Roots of Japan

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Japanese Gardens

Japanese Gardens

“Seiyō Teien”, or Western gardens, include styles such as British and French. Claude Monet's garden at Giverny, France is a very popular tourist attraction.
Today, let's talk about the world of “Nihon Teien”.

What is the history of gardens in Japan?

In the Nihon-shoki, or the Chronicles of Japan, the Emperor of the 1st century A.D. is said to have loved the Kukurinomiya gardens (in what is now Kani City in Gifu prefecture) so much that he filled the pond with golden carp.As people of ancient times believed that nature was created by the Shinto gods and Buddha, the garden would be dedicated to both.“Niwa”, the Japanese word for garden, comes from the word “Yuniwa”, which was a sacred and purified place for prayers and other religious rituals. Trees such as the “Tachibana” citrus were planted as symbols of good luck.
In the Heian period (794 - 1192) the teachings of “Jōdo”, Pure Land Buddhism spread throughout Japan.In Buddhism, the whole universe is said to contain “sanzensekai”, or three thousand worlds.Among these is “Gokuraku”, or paradise, a Pure Land in which Buddha resides according to the teachings of the buddha Amitabha. “Jōdo” gardens, which are seen as an earthly representation of the Pure Land, became very popular.

Thus, gardens in Japan are closely connected with religion.
“Nihon Teien”, designed in harmony with the natural environment, is also characterized by asymmetry.Trees and rocks are arranged as naturally as possible.“Nihon Teien” are created with the uniquely Japanese concept of “wabisabi”, or the feeling of beauty in imperfection.

Japanese gardens utilize the following four elements.

1/ Ponds and water 2/ Rock formations 3/“Tsukiyama”, artificial hills or mountains made to represent natural scenery, low mounds imitating hillside fields called “nosuji” and the planting of trees and plants. 4/ Garden accessories such as “tobi ishi” (stepping stones), “shiki ishi” (paving stones), “ishidōrō” (stone lanterns) and “kakine” (fences / walls) etc./p>

The most common style of garden is “chisen-kaiyu shiki”, a form that allows visitors to view the garden while strolling along a path around a central pond that presents a different view to be enjoyed in each season.However, “Karesansui”, or a dry landscape garden that doesn't use any water at all, is another style of garden that began to appear.Stones or sand are used to express water surfaces and ripples.Previously, gardens were located where there was water but “Karesansui” made landscape gardening possible without basing the location around a water source.

On the other hand, Western-style gardens are characterized by symmetry, using mainly flowers and foliage.Perception of nature is another major difference between Japan and the West.The West tends to seeks out beauty in geometric patterns, in nature that has been manipulated and controlled by hand.As Western gardens are designed with considerable attention to very fine details, they have different difficulties to deal with “Nihon Teien” gardens.

Each kind of garden still attracts people today with its own unique beauty.“Nihon Teien” have also been built overseas.It would be interesting to know if there are any differences between “Nihon Teien” in Japan and those overseas!

You may be familiar with the beautiful scenery of “Nihon Sanmeien” or the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”.

The phrase “Three Great Gardens of Japan” was first used in a photography book targeted at foreigners which was published in 1904.These three are major Daimyo gardens, created in the Edo period to appreciate “Setsugetsuka” - Snow, Moon and Flowers - an expression used to describe beautiful scenery. Kenroku-en garden in Ishikawa prefecture represents Snow. Koraku-en garden in Okayama prefecture, Moon. Kairaku-en garden in Ibaraki prefecture, Flowers.The fountain in Kenroku-en garden was built in 1861, making it the oldest in Japan.Ritsurin Garden in Kagawa prefecture is described as being even better than the “Three Great Gardens of Japan”! It would be interesting to discover more about this place!

Where is the oldest garden in Japan?

Built in 850 and located in Motsuji Temple in Iwate prefecture, the Motsuji Temple Garden is a garden of the “Jōdo” style.Motsuji Temple Garden is designated as Special Place of Scenic Beauty and a World Heritage Archaeological Site that represents the Buddhist “Jōdo”, or Pure Land.Only in Japan is there a “Yarimizu”, a narrow stream that feeds the central pond and keeps it flowing, still remaining from the Heian period (794-1192)!

There are many other gardens, from the middle ages to the modern day, that are now popular as tourist attractions. We can also enjoy “Nihon Teien” at hotels and Japanese inns.There is a surprising number of hotels that have “Nihon Teien”. For example, Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo and Hotel New Otani, also in Tokyo. The Westin Miyako Kyoto is a registered Cultural Property Designated by Kyoto City.Various events are held such as Japanese traditional dances, Ninja shows, Koto musical performances, Oiran (high-ranking courtesans from the Edo period) Dochu Processions etc.
Gardens change their appearance from one season to another; from plum or cherry blossoms in spring, to beautiful colors in autumn.And the atmosphere changes again when gardens are illuminated at night.“Nihon Teien” is the place where you can enjoy nature in its purest form.

“Nihon Teien” won’t always look the same.Our perception changes according to the season, climate and even the time of day.So, enjoy a leisurely stroll around your exclusive one-day only garden display.

*Based on various theories.The summary and views expressed are the author's own.