|Sengai Gibon calligraphy.
These on-line notes are collated from many sources (see acknowledgements below) and are offered in the hope that they will provide greater insight into the background of some of the concepts behind this style of gardening. Ideally they should be read alongside of the printed leaflet co-written with Jennie Kettlewell and produced by the Friends of Holland Park. I am not a professional Japanese gardener, but am a keen follower of the subject: I do so hope my notes (collated originally just for my own reference) will encourage you to enjoy the gardens in a more Japanese way and similarly to study the traditions and culture behind them.
The first Japanese Garden in Holland Park was constructed in the 1890’s for Lord Holland however these notes cover just the current ‘Kyoto Garden’ that was designed and built under the direction of Shoji Nakahara in 1991/92 for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the ‘Fukushima Garden’ designed and built by Yasuo Kitayama in 2012/13.
The Kyoto Garden was constructed as a reminder of the Japan Festival that marked the centenary of the Anglo-Japanese society, and was officially opened in September 1991 by the Prince of Wales and the Crown Prince of Japan.
Between 1991 and 2011, the Kyoto Chamber of Commerce in Japan paid for the travel and accommodation costs of all the subsequent visits by volunteering professional gardeners from the Kyoto Gardens Association to maintain the garden and often tactfully undo the enthusiastic interpretations by our own gardeners!
In 2011 the Chamber concluded their twenty year association with the Royal Borough by paying for a specialist team led by the world renowned Kyoto-based Master Gardener, Yasuo Kitayama, (and 26 tons of rocks and equipment) to carry out some ‘final’ changes to the garden as well as offer my team an insight into possible future improvements. Significantly the conclusion of the Chamber of Commerce’s financial involvement enabled the signing of a Service Level Agreement between the Royal Borough, of Kensington and Chelsea and the Kyoto Gardens Association to meet the travel and
accommodation costs of volunteer gardeners from Kyoto and this will ensure a professional link is maintained between gardeners in London and Kyoto in the future.
In 2012 the Emperor and Empress visited the garden as a part of their visit to mark Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee (see Fukushima Garden below).
with the wind scent
beat together. – Basho
Types of garden
There are many different types of garden, defined usually by their purpose, and some of the most well known of these are referred to below.
Japanese gardens are full of symbolism and subtle nuances that will probably be lost on those of us brought up in the Western tradition, but will feel like home for any Japanese visitors to the garden. Beneath the obvious collection of rocks, grass and trees is a fascinating multi-layered structure of ancient philosophy and allegory interspersed with poetry and myth.
The ancient Japanese gardens were areas of sand decorated with an arrangement of stones that would have been laid out according to Taoist or Shinto principles. Later niwa (gardens) contained Japanese Buddhist ideas and elements which, prior to the twentieth century, tended to be the preserve of just the nobility or wealthy – if not associated with a temple.
The rise of the Middle classes living in cities such as Kyoto resulted in a plethora of much smaller gardens or courtyards (suboniwa).
The importance of stones cannot be over-emphasised. The earliest known book in the world on aesthetic garden construction is a Japanese book called Sakuteiki – the Art of Setting Stones.
In pre-Buddhist Japan, stones were used both spiritually and aesthetically to similar effect and for similar reasons as Stonehenge or Carnac. Some people believed that the gods could be induced to descend from the skies above through the medium of stone in order to bestow blessings upon the community and harvest. Such stones are called iwakura and are still in use today.
Buddhism is probably unique in that it happily acknowledges that it absorbs ethnic religious observances and practices into its own narrative. One line in the Sakuteiki advises gardeners to “follow the request of the stone”, which western gardeners would see as an aesthetic instruction relating to the characteristics of the stone but which in fact refers to the animate nature of stones for Shinto followers in particular.
When you study these gardens, it is recommended that you don’t just look at the carefully crafted views, sculpted lanterns and plants, but also consider the stones which, to the Japanese using the space for religious meditation, are perceived as objects whose animate presence is every bit as important to those more obvious garden elements. This is in the Shinto tradition.
The development of Zen Buddhism which is an evolution of the Chan sect introduced from China and Korea in about 552 CE, led to the Japanese monasteries developing a tradition of temple gardens as places for meditation and contemplation. These gardens could be viewed from the principle residence or temple or even, if they included a large pond, from a boat. Zen aesthetic values include simplicity, subtlety, elegance, suggestion rather than description, naturalness, an emptiness of space, stillness, tranquillity as well as celebrating weathering and imperfection as representative of time and maturity.
The introduction of tea drinking in the monasteries was done to help meditating monks to stay awake and the later development during the Momoyama Period of ‘Teaism’ or ritualised tea drinking (chanoyo) outside of the temple complexes, led to the design and construction of a different style of garden: the kaiyushiki or garden for strolling.
Japanese gardens broadly have three key functions:
· Temples: To aid contemplation (the predominantly rock and sand Zen gardens of the Karensansui School typify the style – the sea and rivers are evoked by raked sand beds)
· Private residences: To be a refuge from the summer heat
· Tea gardens (roji) and teahouses (chashitsu): to prepare the visitor before he or she goes into the teahouse for the tea ceremony.
Illustrations in the Illustrated London News and the few surviving remains in the enclosure to the west of the entrance steps into the Kyoto garden, suggest that first Japanese garden in Holland Park mainly featured a meandering brook (yarimizu) and was almost certainly without a central pond to stroll around.
|Taking the Emperor and Empress on a stroll …
The current Kyoto garden is in kaiyushiki style and, more precisely, is a “strolling garden with a lake” (chisen kaiyushiki–en). It is also something of a ‘show’ garden – of which there are many around the modern world that have been built deliberately to showcase Japanese culture, the beauty of this particular style of gardening, and obviously the unquestionable skills of the Japanese gardeners and masons. Although historically the ‘strolling gardens’ style dates from the Edo period (1603–1867) their designers drew heavily on the earlier Heian period (785–1184): in Western terms this can be appreciated as a parallel to our own tradition of referencing a former ‘golden age’ (Greek or Roman) for architectural inspiration.
The inscription on the main entrance stone has the signature of one of the most important Tea Masters Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) and this suggests that the concept and design for this late 20th Century garden draws on the earlier Muromachi period (1393 – 1568) in Japanese history. This comparatively brief period in their history was when the tea ceremony (chanoyu), simple rustic Teahouses (chashitsu) capable of seating just two people and the tea garden (roji) were developed along with the principle of wabi which can be interpreted as ‘sober refinement and calm’.
Features of gardens built by the nobility in the following Momoyama period (1569 – 1603) included artificial lakes with beaches and specific rock arrangements, natural stone bridges and stepping-stones. To facilitate viewing from above, artificial mountains with winding pathways were sometimes included.
Modern Japanese garden designers (such as Shogi Nakahara and Yasuo Kitayama) are therefore able to draw upon a very rich history of ideas and traditions in their show gardens.
The Kyoto garden
This ‘strolling garden’ takes the visitor on a promenade past a series of different features that are meant to evoke in the viewer the same feelings drawn from larger natural landscapes. The Buddhist Japanese garden tradition finds no merit in copying or mimicry in its designs and consequently these gardens do not actually copy anything as such.
In the Zen mind, the space or spaces between each of the objects that follow, is as important – if indeed not more so. These objects have not just been added to look good (as in a Western garden) but to help define the space as a whole; without the spaces between them, the garden would not exist.
The entrance stone
Carved granite, the inscription reads – Kyoto tei en, translated as The Kyoto Garden. The smaller inscription reads Senso Soshitsu, which is the signature of the Grand Master of the Urasenke School of Tea on whose calligraphy the carving is based.
This is an important reference in that it gives us a clue as to what tradition in Japanese history Nakahara-san was probably referring when he designed the garden.
Before entering the garden, look at the structural strength and incredible skill deployed in erecting the stone retaining walls. This is a garden that is going to be here for decades and more.
The ‘surprise’ steps
The walker turns left halfway up these steps. You cannot observe the whole garden from the
steps and the change in direction prepares the visitor for more surprises later. The turn in the steps prevents bad thoughts or evil spirits from entering the garden, as these are reputed to travel in straight lines. Moving from one plane to another (or from one surface to another) aids mindfulness, which is an important feature of both Buddhism and Taoism.
Walking in a clockwise direction
This is a reference to one of three principle geomantic theories used in Japanese gardens: the Theory of Yi (changes) – which are themselves apparently drawn from the Theory of Yin Yang (mutual opposites). It is said that ‘the movement of change in Yi is perceived in a clockwise direction’. Moving around the garden in this traditional manner will therefore mean that the different features are revealed to the visitor in the intended order.
The first solid Bamboo screen (misu gaki)
This fence is in the same style as that seen at Kennin-ji (a Buddhist temple in Kyoto) and is a 2011 innovation that prevents the garden from being viewed from the outside as much as it prevents the outside world from intruding.
Upright bamboo poles are, like their rock counterparts, usually a masculine statement. It is meant to look weathered, as the Japanese revere age and simplistic elegance: known features of wabi sabi. The sense of enclosure that this enforces reminds us that for Buddhists, change and enlightenment are to be found from within.
The bronze plaque
This acknowledges the principal donors and contributors to the original garden built in 1991. Bronze is strongly evocative of the giant bells seen within many temple complexes. The green patina that eventually coats it is considered important and symbolic of age.
So much green
|An example of a moss garden in Kyoto
One of the first things a visitor notices is the predominance of the colour green. This is probably best considered as a Zen feature, rather than a principal from the earlier instructions from Sakuteiki.
Early gardens in the Heian period (785 – 1184) are reputed to have been quite floral – as indeed one might expect in a heavily populated city in which green spaces were designed to ‘interpret nature’. However, Japanese monks returning from China during the Chinese Sung dynasty (960 – 1279) brought home not only a strong sense of the abstract, but also the imagery of highly-prized, black, monochrome landscape paintings (suiboku sansulga). In subsequent Zen Buddhist thinking, the idea evolved that to reach the essence of things, all non-essential elements should be eliminated and, consequently, so too must colour.
Black is ‘the one true colour’ and within it the viewer can see endless varieties of all other colours. Transposed to the garden, green is used monochromatically in place of black and flowers are only added to enhance the value of it. The green grass and Helixine soleirolii therefore used throughout the Kyoto and Fukushima gardens evoke the moss gardens (koke–niwa) often seen in the Kyoto region.
The inspiration for dry river gardens that we popularly associate with Zen is in fact drawn from a pre-Buddhist era when gardens were little more than an arrangement of stones and represents a return to minimalism.
The hooped fences
The bamboo hoops and looped black twine fences are a polite request to the walker not to stray onto the green grass (or moss, as it would be in many temple gardens); a straight bamboo pole or rod is a much more direct instruction to not stray across the line.
The washing basin (tsukubai)
This is where the stroll proper starts. There would normally be a ladle here with which to collect water and then to pour it over your hands – however, please note that dipping your fingers into the shallow basin is not considered appropriate. Originally a Shinto obsession, the Japanese (and indeed all Buddhists) place great importance on purity, and the rinsing of the hands, as in many other religions, before embarking upon a walk and aesthetic appreciation of the garden is a symbolic act of purification.
The stone into which the water flows is of Fusen style and shaped rather like an ancient Chinese coin. Translated literally it reads “know enough – enough to know”.
The small Teahouse lantern (oribe konomi)
This small lantern is a common feature of Teahouses. Its square opening at the front is located to cast light onto the basin; the lantern is orientated to indicate the four main points of the compass, with the figure of the sun in the west and that of the moon in the east.
Sen-no-Rikyu (1522–91), a famous artist and tea-master, is reputed to have introduced stone lanterns to private gardens. Oribe was a very famous potter whose name has become synonymous with this style.
The wild boar or ‘deer scarer’ (shisi-odoshi)
This can be heard but not seen as it is located just outside of the garden beyond the hedge. An original feature of the 1991 garden – but relocated out of sight
in 2013, it does exactly as its name describes: scares off deer from nibbling plants (in 2011
there was the first recorded evidence of Muntjac deer in the park).
The loud clunking noise it emits is also an aid to restore the concentration of a person meditating.
The chasing stones (oikakete-ishi)
Stones should be considered as animate objects. These stones are another innovation in 2011 and are called ‘chasing stones’ because they evoke pigs or calves at play in a field, or a pack of dogs at rest.
|The rei-hai-seki is the stone closest to the pond
The meditation stone (rei-hai-seki)
Easily overlooked, this flat stone is intended as somewhere at the front of the garden for the serious adherent to sit and meditate upon the Buddhist Trinity – the group of three rocks on the opposite side of the pond.
Zen means ‘self realisation through meditation’; a principal practice of Zen Buddhism is zazen (‘sitting meditation’) which can mindfully take place in this sort of garden – either sitting on this rock or on a nearby bench.
The stepping stones (sawatobi-ishi)
These stepping stones invite the stroller to view the pond closer and sometimes would go into or across a stream in place of a bridge. As they are not joined, the stroller must choose his or her footsteps carefully and mindfully, appreciating the view as much as the thoughts that arise. Mindfulness is probably an important principle of Buddhism, as it melds with the golden rule of compassion (often thought to have been first set down by Confucius) with Sakamundi’s self-realisation or “Buddhahood”.
|The pebble beach to the fore and rocky shore behind.
The stepping stones across the grass were added by Kitayama-san but in the original Nakahara-san designed garden the stones on the beach were believed to have represented up-turned boats. The story attached to this earlier arrangement* is that many miles off the Pacific east coast of Japan lie the ‘Islands of the Blessed’. These islands can only be reached by those without sin. However no one is without sin and while the very saintly might think that they can just see the islands on the horizon, always the wind turns and their efforts to reach them by boat result with them being blown back to shore. The upturned boats therefore rest on the shore, waiting for a favourable wind and someone without sin to reach the islands. (*Rhoddy Wood, Winter 2015)
The three shores (kaigan)
· Pebbles: the pebble beach evokes the stony beaches of Japan and was historically a feature of gardens associated just with the Emperor – and in particular the Emperor’s palace in Kyoto. The hard, round stones (suhama) are deliberately uncomfortable to sit or walk on.
· Rocky shore: next to it is the rocky shore (aro iso) with a small lighthouse lantern in the Rakugan style.
|To talk casually
about an iris flower
is one of the pleasures
of the wandering journey. – Basho
· Boggy marsh: the third type of shore is planted with blue water iris and located in the southeast. This location is difficult to understand, as it doesn’t appear to comply with the idea that the “waters of the Blue Dragon shall wash evil away following the path of the White Tiger”. The original White Tiger in Kyoto was the marshland in the southwest. This may have been done for aesthetic reasons – and in any case, elsewhere we are advised in the same book: “recreate the essence of those (natural) scenes in the garden, but do so interpretively, not strictly.” The concrete ‘posts’ securing the bank here are known as shigarami and would traditionally have been bamboo.
The ramped entrance
Granite sets underfoot warn the visitor that they are entering another space. This entrance is designed to facilitate access by visitors unable to use the steps.
Wheelchair users are most welcome and may travel in either direction – Buddhism is about compassion and understanding, and thus exempts you from the etiquette encouraged of others.
The second solid bamboo screen
The second bamboo screen re-directs walkers as the change indirection of the “Surprise Steps” and other fences – and this is to stop any evil thoughts of spirits from entering the garden.
This screen is associated with Teahouses rather than temples and the verdigris a respected demonstration of ‘wabi sabi’ which is often associated with age-caused imperfection.
The hydrangea borders
These are a new feature introduced first in the autumn of 2011. Although the pre-Zen Kyoto gardeners may have used more flowers in their gardens (Heian era), they do not do so anymore and those that are used are planted solely to enhance the monochromatic use of green foliage (see the section “So much green” above) or to draw attention to the seasons of the year. The contrasting colours used in this border however, are a strong evocation of yin and yang, hard and soft.
This symbolises the sea. Japan is made up of several islands surrounded by the sea and the very limited space on the land to farm, cultivate crops or breed livestock has meant a very heavy dependence upon the sea for food.
Water is seen as a source of both literal and spiritual purification.
The pond is deliberately asymmetrical, although ponds may also be made in the shape of felicitous words written in kana script, or since water “will take on the shape of the vessel it enters” (Sakuteiki), it is also not unusual for the shape of the pond to evoke either that of a tortoise or a crane (see below) in order to attract good fortune.
In our garden, the water enters from the northeast corner and flows out via the southwest which is in accordance with geomantic principles: “According to the scriptures, the proper flow for water to flow is from east to south and then toward the west.”
In the arrangement of the Four Guardian Gods of the Heian period geomancy, the four gods are Blue Dragon in the east, Scarlet Bird in the south, White Tiger in the west and the Black Tortoise in the north; consequently it is thought that “the waters from the Blue Dragon will wash all manner of evil off to the Great Path of the White Tiger”.
The tradition, originally imported from China, was for three islands – however the third island representing ‘Horaisan’ or utopia, was later dropped in favour of a mountain feature (see below).
The most popular interpretation of islands is that they represent the legend of the tortoise and crane. The flatter island at the northern end of the pond evokes a tortoise (kame) while at the southern end of the pond is the crane (tsuru): both of these symbols inspire thoughts of age and wisdom. The tortoise is a haven for immortals and the world mountain – thus symbolising longevity, good luck and support; the crane is reputed to have taken at least a thousand years to fly to the sun and is therefore a symbol of eternal youth and happiness, as it retains the same mate for its entire life. “Tsuru wa sen nen, kame wa man nen” – ‘cranes live 1,000 years, tortoises live 10,000’. The crane symbol is almost certainly adopted from the originally Ainu people – non-Japanese natives of Hokkaido, the northern most prefecture of Japan.
In other legends or traditions, the northern island is also thought to represent Pine Bark Island (matsuo-kawa) and the southern island, Mountain Isle (yama-jiwa).
Coloured carp fish (nishi-goi)
Although coloured goldfish were originally introduced from China in the 16th century, by the 1820’s coloured koi carp (Cyprinus carpio) were being bred using locally sourced fish. If left to breed naturally on their own, the fish revert back to the original dark grey colour.
The granite ‘viewing’ platform
The granite, so-called ‘viewing’ platform has been built to provide a vantage point from which to view the cascading waterfall. In traditional gardens it would be known as machi-ai and is actually used as a waiting area rather than a viewing area. Waiting in this context means both a pause in the walk and the thoughts – before moving on to see the next view or feature rather than entering a Teahouse. Dressed stone (also known as ‘mat stones’) such as is seen here, is unusual.
Visitors are currently discouraged from visiting this spot at night; however tradition-minded Japanese do still indulge in moon viewing and viewing the moon from this spot is indeed a magical experience. It is somewhere to forget light and colour, and wrap ones self up in the warmth of shadows. To indulge, perhaps, in the Zen abstract of black and white, light and dark.
This is the predominant feature of this garden. As stated above, Nakahara-san constructed it deliberately in the northeast corner to ensure that the outflow of the pond was located in the southwest corner to comply with the geomantic convention that “the waters of the blue dragon (in the north east) shall follow the path of the White Tiger (in the south west)”.
One of the four principles of the Sakuteiki is that the gardener must observe the principles of geomancy (now popularised as ‘feng sui’ or fusui in Japanese) and like Heian-era Kyoto, the garden is believed to be protected by four Guardian Gods: the Black Tortoise, the Blue
|The old ‘flatter’ cascade
Dragon, the Scarlet Bird and the White Tiger. In old Kyoto, refreshing springs were found in the hills to the northeast and flowed into the swamps in the southwest.
There are seven kinds of cascade described in the Sakuteiki and should be designed to face the moon so as to catch the moon’s reflection in the tumbling water. Water tumbling over cascades is always changing and yet always there – perhaps the perfect symbol of the ‘permanent impermanence’ of the universe, as expressed in both Buddhist and Taoist thought.
In addition to repairing leaks, the height of the cascade was increased in 2011. A huge amount of work went into its redesign and black stones – as well as large yellow calcite stone – were added to the original Scottish granite. The base of the cascade is now wider and its peak has been elevated. Although this was in part a practical solution to hide the water tanks beyond, it also emphasises the triangular shape of the construction – itself a reference to Sengai Gibon’s famous calligraphy ‘Circle, Triangle, Square’ (see references under ‘The Well’ below).
|The new heightened cascade
It is also thought that the arrangement of the stones in traditional cascades roughly match the kanji symbol Fudu Myoo. That is the name and symbol for Acala, a god revered as one of the Five Wisdom Kings of the Womb Realm in the Shingon sect of Buddhism. Sculptured as a fierce looking character and reputed to live in cascades, he is responsible for showing people the teachings of Buddha, as well as assisting them in self-control. He, the ‘immovable one’, is himself always unmoved – particularly by carnal attractions! “Fudo Myoo has vowed that ‘all waterfalls over 90 centimetres in height are expressions of myself’… Those who see my form, aspire to enlightenment. Those who hear my name, reject evil and master virtue … Always be aware of waterfalls, for although Fudo Myoo takes many forms, the most fundamental of all these are waterfalls” (Sakuteiki).
|Dry cascade, Taizo-in, Myoshin-ji
(M.Treib & R.Herman)
At the base of the cascade is a water dividing stone that is always set at the bottom of a waterfall to symbolise the mythical carp that would climb to the top of the waterfall and turn into a dragon – a parable often taught in Buddhist monasteries.
Although Kyoto is surrounded by granite, the large yellowish stones in the middle and at the very top are calcite from the north of Kyoto. Followers of taboos will know that a single stone is an orphan (or pauper) stone, which is dreadfully bad luck and explains why there had to be more than one piece of calcite added to the cascade.
The mountain above the waterfall
The Buddha went to reside in a high mountain – holy men and Shinto spirits, too. The mountain evokes Horaisan in place of the third island that would originally have been in the pond.
climbs Mount Fuji. – Issa
Rocks are hugely important and many hours were spent in the deliberate placement of them – sometimes moving or turning them by mere millimetres. The proper height and width of a cascade is set out in the Sakuteiki and the structure has to comply with one of ten described constructions. The feature is important in all Japanese gardens as Zen teachings tell us that ‘mountains can walk’ – presumably a reference to the precarious plate tectonics upon which Japan in particular rests.
The borrowed view and heaven (shakkei)
Many Zen gardens have a ‘borrowed view’. This is not a copied view – but a vista or view of a feature outside of the garden and which increases a positive response in the viewer. Muso Suki (1275–1351) is the designer from the Kamakura era credited with the introduction of ‘borrowed scenery’ and the strolling garden (tsukiyama). Earlier gardens had views principally observed from a building or a boat.
In the Pure Land school of Buddhism a garden is often used to represent the ‘pure land’ or heaven.
Currently ‘borrowed’ is a view of a Pawlonia tomentosa tree in an adjoining enclosure – this tree is symbolic of the Emperor!
Rocks and stones
The original Japanese gardens were, like Stonehenge, little more than areas cleared of vegetation with stones arranged around as well as within them. The stones, as discussed earlier, were considered animate objects and thought to hold the spirits of deceased ancestors. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Sakuteiki, the eventual Buddhist treatise on such spaces, equates the creation of gardens with the settling of stones.
This is a controversial topic with many interpretations of the ‘meaning’ of particular stones or their arrangement. The practice was probably another import from China. It has strong roots in both Taoism and the native Shinto religion and at various times priests and members of the ‘riverbed people’ (a group of outcasts living beside Kyoto’s Kano River) were associated with the task. One of the latter, Zen’ami (1386–1482) is known to have become an important garden designer to the Shogun.
In the Chinese tradition, there are five classical shapes of stone and examples of all can be found in the garden. Individual rock shapes and the moss growing on them, particular colours of stone, etc. all evoke different responses from the viewer. Upright rocks are very masculine; horizontal or small rounded ones, feminine. Each though, is needed by the other to provide harmony and balance – yin and yang. The five basic stone types are:
· Soul stones (Reisoseki): A low vertical stone usually with a wide base and a tapered top. This is considered to be the symbolic ‘guardian’ stone.
· Heart stones (Shintaseki): These are flat stones – more often than not stepping stones.
· Body stones (Taidoseki): A tall vertical stone intended to be representative of a god or
prominent person. They are not as tapered as soul stones and consequently the base should be only slightly wider than the top. Such a stone is never placed at the front of the garden – often at the back (top of the waterfall).
· Ox stones (Kikyakuseki): A reclining stone used in conjunction with a branching stone. One end of the stone is higher than the other and is normally found in the foreground of the garden.
· Branching stones (Shigyoseki): Such as stone is also called an Arching stone. A flat top that is wider than its base, it is often used to ‘tie together’ the unsteadying effect of two horizontal and two vertical stones in an arrangement.
To be avoided are misshapen stones (‘diseased stones’), vertical stones used in a horizontal manner or vice versa (‘dead Stones’) or stones that are not related to the others in the garden (‘pauper stones’).
Traditionally, obviously cut stones were rarely used (bad feng sui) but as can be seen from our garden, that tradition has now fallen away.
The lighthouse lantern
This small lantern, a rakugan, is an extension of the nautical symbolism drawn from the pond, evoking the sea. Granite is probably the hardest of stones to carve and yet there is an amazing softness in the finished scenes the sculptors etch on its surface, as if it were soapstone or even wood.
The stepping stone path
As mentioned earlier, great care is required when walking down to the bridge. Every step must be taken slowly and thoughtfully if the walker is to complete their journey safely – as indeed it should be in life. The stones arranged on both sides and at each end of the bridge are known as ‘anchor stones’ – and without which it might ‘fly’.
The ‘flying geese’ bridge
|Mind the gap!
This follows the Tenju-an style and is staggered deliberately (like geese flying) as it is believed that evil thoughts or spirits travel in straight lines. The sudden changes in surface plane should force them to drop into the sea.
The central square slab of black granite is not traditional (see left) but was added on account of a health and safety requirement: it was assessed to be ordinarily too difficult or risky for visitors to cross without it.
Few Japanese visitors are happy with this bridge and consequently there are proposals to replace it with a more appropriate one (See the section “Looking Ahead” below).
|The Empress drops a Camellia flower into the pond.
The large snow lantern (yukimi)
This is the largest lantern in the garden and is carved out of granite from Kyoto. If such an ornament were located in a Japanese temple, it would be lit with a candle in order to facilitate ‘snow-viewing’ in winter. Generally speaking, these are used as a decorative element whose shapes evoke the architecture of structures such as the Golden Pagoda in Kyoto.
The Buddhist Trinity (Sanzon-ishi-gumi)
To the left is a group of three large stones. These represent the most common arrangement of stones in Japanese gardens.
An arrangement such as this (ishi) was the first such feature incorporated in Japanese gardens and was used to mimic Shumisen, the centre of the universe in Buddhist thought. Later, these became known as Sanzon-ishi-gumi (the Buddha with two lesser Buddhas or disciples).
Rocks (and plants) gathered in threes generally symbolize the ‘Buddhist Trinity’ or ‘Three Gems’ of the religion: the Buddha, the teaching (Dharma) and the community (Sangha).
In Mahayana Buddhism these three stones would evoke the Buddhist bodhisattvas: Buddha Stone (Mida buhtsu) in the centre; Goddess Stone (Kwannon) and Child Stone (Seishi). For yet others, these could mark the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering and the emptiness or absence of self-nature.
Remember, though, Buddhism does not have, or encourage the use of, icons. Named stones or images are used to remind people of the existence, rather than the presence, of the Buddha. Bowing towards such structures is to demonstrate respect not adoration.
The small ‘deer’ lantern (kasuga)
A new feature in 2011, this lantern has been delicately carved with a natural scene and
draws the eye away from the water to the hill beyond.
The natural scenery shows a deer browsing and is appropriately placed next to the deer-scarer. These lanterns come from Mt. Kasuga in Nara – famed not just for its temples and gardens but also for the deer that walk the streets and are hand fed by scores of visitors each day.
Fencing, gates and the hedges surrounding the garden all enhance the sense of enclosure in this garden or niwa. This strengthens perception of the ‘Third Noble Truth’ – that the solution to all suffering is to be found from within. Consequently once you are inside the garden, you are encouraged to look within yourself for solutions (or enlightenment) and to detach yourself from the distractions of the world outside of the garden.
The parallel granite sets
Arranged in three haiku-like lines, these are an elegant solution, along with some of the rocks near the new stone lantern, to a problem that Yasuo Kitayama faced: what to do with valuable materials for which there was no time to place? The answer has been to set them into the landscape and he will then raise and re-place them on a future visit. Remember: this whole garden is a work in progress.
Introduced in 2011, this emphasises the importance of water to the garden, to life and to the world. The square shape of the well draws its inspiration from the famous ‘circle-triangle-square’ calligraphy of Sengai Gibon (1750–1837) shown on the front-piece of this pamphlet. It is popularly believed that all things in the universe are represented from these forms.
This square shape compliments the circular shape of the coin-shaped basin (tsukubai) at the entrance to the garden and the triangular lines of the cascade.
The open Bamboo screen (yatsumi gaki) and gate (ryoan-ji gaki)
Behind the well is an open style bamboo fence that is often associated with Teahouses on account of its rusticity. Behind it, and further up the hill is a small gate that take its stylistic name from the Ryonan-ji temple in Kyoto.
The two pine trees (matsu)
Heavily pruned and clipped pine trees are a common feature of Japanese gardens and evoke quite strong feelings of masculinity and age. However, there are two trees here, which is an unusual phenomenon in both eastern and modern western garden tradition – particularly for the former, as the Buddhist tradition normally prefers odd numbers. Planted previously by the southern seat in an east-to-west configuration, they evoke the Takasago pine from the west and the Suminoe pine from the east.
Also, paired in this way, pines are said to be free from space and time, since one is the distant past and the other the distant future and any well-versed Japanese visitors will probably recognise in this a poetic reference to the so-called ‘god plays’ – such as the well-known play ‘Takasago’ by the playwright, Zeami.
|How many old memories
they bring to mind –
the cherry blossoms. – Basho
The springtime view through these two trees is of a spectacular cherry tree (sakura) and some extremely impressive geometry that follows the lines of the trees and the well.
A tree, often twisted and bent by age (or careful pruning to encourage the perception of old age) is a metaphor for aged people and is both a symbol of wisdom and an act of reverence.
The pine tree, along with bamboo and the flowering plum tree is considered to be one of the ‘Three Friends of Winter’. These are so named because while the evergreen bamboo and pine retain their leaves, the plum flowers when there is still snow on the ground.
Pine trees are pruned in two ways: midorisumi (‘picking green’) which involves pinching out of new growth in early summer, followed by momiage (‘side burns’) during the autumn clean up. Thinning, to preserve the natural habit of the branches and foliage, is called chirashi.
Black bamboo is found growing on the southern edge of the garden on the boundary with the Fukushima Garden. These evoke the spirit of the ‘flying bamboo’ and are another reference to one of the geomantic symbols described earlier – the Scarlet Phoenix associated the south.
These plants also strongly evoke the very dense bamboo forests surrounding many temples in Kyoto.
A Chinese Buddhist legend has it that the bamboo forests originally grew from the walking sticks of monks.
Cobblestone path (kurama-ishi nobedan)
This was path leading to the seat overlooking the pond constructed in 2012 and its style follows a classic type of pavement from Mt. Kurama near Kyoto. Nobedan means walkway.
The planting scheme and its pruning
Earlier we drew attention to the naturalistic principle of such gardens – yet we have not discussed the plants. The monochromatic green and only brief touches of colour in spring (cherry blossom, water iris) or in summer (hydrangeas) has been explained above, and in autumn the garden celebrates the passing of the year with a spectacular splash of red and bronze from the many Acer trees.
Plants are considered sacred in many religions around the world and hold an important place in Shinto as well as Buddhism. Significant events in the life of Buddha are associated with particular trees – he was reputedly born under a so-called Sorrowless tree (Saraca dives), and enlightened under a Banyan fig (Ficus religiosa), he died in the shade of a Sal tree (Shorea obtusa.).
Different plants are associated with different rituals and evoke different experiences, memories or even entire landscapes. An erudite Chinese Buddhist scholar is reputed to have promoted five Buddhist trees and six Buddhist flowers that every temple should grow in order to worship the Buddha. He also said they should breed elephants and peacocks – well, at least we’ve succeeded with the birds!
The symbolism attached to plants is extensive and Rhododendron (known as sazanka), for example, is usually planted to suggest mountains.
Consider then, the maintenance of plants:
These are often clipped into tight shapes that are called karikomi (if small shrubs) or okarikomi (if they are large). They are not normally permitted, as in the western tradition, to bud and flower freely before being clipped back into shape.
Shrub species are generally chosen for their response to clipping and shape retention rather than anything else. The rounded shape evokes rounded stones or boulders, and in Taoist terms could also be seen as living mediums for attracting the gods or good fortune – in a similar manner that rocks are made animate.
Large groups of okarikomi suggest mountains, clumps of trees and even, on an abstract level, sometimes waves (namikarikomi). This type of pruning came into its own from the end of the sixteenth century during the Momoyama and Edo eras.
Niwaki is the practice of pruning (particularly native) evergreen trees in this manner and the suffixes –zukuri or –shitate refer to a shape, style or procedure carried out to the tree. Trunks can be bendy – kyokukanshitate; straight –chokukanshitate; twins – sokoshitate; or multiple stemmed – takanshitate. An irregular branch or trunk is called nagaredashitate and a one-sided branch is called katanagareshitate.
One notable tree often overlooked in this garden is Cryptomeria japonica var. radicans – a conifer that has the rare ability to sprout new growth from old wood. These trees (located near the tsukubai and beside the cascade) are seen all over Kyoto and particularly in the Kitayama mountains where they are grown and trained to produce very straight wooden poles. Just enough foliage is left on the pole, looking very much like a giant puffball, to sustain its growth. The cones are rarely left on the trees to develop. Called daisugi, it is said that in just one tree they express the essence of an entire (forested) mountainside or hillside. Diasugi bonsai are a popular ornament on window ledges and by the front door to houses.
Other trees, such as Podocarpus, Taxus, Cupressus, Ginkgo and Abies can also be pruned into various shapes.
Broad leaved trees can be treated similarly, but this is not so common. Deciduous trees such as Acer are generally thinned rather than pruned, but can on occasion be shaped in favour of a bolder, more sculptured look; cherry trees (sakura), however, are seldom pruned – basically because they don’t like being pruned.
The Emperor and Empress are each symbolised by the presence of the Pawlonia growing beyond the Fukushima Garden and the large Silver Birch, Betula pendula growing beside the pond.
|Receiving a lesson on trees from the Empress …
The ‘headache’ tree, Umbellularia californica, is an American import and a part of the original planting in this part of the park prior to 1991. It is so called because you can get a headache from sniffing the leaves. There’s an irony here: Japanese gardeners and garden visitors value the shade or shadows of large trees such as this – but linger here for too long and you may regret it!
There are three basic shapes to which the foliage on tree branches is pruned and are described as: balls – tamzukuri; steps – danzukuri; or shells – kaizukuri (kai are cockles).
Look back to the cascade and specifically at the two yellow calcite stones in the cascade that came from north of Kyoto. Yasuo Kitayama lives in an area north of Kyoto – in the Kitayama Mountains and it is from a quarry near to his home that he found these two stones – and I think that you’ll agree, a most unusual and delightful way to ‘sign’ such a masterpiece.
|A shakuhachi being played in the Kyoto garden
In the spring of 2012 the Emperor and Empress visited Great Britain on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Holland Park was included in their itinerary and following their visit to the park, the Emperor, in a speech in the Ballroom of the Japanese Embassy, thanked the British people for their support following the Great East Japan Earthquake and consequent tsunami disaster of 11th March, 2011.
A few weeks later, the staff of a local newspaper in Fukushima, the Fukushima Minpo, proposed planting the white flowered, Rhododendron brachycarpum, a native plant that is used as a floral emblem for the region, in the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park as a living memorial. The proposal was relayed to the Royal Borough whose officers in turn put the proposal to Yasuo Kitayama. It was quickly agreed that creating a separate memorial garden adjoining the existing strolling garden in which to plant these rhododendrons was a better idea and work commenced.
The entrance gate
The inked calligraphy on the gate post has been done by London-based master calligrapher and fine artist, Kashuu, on a wooden board translates. It reads Fukushima Garden. Kushuu-san is responsible as well for the calligraphy used in this pamphlet.
The three ‘Growing Stones’
The entrance to garden is guarded by three Soul Stones (Reisoseki) emerging (growing) from the ground.
These stones also evoke one of the most loved of all Japanese deities, Jizo. His statues are commonplace alongside roads and in graveyards. Traditionally, he is the guardian of travellers and particularly deceased children, more especially those who have pre-deceased their parents – another very sad consequence of the Fukushima disaster.
Located by the southwest entrance, these remind us of the motto of Fukushima: “Never Give Up” because emerging from the ground they are perceived to be ‘growing’. This is a metaphor for the fact that life never really stops, it just keeps changing and as these stones also evoke the rising sun – a symbolic reminder that this is a Japanese garden.
The dry stone path
The path (roji or rojiniwa) throughout is made of loose stones and this evokes the sensation of walking on a dry riverbed. The river has reached the garden as a dry cascade (karetaki)
flowing out of the Kyoto Garden (the steps) and from the mountains to the right and flows to the southwest in compliance with geomantic tradition.
The difficult path evokes the many challenges facing everyone and particularly the people of Fukushima.
Please note that it is an unsuitable surface for prams or wheelchairs.
The green grass
|Burdened with dark thoughts
I climbed the hill to find
wild roses blooming. – Buson
Unlike in the neighbouring Kyoto Garden, visitors are encouraged to sit on the grass in the memorial garden or to walk across it in order to use the benches donated by the Fukushima Minpo.
The mountain path
If we walk up the path on the right hand side towards the mountains, we pass the white flowered Fukushima Rhododendron plants and the cherry trees that provide so much pleasure in spring, the ‘sakura season’. (n.b. At the time of printing, the species actually seen here are Rhododendron X. ‘Cunningham’s White’ – a close lookalike of R. brachycarpum). The current plants will be eventually replaced once the nursery-sized specimens have grown sufficiently.
The Bronze Plaque
At the top of the path a bronze plaque records the Emperor’s words when he was in London in 2012.
The bronze metal evokes the bells of the temples of Japan and reminds us that this is a solemn place as well as a garden in which to appreciate both the wonders and the power of the natural world.
Man-made hill (tsukiyama)
Beyond the commemorative plaque, a deliberately artificial hill has been created. Formerly known as kasan, these Zen features have deliberately sharp edges to their base so that their construction is obvious to the viewer.
The dry cascade
Returning to the other path, we are faced with climbing the dry cascade. Again this evokes the difficulties of life, but also, looking around we are able to see that there is also beauty in it all.
At the top of the cascade, there is a bench from which we can look over the Kyoto garden. The red crack beneath the bench reminds us of the very powerful forces that led to the tragic events of 11th March 2011.
Three Special Ambassadors from the Fukushima Prefecture (two school children and a young farmer) accompanied by many Embassy officials, two Japanese Olympic athletes and representatives of the Royal Borough and the Fukushima Minpo, led the official opening of the garden on 28th July 2012, the eve of the launch of the London Olympic Games.
Looking ahead: a personal view
There have been many ideas put forward for the future development of these gardens – some are likely to be implemented and others will remain as proposals. Such a process is normal in the management of all great gardens.
Highlights of some of these proposals, in my personal view, include:
· A new bridge from the mainland to the tortoise island and then another back to the mainland – which may enable removing the central slab of the flying geese bridge (a health and safety addition).
· Opening up a view to the north to suggest the location of a teahouse (see below).
· Opening up a walk over the top of the cascade to reveal one of the finest views of the garden.
· Taking visitors from the top of the cascade out of the garden via a new footpath running past the Emperor’s tree (and other interesting flora) in the otherwise under-utilised area between the Fukushima garden and Daffodil lawn. This would complete the enclosure of the Fukushima garden and make more sense of views out of the Kyoto garden to the southeast.
· Considering how to link the Western Lawn enclosure – visually in some way – so that visitors are encouraged to enjoy sitting on the lawn there rather than crowding into the Fukushima Garden. This could be done with a textured path between the two across the main tarmac path.
· Creating improved views of and the interpretation of surviving aspects of the original Japanese garden.
Other options could include:
· Organised moon viewing.
· Annual celebration of the Sakura season (spring).
· Demonstrations of Japanese gardening and floral skills.
· An annual guided walk of the gardens.
· A teahouse. Such a structure would need to follow Sen no Rikyu’s rules in that it should look like the cottage of a hermit-monk, be very plain with a thatched roof and only large enough for two tatami mats. Decoration inside could include a single scroll and small branch off a tree. There should be no view of the garden from such a Teahouse.
A final plea: as the numbers of visitors to the gardens grow each year the unique qualities of solitude and tranquillity found in this corner will almost certainly become harder to find in the wider park. While I agree that Holland Park, just as any other publicly funded service, cannot remain completely unchanged in the face of changing local demands, any such changes in the future to these two gardens should be sensitive to their history and their original purpose as sanctuaries of calm and a refuge from the bustling cityscape.
Just one man and
one fly in this
enormous guest room. – Issa
On May 30, 2017, the author was presented in Tokyo with the 25th Sato Award for International Exchange by the Parks and Open Space Association of Japan.
APPENDICES AND ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
A brief timeline in Japanese history:
Prior to 645 CE Pre-Nara
Buddhism reaches Japan and is accepted in 552 by the regent, Prince Shotoku. In 602 Kanroku, a priest arrives from China with “books of Calendar-making, Astronomy and Geomancy and also books on the art of invisibility and magic.” – important as geomancy is the ‘feng shui’ (fusui) set of principles used by the later author of Sakuteiki the earliest manual of gardening in Japan and oldest surviving book on gardening in the world.
645 – 784 Nara period
All gardens appear to be heavily influenced by Chinese – including the new river-style gardens. These featured a meandering river that ran through rocky outcrops and fed into a pond. From this period on, Chinese Buddhism provided a world view and philosophical basis for the arts and prototypes for the new art forms required by its rituals and which was previously absent from Shinto art and buildings. Manyoshu, a collection of poetry, is written (646-1185), mainly following the tanka tradition.
785 – 1184 Heian period
The court becomes influential and palatial gardens are built. The capital moved to Kyoto. Gardens were seen as a heavenly pleasure ground on earth. Politically stable the aristocracy had the time and money to indulge in ever-more naturalistic and idealized gardens for physical delight. Sakuteiki (Records of Garden Making) was first written in flowing brush script on two long scrolls. This was a Golden Age for the rich nobility and is the period those later generations hankered after.
1185 – 1392 Kamakura period
A period marked mainly by the arrival of the Chinese Buddhist sect Chan (which became Zen in Japanese) and its adoption by the samurai (military class). Zen turned away from the courtly tone and intricate rituals of former practices to a doctrine advocating participation in everyday life (the now), austerity and simplicity (simple desires, simple means) – as well as periods of extended meditation in order to gain enlightenment and an understanding of the true essence of life. Gardens were changed from places of physical delight to ones to be only viewed and utilized as vehicles for something greater. For Zen the garden became an aid to meditation with controlled observation or viewing points. Renga verse takes over from Tanka (Waka) tradition.
1393 – 1568 Muromachi period
Politically this was a very turbulent time with factional scraps over the imperial succession and Shogunate. It is marked by the Onin wars and famine as well as popular revolts. By contrast, an aesthetic of elegant simplicity developed in garden design, painting and architecture. Zen increased its appeal in this unrest by offering an internal peace that did not demand elaborate doctrine or complicated rituals – you were at the most basic level just required to sit and meditate: zazen (sitting meditation). Some of the most striking gardens in Kyoto were created at this time – including the dry Zen gardens of Ryoan-ji and Daisen-in. Ritualistic tea drinking developed and with it the detached house for tea ceremonies in a specifically designed garden reached by a contemplative footpath (roji – the dewy path). Moritake, a well-known renga poet, popularises the haikai no renga linked verse tradition of poetry.
1569 – 1603 Momoyama period
This was another age of opulence and ornamentation – in stark contrast to the “refined poverty” of the tea ceremony (although it flourished as well) of the previous period. This is considered very much a period of transition in which the Shinto, Zen and Tea came together to establish an aesthetic stance later described as “sophisticated order” (Gunter Nitschke).
1603 – 1867 Edo period
A period of strictly regulated life during which Japan closed its borders to the outside world – even expelling the Catholic priests who had arrived in the 1500’s. The “stroller gardens” (such as the Kyoto Garden in Holland Park) came of age and the designers looked back to the Heian period for inspiration. Building on a rich tradition of much longer verses, the very brief, but highly evocative, haiku poetry become popular along with haiki paintings. Basho’s haiku dominate this period.
1868 – 1911 Meiji (Imperial) restoration
The arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry in 1853 led to the eventual downfall of the Shogunate. Traditional culture was discarded in favour of Western goods and values. Japan became an industrial nation in a matter of years and quickly became a regional power. Disenfranchised nobility lacked the resources to maintain their gardens and aesthetic traditions.
1912 – Date Modern Japan
Limited restorations and additions prior to the Second World War were built upon later in the 20th century by the establishment of skilled craft organisations such as the Kyoto Gardens Association. Advances in technology, archaeology and training have led to a revival of interest and appreciation of the past as well as fresh interpretation.
It is difficult to comprehend even the basics of Japanese gardens without some reference to their historical development and the principle cultural and religious influences that dictated the course of that development.
Written was some time between 1028 and 1094 (during the Heian period) by an unknown hand on two scrolls that have survived in tact, the book – Sakuteiki – arguably remains the “holy grail” of Japanese garden design. It is also the oldest known surviving book in the world that addresses specifically aesthetic gardening (Pliny the Elder’s earlier treatise was on agriculture).
The four principles of the Sakuteiki to be followed by garden designers are Nature; Geomancy; Buddhism; Taboos.
Old Kyoto was laid out at the end of the 8th Century C.E. following a grid pattern copied from the Chinese Tang dynasty capital. The Kano River, which previously ran diagonally across the grid was diverted. Narrow streets of low-storied wooden houses and wood burning fires would have added to a feeling of claustrophobia and the aristocracy would therefore have yearned for the comparative peace and tranquillity of a ‘natural’ space wherever possible. Little wonder therefore that very early in the book we read: “Visualise the famous landscapes of our country and come to understand their most interesting points. Re-create the essence of those scenes in the garden, but do so interpretively, not strictly.”
This principle is probably shared all over the world and eventually did reach Britain! See Alexander Pope’s letter to Lord Burlington about 800 years later: ‘To build, to plant, whatever you intend, To rear the column, or the arch to bend, To swell the terrace, or to sink the grot; In all, let Nature never be forgot …’ however the ‘jardin anglais‘ as the French called it, is probably better known today as ‘the local park … in an era of economic cut-backs’.
Geomancy is a catchall expression describing a complex group of interrelated concepts that are popularised today as feng sui but which is probably best described as a form of Eastern astrology.
It originated in China and there are three sources of Chinese theoretical geomantic principle with which the garden has to comply:
1. the theory of Yin and Yang (or the theory of mutual opposites) that the Japanese call In and On.
2. Yi (the theory of changes), also known as I Ching; and
3. the Five Phases Theory.
To those should be added observance of the four ‘guardian’ gods – black tortoise in the north, blue dragon in the east, scarlet bird in the south and white tiger in the west.
And finally on this point, the reason why we are asked to walk in a clockwise direction around the garden is because “the movement of change is in a clockwise direction” which comes from the Theory of Yi. Modern Japanese gardens are still expected to comply with these ancient principles.
3. Buddhist principles:
The introduction of the Buddhist dharma or teaching in 552 CE from China was a major influence on the design and philosophy behind the design and use of niwa. This is probably better described as a way of life, rather than a religion or system of beliefs, and in Japan it has been used to augment rather than replace Shinto, the native religion. Indeed Buddhism is probably the only major religion that unashamedly absorbs the practices and rituals of ethnic faiths into its own practices and it is probably that openness that encouraged the development of Japanese Zen Buddhism.
Historically, Buddhism originates from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. He was born in 6th century B.C.E. and was a wealthy prince in what is now India. At the age of 29, deeply troubled by the suffering he saw around him, he renounced his privileged life, abandoned his wife and child and went to seek understanding. After 6 years of struggling as an ascetic he achieved enlightenment. He came to believe that everything is subject to change and that suffering and discontentment are the result of attachment to circumstances and things that, by their nature, are impermanent. He felt that by ridding oneself of these attachments, including attachment to the false notion of self or I, one can be free of suffering. After this he was known as the Buddha (meaning roughly “one who is awake”).
The original Buddha never claimed to be divine or a prophet – but to be enlightened. Buddha’s central theories are that human life is full of suffering due to the illness, death and loss of loved ones. By getting rid of desires and attachments, one can achieve a state of enlightenment and escape suffering and the circle of reincarnations. It is said that one can achieve self-enlightenment through meditation and self-discipline – sometimes it is called a religion and other times a philosophy.
First set out by “The Awakened One”, are the four Noble Truths taught in Buddhism:
- The Nature of Suffering (or Dukkha):
- Suffering’s Origin (Dukkha Samudaya):
There is a cause for suffering.
- Suffering’s Cessation (Dukkha Nirodha):
It can be overcome.
- The Path Leading to the Cessation of Suffering: (Dukkha Nirodha Gamini Patipada Magga) The way to overcome suffering is to follow the Eightfold Path (Right View; Right Thought; Right Speech; Right Action; Right Livelihood; Right Effort; Right Mindfulness; Right Concentration).
Meditation is the practice most commonly associated with Buddhism and comes from the eighth path – Right Concentration. There are many different types of meditation using mantras or koans, and the Zen Buddhists (a later import from China to Japan) practice a “sitting meditation” called zazen.
Japan’s two main religions are Shinto and Buddhism, which cover over 80% of the population. Around 90 million people consider themselves Buddhists in Japan and the religion, which originated in India in the 6th century BC, consists of a number of different sects. It was brought over to Japan in the 6th Century CE from Korea and over the years sects were founded including the Tendai (805) and Shingon sects (806), from China. This early form was reputedly highly esoteric, ritualistic, and ceremonial in its structure – and the religion of the ruling elite.
This is an extremely old indigenous mixture of religious beliefs whose practice centres on the worship of kami (spirits, essences or deities) and sanctifying places rather than religious images. The kami are essentially of two types – those that live in natural forms (mountains, rivers, rocks etc.) and the ancestors of living people. The religion was probably developed on the Taoist or the even earlier Confucian practices and principles imported from China. Due to the syncretistic nature of both Buddhism and Shinto, most practicing Japanese are born and married into Shinto and buried according to Buddhist tradition.
China was a rich breeding ground for philosophical thought and while Confucius in the north of the country set out a very social or communal set of ideals, in the south, Lao Tse, developed the very individualist philosophy of Taoism. Taoism is the idea that everything in life is but a step upon a path or passage. Described by some as the “art of being in the world” (similar to Buddhist mindfulness, perhaps?) it stresses that the individual should seek to flow with the ‘watercourse way’, the Tao. If, as we observed just now, Zen means meditation then Tao means ‘passage’. Zen philosophers combined this focus upon individualism and the individual’s passage through eternity with the Buddhist dharma that enlightenment is found from within.
The Chinese sect called Chan reached Japan in 1191, following a few years after the arrival of the Jodo sect (Pure Land sect) that had been founded in 1175. Its complicated theories were popular particularly among the members of the military class and came to be called, in its Japanese form, Zen.
Zen monks came to occupy positions of political influence and also became active in literary and artistic life. Zen monasteries, especially the main temples of Kyoto and Kamakura, were educational as well as religious centres.
Attributed to around about the 5th Century and to an eccentric monk called Bodhidharma, Zen developed philosophical and religious practices that concentrated on direct experience and meditation, rather than on rational creeds or revealed scriptures. Crudely put: Pure Land Buddhism seeks assistance from outside of the self (the most famous incantation being the nembutsu a short three worded prayer: ‘Namu Amida Butsu’ – I take refuge in Amida Buddha), while Zen seeks it from within (sitting meditation – otherwise known as zazen). In Zen, wisdom is passed, not through words or concepts, but through one-to-one direct transmission of experience from teacher to student. It is commonly taught that such lineage has continued all the way from the first Buddha’s time to the present.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that only until very recently, Japanese garden apprentices were given absolutely no formal instruction by their mentors. Instead of formalised teaching, the knowledge would pass between master and pupil in a process that could take in excess of ten years. This technique has echoes of sazen – the pupil/teacher methodology by which pupils are taught Zen. In the latter, actual instruction is replaced by koans (questions) from the master for his acolyte to consider and meditate upon.
Zen introduced a much more austere view – simple needs, simple means. Abstract and fluffy rituals were banished in favour of meditation and in particular sitting meditation (zazen) to assist with attaining enlightenment. The word mu is important to our understanding as it means literally nothingness – not in the sense of a void – but a free existence that transcends all ideas of existence and non-existence as much as absence of matter. To that we can add and need to think about muga – which means ‘no self’, mujo – which means ‘not forever’ (the impermanence or wabi sabi) and mushin – which refers to ‘no heart’. Through these various attributes of mu we can achieve satori or understanding: an instantaneous event that relies upon an intuitive grasp of reality rather than a verbalized interpretation.
Zen has influenced Japanese culture across a broad range of subjects including poetry, calligraphy, painting, tea ceremonies, flower arrangement, and landscape gardening (particularly the distinctive rock-and-sand temple gardens). As with other world religions, different sects developed.
The popularity of Japanese Zen declined during the 16th and 17th centuries, but was later revived in its traditional forms by the monk, Hakuin (1686-1769). All present-day Rinzai masters (as opposed to Soto followers) trace their descent from Hakuin.
Zen Buddhism was introduced to the West by the writings of D. T. Suzuki, and an interest in the practice of Zen meditation blossomed after World War II, resulting in the establishment of Zen centres all over the world. Many Christian thinkers consider themselves followers of Zen as they have adopted similar practices in their faith.
Despite the mushrooming agnosticism of our age, Buddhism, under its various guises continues to play a large part in many Japanese peoples’ lives; for example, funerals in Japan are usually carried out in a Buddhist way and many households also keep a small Buddhist house altar in order to remember their ancestors.
In the past Buddhist institutions were often attacked, most recently in the early years of the Meiji period (19th C), when the new leaders favoured Shinto as the new state religion and tried to separate and emancipate it from Buddhism – just as the Tokugawa Shogunate emancipated Buddhism from the influence of Christians at the start of the 17th century.
There are six principles embraced by Zen that can be recognised in Japanese gardens:
1. Imbalance and imperfection (asymmetry) in the world create all the movement and energy in the world – so nothing is ever centred in a Zen garden.
2. Simplicity is paramount.
3. Venerability is important – so aged rocks and weathered or bleached wood, pruned shrubs etc are incorporated. This is considered a Taoist influence.
4. Hide and reveal mirrors life – you cannot see the whole all at once.
5. Everything is an illusion – and consequently the garden should transcend this plane of existence and leave the visitor with a sense of wonder.
6. Stillness must be observed – as a place of contemplation, meditation and reflection, the garden must have a feeling of tranquillity or stillness about it.
Among the principle concepts of the Zen garden are:
Aging – called koko, this is more about mellowness and maturity rather than the complete demise;
Asymmetry – involving a preference for the imperfect over the perfect form and shape (see tree pruning) and a preference for odd numbers over even;
Darkness – as a source of stillness and tranquillity rather than fearfulness or concern;
Simplicity – this looks to the achievement of mu or nothingness;
Miegakure – this is described as the avoidance of full expression and consequently requires the hiding of the whole (see the ‘surprise steps’ below);
Mystery – or yugen, is about the achievement of something very profound rather than puzzling;
Naturalness – called shizen it requires avoidance of all things artificial or forced;
Seijaku – the attainment of stillness, quiet and tranquillity;
Wabi, sabi and shibui – these translate as austerity, elegant simplicity and tastefulness and above all else, perhaps, impermanence.
Signature characteristics of Zen gardens are their serenity and simplicity of design and yet despite that there is an abundance of meaning and imagery sitting beneath the surface. ‘Wabi Sabi’ is now a concept associated particularly with interior design and has its own philosophical precepts and rules.
In the Sakuteiki we are advised: “Regarding the placement of stones there are many taboos. If so much as one of those taboos is violated, the master of the household will fall ill and eventually die, and his land will fall into desolation and become the abode of devils.”
There are lots of different taboos: kata imi – relate to the direction things face or were placed (geomancy); hando taboos refer to construction, maintenance and soil work; and others relate to Buddhism: the Buddhist Trinity may not face the main residence.
People can be affected by taboos as well as places. There are many different types of human taboo and the source of many was defilement, a concept that has its roots in Shinto. Defilement could be the result of numerous events as varied as a death in the family, sickness, menstruation, sexual intercourse. Traditionally anyone with a taboo on them would advertise that by putting a taboo stick on the entrance to their house or room that they were in. People would then approach them by another direction or avoid them until the taboo had passed. If they had to go outside, they would wear a taboo stick as an adornment on their heads.
Old hat? You may think so – but today we see people in Japan walking down the street particularly in winter with facemasks on to avoid spreading a cold to their fellow citizens – a modern version of a taboo stick.
“To make a garden by studying nature exclusively, without any knowledge of various taboos, is reckless.” – Sakuteiki.
The Japanese designers and gardeners:
1991: Shoji Nakahara
Susumu Kobayashi, Shoji Inohara, Mashiro Takaishi, Tsukasa Minagawa, Takahiro Yamada, Nobuhito Imanishi, Takeo Noma, Chisao Shimori and Shinya Nomura. Some of these volunteers returned in subsequent years.
2011: Yasuo Kitayama
Mashiro Takaishi, Norio Ueda, Susumu Kobayashi, Tsukasa Minagawa, Hirabayashi, Kawahara, Sumii and Oohira.
From the United Kingdom:
The Friends of Holland Park: in particular Christopher Wood, Rhoddy Wood, Nicholas Hopkins and Jennie Kettlewell.
Many past and present members of the council, client and contractor staff members have assisted over the past twenty years, principally but not exclusively: Alderman Richard Walker-Arnott, Cllrs. Nick Paget-Brown and Tim Ahern; Norman Cook, Peter Ramage; Hamish Pringle, Ullash Karia; David Owen, Graham Vincent, Robert Dowling; Monica Castelino, Abigail O’Neil, Scott Evans, Louis Walsh; Ben Binnell, Ian Fleming, Marc Sinclair, Eddie Hosten and Csaba Vass. In April 2014 Ian Ross took on the task of leading the parks team.
Members of the Japanese Gardens Society have been associated with these gardens since the beginning and always been a very useful source of encouragement, knowledge and advice.
Contributors to the 1991 Kyoto garden are acknowledged at the entrance to the garden and included the Japan Society; the Japanese Garden Society; the Great Britain-Sasakawa Foundation; the Universities’ Old Boys’ Associations in London of London Mitakai, London Tomonkai, Doshisha Koyukai Crover-Kai Eikoku Shibu and Kansei Gakuin Doskai Eikoku Shibu and the Daily Mail Group Trust.
Contributors to the 2011 Fukushima Garden included The Royal Borough, Quadron Services Ltd, Fukushima Minpo newspaper, the calligrapher, Kushuu, Yoshio Mitsuyama and Katsuhiko Kita.
Any omissions are regretted as oversights that I would of course be happy to correct.
There have inevitably been many sources of inspiration, instruction and reference drawn upon for these notes but I have been principally influenced by or directly used the following:
· A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto
Marc Treib and Ron Herman
Prof. Jiro Takei and Prof. Marc Keane
· Zen Gardens
Tom Wright and Mizuno Katsuhiko
· The Spirit of Zen
· Japanese Garden in Holland Park
HLM Landscapes – Council report
· The Kyoto Garden in Holland Park
Christopher Wood et al
Journal of the Japanese Garden Society
· Invitation to the Courtyard Gardens of Kyoto
· Japanese and Zen Gardens – A guide
Albert D Taylor and Russell B Chard
Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System
· Historical Japanese Gardens
· Japanese Gardens
Prof. Clifton B Olds
· Japanese Symbolism in Garden Design
· The Japanese Garden – Symbolism and Esthetics
Dr. Koichi Kawana
· Japanese Gardens – Significance and Symbols
· Japanese Gardens in the UK and Ireland
· Yasuo Kitayama (biography)
· Buddhism Plain and Simple
· Zen Beginner’s Mind
· Essays in Zen Buddhism
Prof. D J Suzuki
· Zen Meditation in Plain English
John Daishin Buksbazen
· In praise of shadows
· The Book of Tea
· What is Zen?
· Wabi Sabi: the Japanese Art of Impermanence
· Science of Museums of China
China Virtual Museums website
The Yamasa Institute, Okazaki, Japan
The British Museum Japanese rooms – exhibitions and literature (Urasenke)
· As so much research is done on line these days, Wikipedia (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_garden) and Google have been immensely useful reference tools as well. Any omissions in acknowledging sources are an oversight on my part for which I apologise and would of course be very happy to amend if notified.
a frog jumps in.
The sound of water. – Basho