cultural sources. He did not see the past as a burden but a well-spring to root his work in a cultural matrix, then from that platform apply an undeniable modernity. In that he is a model for garden creators of all cultures looking to infuse there work with a profound depth of expression.

Rock arrangement at Matsuo  Taisha Shrine
In his rock arrangements Mirei favoured a strong vertical line allied to powerful dynamic tensions between the individual elements of an arrangement. This allied to a superb eye to select interesting stones resulted in visually exciting arrangements. If one were to venture a criticism of some of his work then it would be to point towards the sheer number of stones he liked to employ. It can have the effect of diluting the impact of his stone arrangements through repetition. In his final work at Matsuo Taisha shrine, near Arashiyama, Mirei created one of his most profound arrangements. The stone groups rising up the hillside through a sea of Sasa bamboo, is both profoundly modern and yet evokes a primordial power. Here the stones exude an ancient feeling, a solidity and connectivity with the earth whilst managing to lift the spirit of the viewer towards the sky. It is the work of a true master, one whom through sheer application transcends his art.

Another characteristic of Mirei's work is the use of sinuous lines that allow the eye of the viewer to be guided through a composition.
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