Chapter 14: Designing Men

by Dec 20, 2012Handbook, Part 1: Design & Craft0 comments

In this Chapter…

  • Past Masters
  • Talent from Overseas: Kanroku and Michinoko no Takumi
  • Heian Classicists: En’en-Ajari and Tachibana no Toshitsuna
  • Zen Men: Musō Sōseki and Kogaku Sōkō
  • Tea Drinkers: Sen no Rikkyū and Furuta Oribe
  • Imperfecting Perfection
  • Les Très “Amis”: Nōami, Geiami, and Sōami
  • Arbiters of Taste
  • The Art of Gardening: Sesshū Tōyō and Kobori Enshū
  • Modern Masters: Ogawa Jihei and Shigemori Mirei
The garden is a study in relationships. When planning, the gardener is concerned with the interaction of every part – slopes, colors, sounds, shapes, and movements. He enforces these interactions by artful placement, by using branches as frames, and by playing with perspective techniques to lengthen and bend dimensions. The shadings he adds have an almost palpable relationship and resonate through every element of the garden. – Seike Kiyoshi and Kudō Masanobu


Past Masters

The mukashi-no-jōzu (昔の上手 “the past’s skillful ones”), the old masters, were those who, by virtue of their venerable age and sage experience, were considered masters of the art of designing, building, and maintaining gardens. The expression appears in the Sakuteiki (作庭記 A Record of Garden Making), and refers primarily to Heian-period (794-1185) garden designers of aristocratic birth who regulated or supervised the construction of not only their own estate gardens but those of their peers also. The Genji-monogatari (源氏物語 The Tale of Genji) contains a chapter called “Matsukaze” (松風 “The Wind in the Pines”) in which Prince Genji is found personally overseeing the repair of a winding stream. There were no professional gardeners during the Heian period equivalent to the uekiya (植木屋 “planted tree dealers”) or the niwashi (庭師 “garden teachers”) of more recent times, and the profession of landscape architect is also relatively new in Japan, although people had been designing and building gardens since the Asuka period (538-710). For the most part, early gardens were designed by nobles and built by their retainers and workers. However, by the late Heian period, Buddhist priests known as ishitatesō (石立て僧 “stone-standing priests”) had taken an active, semi-professional role in garden construction. But these laborers and professionals are discussed in The men who moil. The men listed below have made exceptional contributions to the design and artistry of Japanese gardens, and their names are encountered frequently. They are listed chronologically.


Talent from Overseas: Kanroku and Michinoko no Takumi

Early influences on Japanese garden design came from the nearby Chinese mainland and from the Korean peninsula. During the Asuka period (538-710), two master gardeners from the kingdoms of the Korean peninsula arrived in Japan, and at least one Japanese noble studied gardening in China.

The Nihon-shoki (日本書紀 The Chronicles of Japan) records that in the winter (tenth month) of the tenth year of the Empress Suiko (推古天皇 r. 593-628) – that is, in 602 – Kanroku (觀勒, 観勒; Ko. Gwanreug; Kwalleuk), a priest from Paekche, one of the three kingdoms that occupied the Korean Peninsula, presented scrolls concerning calendar construction, astronomy, magic arts and geomancy. Although not mentioned by title, the geomantic text was probably the Gogyō-taigi (五行大儀 The Encyclopedia of Five Phases). The sutra library at Hōryū-ji, in Nara, houses a wooden statue of Kanroku that is deemed an important cultural treasure.

The Nihon-shoki, also records the arrival in 612 of another Korean craftsman and garden designer from the Kingdom of Paekche who assumed the name Michinoko no Takumi (路子工). The Japanese nicknamed him Shikomaro (しこまろ “Ugly Artisan”) due to the blemishes that covered his body (possibly caused by ringworm or leprosy), and threatened to banish him to an offshore island. But Michinoko no Takumi was able to plead clemency due to his skill in constructing “the figures of hills and mountains”, and Empress Suiko took pity on him. He was responsible for the erection of a representation of the mystic mountain Shumisen (須弥山, 須彌山), and the “Bridge of Wu”, which was possibly in the ornamental bow-shape common in Chinese gardens, in the garden and nantei (南庭; Southern Courtyard) of the empress’s estate.

For the year 625, the Nihon-shoki states that a certain Soga no Umako (蘇我馬子 d.626) designed and constructed a garden in his estate beside the Asuka River that contained a pond and an island. Soga no Umako had studied gardening during his travels to mainland China, and he is largely credited with being the innovator of the now signature pond-and-island style of Japanese garden. Apparently, his garden was so impressive that he earned the nickname Shima-no-oho-omi (嶋大臣), or Minister of the Island, and the estate acquired the nickname Shima-no-miya (嶋宮), the Palace of the Island.


Heian Classicists: En’en-Ajari and Tachibana no Toshitsuna

Two names stand out from the Heian period (794-1185), the first a multitalented priest, and the second the reputed author of the first known gardening manual composed in Japan.

Flourishing around the early eleventh century, En’en-Ajari (延円阿闍梨) was a priest, a renowned painter, and a master garden designer of some note. He is known to have worked closely with the imperial regent Fujiwara no Yorimichi (藤原頼通 992-1074) on the garden at Kayano-in in the capital city of Heiankyō (平安京), and he is recognized as one of the forerunners of the garden-building priests known later as ishitatesō (石立て僧). Events that took place at Yorimichi’s Kayano-in estate in 1024 have been preserved in a scroll called the Koma-kurabe-gyōkō-emaki (駒競行幸絵巻). En’en-Ajari is mentioned by name in the Sakuteiki (作庭記 A Record of Garden Making) as having “received the knowledge of garden making through direct teachings.” The text implies that the author received these teachings, known as sōden (相伝 “mutual transmission”) or hidensho (秘伝書 “secret writings”), and wrote them down. The suffix Ajari (阿闍梨) in his name means “teacher” or “master”, a title for high-ranking priests dating from the ninth century.

It is now generally accepted by scholars that Tachibana no Toshitsuna (橘俊綱 1028-1094), the son of Fujiwara no Yorimichi, is the author of the above-mentioned Sakuteiki, the first significant treatise on the subject of gardening in Japan. This important document dates from sometime in the mid to late eleventh century. Although his father was a powerful nobleman of the Fujiwara clan, his mother was of lowly birth, and consequently Tachibana no Toshitsuna was denied access to positions of a political nature, so he turned his superior talents toward the study and dissemination of poetry, music, art, and culture. In particular, he studied the art of gardening, and at one point he was the principal advisor on gardens to the imperial throne. He was able to accumulate an immense core of knowledge and experience, both pragmatic and aesthetic, and he chose to pour this into what amounts to Japan’s first how-to gardening manual. Later in life, he was made Fushimi-shuri-no-Daibu (伏見修理大夫, Chief of Maintenance and Construction for Imperial Properties in Fushimi) in recognition of his superior talents in garden design, a post he held for twenty-four years.

What permeates Tachibana no Toshitsuna’s work is an ability to assimilate and recast foreign ideas and influences rapidly and efficiently while retaining indigenous tastes and traditions. He was responsible for creating many aristocratic gardens, and he was also the owner of two magnificent estate gardens himself – one in Heiankyō known as Nishi-no-Tōin-tei, and another south of the capital at Fushimi. His position would have permitted access not only to kuden (囗伝, secret teachings), but also assured access to the foremost gardens of his day. All of these, while they do not in themselves constitute proof, point toward Toshitsuna as author of the Sakuteiki. However, as Jirō Takei and Marc Keane note that “there may well have been several authors, or additions made to an earlier text by later owners of the scrolls… [and] if Toshitsuna did somehow note down his various experiences and the secret teachings that he had been party to, his writings were probably compiled into the form we now know as the Sakuteiki at a later date”.


Zen Men: Musō Sōseki and Kogaku Sōkō

Poem on Dry Mountain
(A Zen Garden)

A high mountain
soars without
a grain of dust
a waterfall
plunges without
a drop of water
Once or twice
on an evening of moonlight
in the wind
this man here
has been happy
playing the game that suited him

        Musō Sōseki (1275-1351)

Although Zen Buddhism has produced many fertile, imaginative garden designers, one man stands out from the crowd: Musō Sōseki (夢窓疎石 1275-1351; alt. Musō Kokushi 夢窓国師). A high-ranking Buddhist priest of the Gozan (五山 “Five Mountains”) school in Kyoto, Musō Sōseki was the most celebrated ishitatesō (石立て僧), the so-called priest-gardeners of the Kamakura period (1185-1333), and he almost single-handedly elevated gardening to an art form by applying to it the aesthetic principles of Zen Buddhism.

This and the following two photographs: Musō Sōseki was not only the founder of Zuisen-ji in Kamakura, he was also the chief designer of its garden.

This and the following two photographs: Musō Sōseki was not only the founder of Zuisen-ji in Kamakura, he was also the chief designer of its garden.

Behind the main hall is a garden consisting of a pond with bridges leading to a cave and a stairway leading to a garden called Ichiran-tei. The stairway can just be seen rising beyond the curved bridge, and passing through the wooden gate. Note the rock placed on the nearest bridge in lieu of a kekkai (結界), or Stopping Stone, which indicates that the visitor should not proceed across.

Behind the main hall is a garden consisting of a pond with bridges leading to a cave and a stairway leading to a garden called Ichiran-tei. The stairway can just be seen rising beyond the curved bridge, and passing through the wooden gate. Note the rock placed on the nearest bridge in lieu of a kekkai (結界), or Stopping Stone, which indicates that the visitor should not proceed across.


In 1969, the plantings that had grown up around this garden were removed to recreate the effect that Musō Sōseki had intended. The cave, called Tennyo-dō (天女°洞), is used for meditation, particularly when the full moon is reflected in Choseichi, the pond below.

In 1969, the plantings that had grown up around this garden were removed to recreate the effect that Musō Sōseki had intended. The cave, called Tennyo-dō (天女°洞), is used for meditation, particularly when the full moon is reflected in Choseichi, the pond below.

Musō Sōseki was born on the west coast of Japan in 1275. He began by studying Shingon Buddhism, but, attracted by the simplicity and austerity of Zen, he entered Kennin-ji in 1294. The earliest mention of a garden in Musō Sōseki’s style dates from 1312, and following that, he is known to have worked on the garden Eihō-ji in Mino. Later, he founded Zuisen-ji in Kamakura, and went on to create his masterpieces, Kōinzan (洪隠山) at Saihō-ji and the dry waterfall at Tenryū-ji, both in Kyoto. However, scholars are divided over the issue of whether these gardens should really be accredited to Musō Sōseki.

Musō Sōseki is particularly renowned for his masterful technique of placing rocks so that they appeared to have simply grown out of the surrounding landscape, as if they had been there for thousands of years. He conceived of gardens as symbolic representations of Buddhist truths, and emphasized within his designs their meditative value when overlooked by monks from within simple, reserved shoin-zukuri (書院造り) architecture. Musō Sōseki is said to have had numerous students, and the outstanding classic gardens in Kyoto that are credited to him display masterful rock placement strongly influenced by Zen ideology. Consequently, some scholars claim that he was particularly inspired by the Biyan-Lu (碧巖錄 The Blue Cliff Record; Jp. Hekiganroku), a Zen text dating from Sung dynasty China (960-1279).

Musō Sōseki was also a prolific author and poet, and the poem cited at the beginning of this section, called Kasenzui-no-in in Japanese, succinctly captures the essence of the dry landscape garden. He is best known for his Muchū-mondō (夢中問答 Dream Dialogues), a learned treatise on landscape architecture and the various attitudes designers take in their creation. “He who distinguishes between the garden and practice cannot be said to have found the true Way,” he muses in Dream Dialogues. He meant by this that designing and building a garden was Zen Buddhism in action. He also penned the Kiyu-shoran (嬉遊笑覧) in which he outlines the principles and uses of his tea utensils.

A politically astute man, Musō Sōseki maneuvered for the support of Emperor Go-Daigo (後醍醐 1288-1339) and the shogun Ashikaga Takauji (足利尊氏 1305-1358), and received as a reward the title of Kokushi (国師 “National Priest”). Following the death of the exiled Emperor Go-Daigo, Ashikaga Takauji caused to be built a Zen temple at the site of the emperor’s imperial palace near the Oi River in Kyoto in order to appease his restless spirit, and Musō Sōseki was appointed its first abbot. Tenryū-ji had been a Kameyama palace, but Musō Sōseki redesigned its garden to be viewed not from the pond or paths surrounding it as had been the case, but rather from a seated position within the abbot’s hall, or hōjō (方丈) itself. The karedaki (枯滝 “dry waterfall”) and the pond at Tenryū-ji are also reputed to be his design, and the Ruri-den (瑠璃殿 Lapis Lazuli Pavilion), although no longer standing, is said to have been the inspiration for the Kinkaku and Ginkaku pavilions. Tenryū-ji’s Zen-inspired garden dates from 1339, and bears the stamp of Musō Sōseki’s genius, although the pond garden west of the abbot’s hall dates from 1334, and is a renovation of an existing garden created by Rankei Dōryū (蘭渓道隆 1213-1278) in 1256. Whether Musō Sōseki was responsible for the garden’s central waterfall is still a matter of scholarly debate.

A virtuous man when alone loves the quiet of the mountains. A wise man in nature enjoys the purity of water. One must not be suspicious of the fool who takes pleasure in mountains and streams, But rather measure how well he sharpens his spirit by them. – Musō Sōseki (1275-1351)

Musō Sōseki is credited with the design of a number of important gardens, most of which are large in area and natural in style. Among his most celebrated designs is the pond garden at Saihō-ji dating from 1339. According to contemporary chronicles, Musō Sōseki arrived at Saihō-ji in 1334 and converted it into a Zen monastery. Its “moss garden” was said to be a re-working of an earlier paradise garden, although there is still some debate whether Musō Sōseki added the karesansui (枯山水) element to the north and Chinese elements to the south. The upper garden, known as Kōin-zan (洪隠山), is reputed to be the first example of the dry landscape garden, and consists of a three-tiered dry waterfall designed and created between 1339 and 1344. The rocks are thought to have been recycled from a nearby prehistoric necropolis, and there is a large flat rock (zazen-seki 座禅石 “meditation rock”) overlooking the waterfall on which Musō Sōseki is said to have sat regularly in meditation.

Musō Sōseki believed that gardening was a way of life, and that the practice of gardening was a form of Zen training, and therefore worthy of greater respect from the nobility and power elite. It is a tribute to him that he was able to convince the samurai class, also, of the value of physical labor for self-discipline and spiritual calm. However, not all his Buddhist colleagues supported his ideas on gardening, as the following remark by the priest Gōhō (杲寶 1306-1362) makes plain: “Making gardens – and calling it ‘Zen training’ – is not befitting a priest of respected standing!”

Musō Sōseki died in 1351 in a temple near Kyoto, the city in which most of the gardens attributed to him are located.

Kogaku Sōkō (古嶽宗亘 1464/5-1548, a.p. Kogaku Shūkō; alt. 古岳宗亘; aka Kogaku Zenshi 古嶽禅寺) was also a designer of repute, although he never achieved the renown reserved for Musō Sōseki. He was a Zen monk attached to the Rinzai (臨済) temple complex of Daitoku-ji in Kyoto, and he is credited with founding the sub-temple of Daisen-in in 1509. Since he became its first abbot, it is believed that he may have designed and built the famous dry landscape garden around 1513. However, some sources date the dry landscape garden as late as 1533, and some scholars now believe that Sōami (相阿弥 c.1455-1525; see below), the celebrated painter of the temple’s fusuma (襖) screens known in English as the “Eight Views of Hsiao and Hsiang” (1513), was responsible for design and construction of the garden. However, Loraine Kuck speculates that Kogaku Sōkō must have had a hand in building the garden, citing his tutoring of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshitane (足利義稙 1466-1523) as evidence because several of Daisen-in’s rocks are of exceptional quality and may have come from the shogun’s damaged estates.


Tea Drinkers: Sen no Rikkyū and Furuta Oribe

Through the teaching of Sen Rikyu it was that Teaism, from being a diversion of the wealthy and of retired people, came to be a point of view and a way of life. It became the control of everyday affairs, the making of a dwelling and living in it according to the dicta of the most eminent Masters. – A. L. Sadler (1882-1970)

One profound influence on garden design came in the form of performance art: The tea ceremony, or chanoyu (茶の湯). Like most innovations, the tea garden arose from a simple problem: How can you create a special place for the drinking of tea? The answer was equally straight forward: Separate the tearoom by creating a purpose-built hut, and isolate the hut by surrounding it with a calming, deep-green forest. Among the most influential of the great tea masters were Sen no Rikkyū and Furuta Oribe.

Born in Sakai near Osaka to a wealthy merchant, Sen No Rikyu 千利休 (1521/2-1591) is credited with single-handedly revolutionizing the tea ceremony and the aesthetics surrounding it during the sixteenth century. He developed his interest in tea at the age of seventeen, and later became a disciple of the great tea master Takeno Jōō (武野紹鴎 1502-1555). His first appointment was as tea master under Oda Nobunaga (織田信長 1534-1582), but after Nobunaga’s assassination, he entered the employ of Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉 1536-1598) as tea master and confidant. Along with nine others, he was a procurer and assessor of tea utensils and related paraphernalia, a sort of arbiter of taste and protocol. By expunging opulence and ostentation from the ceremony, he was able to concentrate on the essential elements of drinking tea and to eliminate all extraneous extravagances. The spirit pervading his reforms was to find beauty in the commonplace, and meaning in simple routine. Thus, Sen no Rikkyū admired the austere, unrefined, almost crude craftsmanship then dominant on the Korean peninsula, and introduced a rustic simplicity, or naturalness, to the proceedings that accorded well with the Zen aesthetics prevalent at the time. He commissioned Chōjirō (長次郎 d.1592), a famous potter, to produce rustic, asymmetrical bowls with intense, deep glazes known as Raku ware (raku-yaki 楽焼). In particular, he formulated wa-kei-sei-jaku (和敬清寂), the four governing principles of Harmony, Respect, Purity, and Tranquility that are essential in the tea ceremony. All actions in the art of making and drinking tea are meaningful and symbolic, he contended.

This lantern at Kōtō-in, a sub temple of Daitoku-ji, once belonged to Sen no Rikkyū.

This lantern at Kōtō-in, a sub temple of Daitoku-ji, once belonged to Sen no Rikkyū.

Sen no Rikkyū is also credited with the development of chabana 茶花 (“tea flowers”), a derivative of ikebana (生け花). This is a freer, more natural style of flower arrangement sometimes referred to as nageire (投入れ; “to throw into”), or heika (瓶花; “vase flowers”).

There are numerous stories about the master, but one that captures his unerring sense of aesthetic proportion is retold in “101 Zen Stories”, transcribed by Nyogen Senzaki and Paul Reps. Sen no Rikkyū, wishing to have a flower vase hung on a pillar in one of his tea huts, called on the services of a carpenter. The carpenter placed the vase against the pillar and moved it up and down until the master was satisfied with its location. But, the carpenter, wishing to test the great master, pretended that he had forgotten the exact spot at which the vase was to be hung. “Was it here, perhaps?” he would ask, as he pointed to various spots on the column. “But so accurate was the tea-master’s sense of proportion that it was not until the carpenter reached the identical spot again that its location was approved.”

Sen no Rikkyū found the influence for his tea huts in Japanese agricultural architecture. He designed and built his own small tea hut with rough earthen walls and a thatched roof, with shōji (障子) windows that prevented the participants from being distracted by views of the outside world. The size of the hut was reduced to the barest minimum: two tatami mats 畳, or roughly thirty-six square feet in area. The entrance, known as a nijiriguchi 躙口, was designed to force even the highest-ranking guest to stoop and crawl, symbolizing a shedding of one’s public persona. Kōdai-ji in Kyoto has several teahouses accredited to Sen no Rikkyū.

Sen no Rikkyū’s brand of spiritual asceticism is often referred to as wabicha (侘び茶), and he sought out rustic ceramics such as Raku ware and bamboo whisks and tea spatulas. He is credited with the design of several famous tea gardens that express a respect for nature, and he espoused a formula that specified that such a garden should be sixty percent functional and forty percent aesthetic. His successor, Furuta Oribe 古田織部 (1544-1615), expanded on this natural approach by adding artificial forms and scenes.

The main gate of Daitoku-ji, dating from the sixteenth-century, houses a famous sculpture of Sen no Rikkyū in its second story, and legend has it that Toyotomi Hideyoshi was so angry when he learned that he had been passing beneath Sen no Rikkyū that he ordered the tea master to commit seppuku (切腹; ritual disembowelment) in 1591. However, Leonard Koren suggests a less lurid account of the suicide, noting that it is possible that Sen no Rikkyū’s taste for peasant craftsmanship displeased Toyotomi Hideyoshi who was himself of peasant origin. Toyotomi Hideyoshi was much taken by the rich opulence of imported Chinese porcelain, and he commissioned tearooms with exotic wall paintings and plenty of gold leaf. These excessive tastes, coupled with his jealousy of Sen no Rikkyū’s growing wealth and acclaim, caused a rift to grow between the two which culminated in the order to commit suicide.

Sen no Rikkyū’s teachings were recorded in the Nambō-roku (南方録), a scroll compiled by his pupil and disciple, Sōkei Nambō (南坊宗啓 dates unknown), and the wabi-sabi (侘び寂び) objects, utensils, and artwork purportedly used by Sen no Rikkyū were recorded by another disciple Yamanoue Sōji (山上宗二 1544-1590) in the Yamanoue-sōjiki (山上宗二記). Illustrations and ground plans of gardens attributed to Sen no Rikkyū can be found in the Shokoku-chaniwa-meiseki-zue (諸国茶庭名跡図会 Illustrated Manual of Famous Remnants of Tea Gardens of Various Countries).

Furuta Oribe 古田織部 (1544-1615) began his career as a famous warlord, but went on to become the disciple and eventual successor to the great tea master Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591). He continued the trend of simplifying the tea ceremony and freeing it from pretension and ostentation, although he brought to it with the sentiments of suki (数寄 taste) and asobi (逰び playfulness). However, his greatest contribution was to the tea garden, where he added to the natural elements already prescribed by Sen no Rikkyū the use of artificial forms and scenes based on the personal tastes of the tea masters. He is also credited with the addition of the nakakuguri (中潜り), or middle crawl-through entrance. Such additions often translated into larger, more substantial gardens referred to as chaniwa (茶庭 “tea gardens”). He is also credited with additions to the size and interior décor of the chashitsu 茶室 (“tea room”) and sōan (草庵 “grass hut”), adding additional rooms, more elaborate ceramics, and cutting the hearth directly into the floor. His brand of tea was more lavish and suited the martial leadership arising in Japan at that time, hence it was dubbed daimyōcha (大名茶 “daimyo tea”). Furuta’s disciple Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州 1579-1647) expanded on these concepts.

So far-reaching was Furuta Oribe in his desire to recreate nature to suit his personal tastes that a rift grew between Sen-no-Rikkyū and his disciple. Furuta Oribe welcomed dressed and cut stone into the paths of his gardens, and often added blue ocean pebbles to the sotoroji 外露地 (“outer roji”) and pine needles to the nakaroji (中露地 “inner roji”), in a manner that was evidently human in concept and origin. As Günter Nitschke remarks, Furuta Oribe “imitates nature neither in its outer form… nor in its inner essence… nor even in its mode of operation… He begins instead to create a new, second nature, by sanctifying the use of geometric forms such as rectangular stones, and by allowing his personal preferences and artistic tastes to govern the overall design of his gardens. Thus pine needles fall under deciduous trees, as man’s creative will is set against that of nature.”

In later life, Furuta Oribe converted to Christianity, but in 1615, as with his predecessor, Sen no Rikkyū, he was ordered to commit seppuku, or ritual disembowelment. He is credited with the design of a stone lantern that now bears his name: The oribe-dōrō (織部灯籠). The Shokoku-cha-niwa-meiseki-zue (諸国茶庭名跡図会 Illustrated Manual of Famous Remnants of Tea Gardens of Various Countries) contains illustrations and ground plans of gardens attributed to Furuta Oribe. He is also credited with ornamenting stone lanterns with images of Buddha.


Imperfecting Perfection

Many apocryphal anecdotes purport to chronicle the exploits and opinions of Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591), like this one concerning his apprenticeship test under Takeno Jōō (武野紹鴎 1502-1555). He was asked to sweep the tea garden until he thought that the grounds were ready for an important tea ceremony, and he did so. But on reflection he became dissatisfied with the perfection he had achieved by raking up every single fallen leaf. Stepping to a nearby deciduous tree, he gave it a single, vigorous shake, which caused a few leaves to scatter on the freshly-swept garden. Such an act is said to epitomize the wabi-sabi (侘び寂び) aesthetic, although there is also a version of the tale in which Sen no Rikkyū’s son is the protagonist.


Les Très “Amis”: Nōami, Geiami, and Sōami

The Ashikaga shoguns, wishing to demonstrate in a tangible way their newly acquired wealth and prestige, took considerable pains to create lavish but tasteful estates in addition to their pragmatic castles. Warlords by trade, and sensing perhaps their aesthetic limitations, they gathered to their courts the crème-de-la-crème of the artistic world, who were, at that time, primarily Buddhist priests. These learned advisors and respected arbiters of taste came to be known as dōbōshū (同朋衆; see “Arbiters of Taste” below), and among them were the san’ami (三阿弥 “Three Ami”).

Nōami (能阿弥 1397-1471; alt. Shinnō 真能) was an aesthetic advisor retained by Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政 1435-90). As the chief advisor on aesthetic matters and a sort of early collections curator, he may well have played a leading role in the design of the tea ceremony and its utensils. Such a mandate would have included decorating the shoin (書院, study), the location of early tea ceremonies at that time, and orchestrating the views of the surrounding gardens. He was responsible for compiling the Gyomotsu-one-mokuroku (御物御絵目録), a catalogue of Chinese ink paintings in the Ashikaga collection, and he is credited, along with Sōami, with input into the Kundaikan-sōchōki, a manual of connoisseurship. He was succeeded by his son Geiami.

Geiami (芸阿弥 1431-1485; aka Shingei 真芸) succeeded his father Nōami as the curator of the art collection of the Ashikaga shogunate. As one of the dōbōshū (同朋衆), or aesthetic advisors, retained by the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa, his duties would have included, among other things, advising his lord on matters of taste relating to gardens and garden design. He was also a talented painter of sumie (墨絵) in the Tensho-shubun style. Geiami’s “Viewing a Waterfall” (1480) can be seen at the Nezu Museum in Tokyo.

Sōami (相阿弥 c.1455-1525; alt. Shinsō 真相), a famed landscape artist of considerable talent, was also retained by Ashikaga Yoshimasa. His style of ink wash paintings was heavily influenced by the Chinese painters such as Mu-ch’I, and one of the most famous works is the panoramic landscape known in English as the “Eight Views of Hsiao and Hsiang” (1513) on the sliding doors of the abbot’s quarters in Daisen-in. Hsiao and Hsiang are rivers of renowned natural beauty in China. His skill in applying graded ink washes in order to capture natural atmospheric effects was unparalleled at the time in Japan, although it had been a staple of Chinese ink painting for some time. As a meticulous observer of nature, Sōami was in a position to transfer these two dimensional techniques into the three dimensional realm of garden design. Such cross-fertilization might well be behind the exploitation of the white plaster walls that began to appear as backdrops to rock and shrub compositions in his dry landscape designs (see hokusō-sansuiga-shiki-teien in The Contemplation Garden). Such walls become the white silk or paper onto which the foreground and middle ground scenery is projected. He was responsible for designing a large number of important gardens, although, as David Slawson points out, he has had “more gardens attributed to him than he could possibly have done in his lifetime.” The most notable include the dry landscape surrounding the abbot’s hall at Daisen-in (c. 1513; this is also attributed to Kogaku Sōkō); the gardens at Jōju-in and Jōruri-ji, both at Kiyomizu-dera; the garden at Jisho-ji (Ginkaku-ji) for Yoshimasa around 1482. Attributed to Sōami are Rokuon-ji (Kinkaku-ji; 1397) and Ryōan-ji (Ukyō-ku; early 14th C.), although the latter is doubtful as it is based on an assertion dating from 1680 by a scholar named Kurokawa. Two years later, this same man credited the design to the temple’s founder Hosokawa Katsumoto (細川勝元 1430-73).


Arbiters of Taste

Dōbōshū (同朋衆) were expert advisors on aesthetics first retained by the Ashikaga shoguns during the lavish Higashiyama-bunka (1443-90), a sub culture of the Muromachi period (1338-1568), and, later, by the Tokugawa shoguns and daimyo. Such connoisseurs were versed in painting, acting, incense ceremonies, poetry writing, flower-arranging, crafts, and gardening. In addition, they were fond of compiling catalogues of famous tea-drinking paraphernalia, of which the Gyomotsu-one-mokuoku (御物御絵目録) is a prime example. The dōbōshū served as professional consultants of taste and refinement, proffering advice on anything from architecture to cuisine and everything in between. Their expertise often included the design and execution of sumptuous stroll gardens or rustic tea gardens. They were frequently lay-priests of the Jishū sect of Buddhism, low-ranking courtiers who had become tonsei-sha (遁世者 “recluse hermits”) in order to gain acceptance among their superiors. The addition of –a (阿) or –ami (阿弥), short for Amidabutsu (阿弥陀仏), to a name signifies membership to this sect, although there were some dōbōshū who came from the lower social order of senzuikawaramono (山水河原者). By becoming Buddhist monks, such persons effectively removed themselves from the rigid social caste system, and gained access to the world of the highest ranks.


The Art of Gardening: Sesshū Tōyō and Kobori Enshū

The visual arts also had a profound effect on the design and structure of gardens. Two great artists who turned their hands to gardening were Sesshū and Kobori Enshū.

Sesshū Tōyō (雪州等揚; 雪舟等揚 c.1420-1506) began life as a Buddhist monk of the Rinzai sect in Shokoku-ji, one of the five most important Zen temples in Kyoto. Josetsu, as he was then called, became the first head of the ga-in (画院), or academy of art. However, in 1466, he adopted the more familiar alias Sesshū, meaning “snow bank”, and traveled to China to study Zen the following year, returning in 1469. He turned away from the academy and began the life of a wandering monk. While abroad, Sesshū had acquired training in the painting technique known as haboku (破墨), or “splashed ink”, a style that is almost abstract in its reserved use of ink. Nature and the aesthetics of nature also became paramount to him, and replaced the rather restrictive subjects of religious iconography.

This great master of suibokuga (水墨画 ink-wash paintings; sumie 墨絵) set the benchmark for Japanese ink paintings during the reign of Ashikaga Yoshimasa (足利義政 1436-1490), and he was especially renowned for his austere and economic monochrome landscape scrolls, the most famous of which, the so-called “Mori Scroll”, was over 50 feet long and contained panoramic vistas of mountains, rocks and rivers. Sadly, only two of his panoramic scrolls are extant. The restraint, simplicity and subtlety of these works are universally admired among Japanese artists and connoisseurs, and his school went on to produce a number of Japan’s finest painters. His works are noted for the emphatic vertical and diagonal brush strokes, a technique acquired during his sojourn in China.

Sesshū is reputed to have designed many gardens, at least four of which are extant: Jōei-ji, near the prefectural capital of Yamaguchi; Kisekibo at Hokosan in Fukuoka; Mampuku-ji and Ikō-ji, both in Masuda, Shimane Prefecture; and at Funda-in, in Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto. Donald Richie suggests that the transition from painter to landscape artist would have been natural to Sesshū: “Painters painted landscapes and the gardens of the period were by definition landscapes.” In all of these gardens, his rock-work exhibits a similar emphatic vertical and diagonal dynamism as his paintings, and, in general, Sesshū tended to choose jagged, angular stones with sharply defined outlines, avoiding rounded, smooth, or feminine rocks. His gardens are large in area and naturalistic in style.

Although the earliest of Sesshū’s gardens was at Jōei-ji, a commission he undertook in his early twenties before he left to study painting in China, the best known is undoubtedly the garden of Funda-in, a sub-temple of Tōfuku-ji. The garden at Sesshū-ji, as the sub-temple is now called, is thought to date from around 1465, and was painstakingly restored in 1939 twentieth century by Shigemori Mirei (重森三玲 1896-1975) and Nakane Kinsaku (中根金作 1917-). The motifs of crane and turtle are present in the form of two rock groupings amid a sea of moss in the south garden. Together with the pines, these “islands” symbolize longevity. The eastern garden has a representation of Mount Hōrai.

While Sesshū was fifth resident priest at Ikō-ji in Masuda, Shimane Prefecture, he designed the garden, which bears the nickname Tsurukame (鶴亀 ”Crane and Turtle”) because its rock arrangement. The pond, when viewed from the main hall, is said to be shaped like a flying crane. Sesshū passed away in 1506, and his tomb lies in the vicinity of Masuda.

Like many in his elite class, Enshu was a Renaissance man who excelled in the dual arts of bun [文] and bu [武], the literary and the military. His portrait, painted by a contemporary, depicts a stern but lively man of serenity and confidence. A sword lies on the floor, ready by his left hand, an open book at his right elbow. – Bruce A. Coats

Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州 1579-1647) was a garden designer of considerable talent and fame during the seventeenth-century. Born into a samurai family of high repute, he rose rapidly to become a daimyo, and was eventually called on to serve as the Commissioner of Public Works. Having studied under Furuta Oribe (古田織部 1544-1615), he was a tea master of great repute among Kyoto’s elite who espoused a Neo-Confucian interpretation of the tea ceremony, and therefore drew their inspiration from the Heian tradition.

Kobori Enshū’s brand of tea, known as daimyōcha (大名茶 “daimyo tea”) because it attracted the martial leadership as well as the merchant elite, was elegant and culturally sophisticated. His style, Enshū-ryū (遠州流 “Enshū school”), reflects the aesthetic of kirei-sabi (綺麗寂び), or “beauty and patina,” and it contrasts with the severe restraint endorsed by Sen no Rikkyū (千利休 1521/2-1591). He taught the way of tea to the third Tokugawa shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川家光 r. 1623-1651), but it is as a garden designer that Kobori Enshū left his greatest mark on the tea ceremony.

Among the many gardens Kobori Enshū is said to have designed is the dry landscape at Raikyū-ji, which dates from 1604. Highly traditional in style, this garden contains crane and turtle islands amid an ocean of swirling sand, and a backdrop of meticulous topiary azalea hedges that are said to represent waves. Shigemori Mirei credits Kobori Enshū with the perfection of the art of karikomi (刈込み “haircut”), or the art of clipping shrubs. Mount Atago rises behind the garden at Raikyū-ji, forming a perfect example of borrowed scenery (shakkei 借景), another technique for which Kobori Enshū is justly famous.

Kobori Enshū was also among the team of designers and architects who undertook the remodeling of Kyoto’s Nijō-jō Castle and its grounds, named Hachijin-no-niwa (“Garden of Eight Camps”) and Ninomaru-teien (Seiryu-en), between 1624 and 1626 in preparation for the reception of Tokugawa Iemitsu by Emperor Go-Yōzei (後陽成天皇 r.1586-1611). A special reception hall, Gyoku-goten, or the “August Hall for the Imperial Visit,” was constructed to house the emperor and his closest entourage, and was framed by large-scale rock formations, all of which faced south in deference to the imperial residence. The large pond contains an island with a Hōraizan (蓬莱山 “Mount Hōrai”) formation, and crane and turtle islands (tsurushima 鶴島 “crane island”; kameshima 亀島 “turtle island”). The garden is renowned for the number and size of its rocks, and is therefore a classic example of Momoyama-period (1568-1603) ostentation.

The following is a selective list of other significant gardens in or near Kyoto believed to be the design work of Kobori Enshū:

  • The unusual dry landscape at Shōden-ji.
  • The abbot’s residence, tea house, and Tosho-gu shrine at Konchi-in, a sub-temple of Nanzen-ji, the construction of which was personally overseen by Kobori Enshū in 1628.
  • The garden directly to the south of the abbot’s residence at Konchi-in, which was completed in 1632.
  • A dry landscape garden at Kohō-an, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, completed in 1643/44.
  • The garden at Chion-in, completed in the early seventeenth century.
  • The gardens at Kōdai-ji.
  • The gardens at Sentō-gosho, laid out in 1630 and completed in 1634.

Daichi-ji, in nearby Shiga Prefecture, is also accredited to Kobori Enshū, although some believe this to be the work of one of his successors. Tokyo’s Dempō-in, originally laid out in the early 1600s, is also attributed to Kobori Enshū, and has a shinji-ike (心字池 “heart-character pond”). Illustrations and ground plans of the gardens attributed to Kobori Enshū may be found in the Shokoku-chaniwa-meiseki-zue (諸国茶庭名跡図会 lllustrated Manual of Famous Remnants of Tea Gardens of Various Countries).


Modern Masters: Ogawa Jihei and Shigemori Mirei

But I fear I have none of those qualities. When it comes to antiques, curios, and other branches of the fine arts, I am hopelessly out of it. I leave the design of my house to the carpenters, and all the trees and stones in my garden to the gardener’s judgment. – Fukuzawa Yukichi (1835-1901)

Ogawa Jihei (小川治兵衞 1860-1933; alt. Niwashi Ueji 庭師植治) was a garden designer of considerable repute, who operated during the late Meiji, early Taisho periods (1868-1912; 1912-26). Among his most celebrated garden designs is the reproduction pond garden attached to Heian-jingū, constructed in 1895. Ogawa chose to create a naturalistic pond garden featuring a great variety of trees and shrubs that assured the garden a seasonal appeal. The central pond contains a famous example of sawatari-ishi (沢渡石), or stepping-stones across the marsh. Another of Ogawa’s designs is Murin-an, the villa of prince and statesman, Yamagata Aritomo (山縣有朋 1838-1922), which was constructed in 1896. Murin-an is a stroll garden built in a highly naturalistic style, and exploiting the nearby mountains in a fine example of borrowed scenery (shakkei 借景). Dating from the early Taisho period, the Japanese garden at Kyū-Furukawa-teien is also a fine example of Ogawa’s work, and contains an example of a shinji-ike (心字池), or heart-character pond.

A modern garden designer and historian, Shigemori Mirei (重森三玲 1896-1975) almost single-handedly brought about a renaissance in traditional Japanese garden designs through his volumes of painstaking scholarship, meticulous field research, and the design and creation of a number of important modern gardens. Trained in painting, flower arranging, tea ceremony, and garden design, Shigemori was, in Leonard Koren’s words, “a kind of traditional Japanese culture Renaissance man.” He wrote several seminal works on gardening, and added significantly to the literature on flower arranging and the tea ceremony, arts in which his inventiveness was much appreciated. But he is perhaps most admired for his revolutionary and avant-garde approach to dry landscape garden design. According to Christian Tschumi, Shigemori conceived of the Japanese garden as a living art form: “A project begun long ago was to be continued into the future, otherwise the art would no longer be alive.” He introduced new materials such as concrete and used traditional materials in new and startling ways. His gardens sport winding lines depicting waves and cloud, and he often enthused concrete with color dyes and gravels of varying coarseness.

Although he designed over a hundred gardens, Shigemori is most celebrated for his Showa-period (1926-1989) dry landscape garden at Tōfuku-ji, which was laid out in 1938 and completed in 1940. In addition to this garden, Christian Tschumi discusses nine other designs in Mirei Shigemori: Modernizing the Japanese garden: Kishishiwada-jō (1953), Zuihō-in (1961), Sumiyoshi-jinja (1966), Yūrin-no-niwa (1969; 2002), Tenrai-in (1969), Sekizō-ji (1972), Hōtoku-jinja (1972), Fukuchi-in (1973), and Matsuo-taisha (1975).

The dry landscape garden at Tōfuku-ji, which was laid out in 1938 and completed in 1940, is most famous for its ichimatsu-moyō (市松模様), a checkerboard pattern of cut square stones laid into deep green moss. Tōfuku-ji had been one of the Gozan (五山 five principal temples of Kyoto), thus Shigemori incorporated a design of five moss-covered mounds that echoed the Kamakura period (1185-1333) during which the Gozan had wielded their maximum power. The checkerboard pattern is the most celebrated element of the garden, though. In 1975, he designed a radical dry landscape garden for the Yuzen Kimono Dyeing Union Headquarters in Kyoto in which the designs of a kimono were mimicked in broad spirals of raked pebbles and stone edgings. Other famous gardens include the four gardens surrounding the hōjō at Tōfuku-ji (1938/1939), and the garden at Zuiho-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji (1961).

Shigemori also compiled two mammoth works on the Japanese garden, both of which are considered definitive masterpieces on the subject: the Nihon-teien-shizukan (日本庭園史図鑑 Illustrated History of the Japanese Garden) and the Nihon-teien-shitaikei (日本庭園史大系 Great Compendium of Japanese Garden History).

Bibliographical Notes

Sources on designers:

  • Freeman, J. (1978). Tea master in a time of war: Sen no Rikyū. In Great historical figures in Japan. Hyoe, M. and T. J. Harper, eds. Tokyo: Japan Culture Institute; pp.167-73.
  • Furuta, S. (1964). The Philosophy of the Chashitsu. In Japan Architect (June-Sept.).
  • Mansfield, S. (2014). Mirei Shigemori: at home with stone. In The Japan Times on Sunday (30 Nov 2014); p. 21.
  • Richie, D. (1995). The Garden at Joei-ji. In Partial views: Essays on contemporary Japan. Tokyo: The Japan Times Ltd.
  • Sadler, A. L. (1963). Furuta Oribe and Kobori Enshu. In Cha-no-yu: The Japanese tea ceremony. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle.
  • Treib, M. & R. Herman (2003). Funda-in (Sesshu-in). In The gardens of Kyoto. Revised edition. Tokyo: Kodansha International.
  • Tschumi, C. (2005). Mirei Shigemori: Modernizing the Japanese garden. Photographs by Markuz Wernli Saito. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press.
  • Ueda, M. (1967). Life as art – Rikyu on the art of the tea ceremony. In Literary and Art Theories in Japan. Ann Arbor, MI: Center for Japanese Studies.

The garden is a study of relationships… Seike, K., K. Masanobu, & D. Engel (1992). A Japanese touch for your garden. Photographs by H. Ōhashi. Tokyo, New York & London: Kodansha International; p. 38.

There were no professional gardeners during the Heian period… Takei, J. & M. P. Keane (2001). Sakuteiki: Visions of the Japanese garden. A modern translation of Japan’s gardening classic. Boston, Rutland & Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing; p.32.

Although not mentioned by title, the geomantic text was probably the Gogyō-taigi… Jirō Takei, J. & M. Keane (2001); p.67.

He was responsible for the erection of a representation of the mystic mountain Shumisen… Keane, M. P. (1996). Japanese garden design. Photographs by H.Ōhashi. Drawings by the author. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle; p.27; Nitschke, G. (1993). Japanese gardens: Right angle and natural form. Köln: Benedikt Taschen; p.30.

En’en-Ajari is mentioned by name in the Sakuteiki… Takei, J. & M. P. Keane (2001); p.195.

However, as Jirō Takei and Marc Keane note, “there may well have been several authors…” Takei, J. & M. P. Keane (2001); p.8. See their chapter “Life in the Heian Period” for a composite view of the lifestyle of a court noble.

Poem on Dry Mountain (A Zen Garden)… Moore, A. (1992). Zen rock gardening. Philadelphia & London: Running Press; p.55.

He conceived of gardens as symbolic representations of Buddhist truths… This exploitation of the spiritually calming or emotionally soothing qualities of a garden signaled a fundamental shift in perspective, and remains even to this day in the custom of some businessmen who, after returning from the office, retire to their gardens for a quick recharge of the spirit prior to socializing their families.

A virtuous man when alone loves the quiet of the mountains… Cited in Coats, B. A. (1989, November). In a Japanese garden. Photographs by M. S. Yamashita. National Geographic. 176, No.5, p. 657.

“He who distinguishes between the garden and practice…” Berthier, F. (2000). Reading Zen in the rocks: The Japanese landscape garden. Translated with a philosophical essay by Graham Parkes. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press; p.3.

The earliest mention of a garden in Musō’s style dates from 1312… Berthier, F. (2000); p.20.

However, scholars are divided over issue… Parkes, G. in Berthier (2000); p.107.

However, not all his Buddhist colleagues supported his ideas on gardening… Itoh, T. (1991). Japanese gardens: An accretionary approach. Translated by L. E. Riggs. In Gardens of the world: The art and practice of gardening. Eds. P. Hobhouse & E. McDonald. New York: Macmillan; p.107.

However, Loraine Kuck speculates that… Kuck, L. (1968; 1984). The world of the Japanese garden: From Chinese origins to modern landscape art. New York & Tokyo: Walker/Weatherhill; p.161.

Through the teaching of Sen Rikyu it was that Teaism… Sadler, A. L. (1963); p.ix.

“But so accurate was the tea-master’s sense of proportion…” Reps, P., ed. (n.d.). Zen flesh, Zen bones. A collection of Zen & pre-Zen writings. Garden City, NY: Anchor/Doubleday; p.45

However, Leonard Koren suggests a less lurid account of the suicide… Koren, L. (1994). Wabi-sabi for artists, designers, poets, and philosophers. Berkley, CA: Stone Bridge Press; pp.[33]-34.

Such additions often translated into larger, more substantial gardens referred to as chaniwa… Nitschke, G. (1993). Japanese gardens: Right angle and natural form. Köln: Benedikt Taschen; pp.115; 148.

As Günter Nitschke remarks, Furuta Oribe… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 162.

although, as David Slawson points out, he has had… Slawson, D. (1991). Secret teachings in the art of Japanese gardens: Design principles, aesthetic values. Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International Ltd.; p. 108.

Donald Richie suggests that the transition from painter to landscape artist… Richie, D. (1995); p. 120.

Like many in his elite class, Enshu was a Renaissance man who excelled in the dual arts of bun [] and bu []… Coats, B. A. (1989, November). In a Japanese garden. Photographs by M. S. Yamashita. National Geographic. 176, No.5, p. 661.

Shigemori Mirei credits Kobori Enshū with the perfection of the art of karikomi… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 136.

“But I fear I have none of those qualities…” Fukuzawa, Yuichi (2007). The Autobiography of Yukichi Fukuzawa. Revised translation by Eiichi Kiyooka. With a foreword by Albert Craig. New York: Columbia University Press; p. 296.

“a kind of traditional Japanese culture Renaissance man”… Koren, L. (–). Gardens of gravel and sand; p. 85.

“A project begun long ago was to be continued…” Tschumi, C. (2005). Mirei Shigemori: Modernizing the Japanese garden. Photographs by Markuz Wernli Saito. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press; p. 10.