A JAPANESE GARDEN HANDBOOK

 

PART ONE:  DESIGN & CRAFT

Chapter 9: The Stroll Garden

by | Dec 14, 2010 | Handbook, Part 1: Design & Craft | 0 comments

In this chapter…

  • A Network of Paths
  • Friendship Gardens
  • Amalgamation
  • Mountains and Sea
  • Piling Up Sand
The notion of skimming or flipping through books can be understood in at least two different senses. In the first case, the skimming is linear. The reader begins the text at the beginning, then starts skipping lines or pages as, successfully or not, he makes his way toward the end. In the second case, the skimming is circuitous: rather than read in an orderly fashion, the reader takes a stroll through the work, sometimes beginning at the end. – Pierre Bayard

 

A Network of Paths

I was visiting Kiyosumi-teien in Tokyo the other day when it struck me just how conditioned we are to experiencing our world linearly. Pierre Bayard’s remark above refers to how we are predisposed to encounter books in a specific fashion, but it might just as well refer to visiting museums, listening to music albums, or touring gardens. It’s a pan-cultural thing, I suppose. We are taught to go about things in a thorough, deliberate manner in school, and we feel instinctively a fear of missing something if we circumvent this process. So it is that when we enter a stroll garden we dutifully follow the prescribed route either signaled by arrows or delineated in map form in the leaflet we receive with our entry ticket. But it needn’t be this way, and there really is no “incorrect” passage through a stroll garden, despite the protests one might hear from designers, academics and pedants. The frequent admonishment of my father comes to mind: “Stop dilly-dallying, Andrew!” Yes, we are taught not to loiter, nor to saunter, nor to tarry. In short, we abhor a lack of purpose. Pity, really, as a garden is the one place of refuge from the crushing earnestness of our driven lives.

Broad gravel paths direct visitors around the large tidal ponds at Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-Teien, Tokyo.

Broad gravel paths direct visitors around the large tidal ponds at Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-Teien, Tokyo.

Fortunately, the stroll garden is in many ways the most accessible of the principle Japanese garden types, not only physically, but also intellectually and culturally. It comes closest to the familiar western idea of a large aristocratic garden that has been converted into a public park where visitors can amble along myriad paths at leisure, picnic on expansive lawns, and enjoy various vistas and diverse micro-habitats. But, ironically, the stroll garden is in some ways the least Japanese of the garden styles, a throw-back to the Heian (794-1185) estate garden that drew heavily on Chinese influences, and a hodge-podge of subsequent garden styles. The rise in popularity of the extended estate garden began during the Muromachi period (1338-1568), but reached its zenith in the Tokugawa era (1603-1868), most notably in the vast secular estates owned by the Daimyo 大 名, who were forced by the Tokugawa shogunate to maintain lavish residences in both Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and the jōkamachi (城下町 “castle beneath towns”) of their home provinces. In general, these daimyō-teien (大名庭園 “daimyō gardens”) featured large, central ponds, extensive networks of paths, rolling artificial hills, and miniature representations of famous scenes. Very elaborate gardens often added agricultural motifs, ornamental orchards, a geometric style of topiary art known as hako-zukuri (箱造り “box-building”), extensive ranges of exotic and domestic flora, rolling lawns, garden pavilions, and tea huts surrounded by tea gardens. The English term “stroll garden” implies a certain latitude in the way the garden is experienced, but in fact all of its diverse elements are linked together through a vast web of pathways, which not only lead the visitor to specific vantage points, but also control the sequence in which they are encountered. In other words, the stroll garden is a carefully orchestrated venue, a technique known as miegakure 見隠 (“seen / hidden).

All dressed up with somewhere to go, Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo.

All dressed up with somewhere to go, Shinjuku-gyoen, Tokyo.

Looking down on the pond from an artificial mountain, Rikugi-en, Tokyo.

Looking down on the pond from an artificial mountain, Rikugi-en, Tokyo.

Several terms for stroll gardens are in common use, most of which were applied to the gardens by modern garden historians. The most frequently encountered terms combine generic descriptors that emphasize the principal elements: Chisen (池泉 “pond-spring”), if the garden centers on a spring-fed pond; and kaiyū (回遊 “circuit or excursion relaxed”), if the garden is intended to be toured on foot in a leisurely way. Thus, the term chisen-kaiyū-shiki-teien (池泉回遊式庭園 “pond-spring-excursion-style-garden”; chisen-kaiyū-teien 池泉回遊庭園) refers to a sizable stroll garden that has a large pond at its center. When such a stroll garden lacks a central pond, it is known simply as a kaiyū-shiki-teien (回遊式庭園 “excursion-style-garden”; daikaiyū-skiki-teien 大回遊式庭園 “great excursion-style-garden”). In the early years of the Tokugawa period, these estates were known as yashiki (屋敷 “buildings spread”; alt. 邸), a term that referred to both the sumptuous mansions and the extensive gardens surrounding them. Archaic terms such as kamiyashiki (上屋敷 “upper yashiki”), a daimyo’s chief residence, shimoyashiki (下屋敷 “lower yashiki”) a daimyo’s villa, and teinai (邸内), the grounds surrounding a mansion, have since been largely superceeded by chisen-kaiyū-shiki-teien.

Another view the tidal pond at Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-Teien, Tokyo.

Another view the tidal pond at Hama-Rikkyū-Onshi-Teien, Tokyo.

 

Enjoying a bowl of matcha (green tea) after a good old stroll through the garden, Rikugi-en, Tokyo. Such tea houses are a ubiquitous feature of public stroll gardens.

Enjoying a bowl of matcha (green tea) after a good old stroll through the garden, Rikugi-en, Tokyo. Such tea houses are a ubiquitous feature of public stroll gardens.

Friendship Gardens

Since the end of the Pacific War (1941-45), much effort has been made by Canadian, American, and Japanese citizens to heal the wounds and rebuild trust. Such efforts sometimes manifest in the establishment of reciprocal city relationships, and in the creation in North American cities of Japanese style “Friendship Gardens”. Often, Japanese landscape architects and even Japanese craftsmen are employed in the design and creation of these wayō-setchū (和洋折衷, 和洋折中 “Japanese-Western bent feelings”) stroll gardens. Examples of friendship gardens include the Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden, Sansho-en (Chicago Botanic Garden), and Seiwa-en (Missouri Botanical Garden).

The lush green flora is a product of the temperate climate, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, USA.

The lush green flora is a product of the temperate climate, Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle, Washington, USA.

E. Charles Nelson, in his “Foreword” to Garden Plants of Japan, tells a lovely apocryphal tale about an eminent Japanese gardener on a tour of Western Europe. “His hosts were anxious that he should see a newly completed Japanese-style garden, created by some of the very best Japanese craftsmen who had been brought to Europe specifically for the purpose. The visitor was shown around this wonderful garden, and when he was leaving, his hosts asked him what he thought. Carefully measuring his words, the visitor responded: ‘We have nothing like this in Japan.’” The concern was not with the stones or stonework, nor with the buildings or the general design. What troubled the Japanese gardener were the plantings: They simply weren’t Japanese!

 

Amalgamation

Large stroll gardens were not only symbols of social status, but also offered the daimyo the opportunity to showcase cultural awareness. These gardens are often physically impressive and visually stunning, and the so-called Three Best Gardens in Japan (Nihon-santei 日本三庭 “Japan three gardens”) are all daimyo stroll gardens. In part, this was because the estates of daimyo were extensive, even within Edo, and some gardens may have covered anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 square meters. Of particular interest in the stroll garden is the manner in which designers incorporated aspects of several earlier prototypes. From the Heian-period (794-1185) estate garden (chisen-shūyū-shiki-teien 池泉周遊式庭園) came the large boating ponds with central islands, long winding streams and perimeter paths; from the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (1185-1333; 1338-1568) came the artificial hills; from the later Muromachi contemplation gardens (chisen-kanshō-shiki-teien 池泉観賞式庭園) came the fixed viewing-points from within adjacent architecture; and from the Momoyama-period (1568-1603) tea gardens (chaniwa 茶庭) came the wabi elements of garden architecture and stone ornaments. The ponds are generally shallow and inviting, and their banks, less rocky than Momoyama-period prototypes, usually blend seamlessly into the surrounding garden or wash up on a stony beach. Islands tend to be smaller and less dramatic, with fewer rocks, but are linked to the shoreline by impressive, gently curving bridges.

The famous Japanese apricot grove at Kairaku-en, Mito, Ibaragi Prefecture.

The famous Japanese apricot grove at Kairaku-en, Mito, Ibaragi Prefecture.

Political and economical stability, strict laws concerning daimyo movement and residency, and a renewed interest in tourism and Buddhist pilgrimages during the Tokugawa period (1603-1868) generated interest in faraway places and spots of outstanding natural beauty. Among the latter, China’s West Lake and Japan’s own Ama-no-Hashidate and Mount Fuji were extremely popular. In re-creating such scenes in their gardens, daimyo also drew from mythology, classical literature and well-known waka (和歌) or haiku poems, and religious pilgrimages. The Edo-meisho-zue (江戸名所図会 An Illustrated Guide to the Famous Sights of Edo), published between 1834 and 1836, contains at least a thousand famous sights in and around Edo that were employed in garden designs of the period. Such sights were often represented in iconic, or realistic, form, and these scaled-down representations were known as shukkei (縮景 “shrunken scenery”).

The vast lawns at Kōraku-en, Okayama, Okayama Prefecture.

The vast lawns at Kōraku-en, Okayama, Okayama Prefecture.

Notable stroll gardens include Koishikawa-kōraku-en, Rikugi-en, Hama-rikkyū-Onshi-Teien, Kenroku-en, Kōraku-en, Taizō-in’s Showa-period (1926-1989) chisen-kaiyū, and Kenroku-en. Constructed between 1687 and 1700, Kōraku-en (後楽園), meaning “garden for taking pleasure in after”, is rated as one of the Best Three Gardens in Japan. Kenroku-en (兼六園), constructed in the late seventeenth century by Maeda Tsunanori (前田綱紀 1643-1724), is regarded as one of the finest examples of its kind, and is famous for its harp lanterns (kotojigata-dōrō 琴柱形灯籠), which straddle land and water at the edges of ponds and waterways. The imperial family also built and maintained lavish stroll gardens, such as Shugakuin Rikyū Imperial Villa, Katsura Rikyū Imperial Villa, and Sentō Gosho in Kyoto, and Hama Rikyū in Tokyo.

 

Mountains and Sea

During the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), gardens featuring a pond surrounded by artificial hills (tsukiyama-chisen-teien 築山池泉庭園 “artificial mountains and pond garden”; tsukiyama 築山 gained popularity among the daimyo. Artificial mountains had been a feature of gardens for at least a millennium, and an earlier term for these hills was kasan (仮山), meaning “temporary or false mountains”. The following passage is possibly the earliest use of such a mound in a Chinese garden design: “A rich merchant during the Han dynasty [c. 4th C.] is remembered for having built an enormous garden renowned for the excellence of its rocks, and whose salient feature was an artificial mountain (jia-shan) over thirty meters high.”

A representation of Mt Fuji at Kiyosumi-Teien, Tokyo. The lantern was toppled by the Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster of 3 March 2010.

A representation of Mt Fuji at Kiyosumi-Teien, Tokyo. The lantern was toppled by the Eastern Japan Great Earthquake Disaster of 3 March 2010.

One of the earliest terms for a garden in Japan had been simply yama 役石. According to Chinese geomancy (feng-shui 風水; Jp. fūsui), mountains exude a stable, rigid and vertical quality associated with yang (陽 ) or male elements. Due mostly to the mountainous terrain of the Japanese archipelago, mountains have always been a fundamental element in the psychological perception of nature, and therefore have long played an integral role in the design of Japanese gardens, either real as in borrowed scenery, or artificial as in tsukiyama or vertically-placed rock compositions.

The eleventh-century Sakuteiki (作庭記 A Record of Garden Making) mentions the use and construction of artificial hills and mounds, but there is evidence that they had been a staple of Japanese garden design since the Nara period (710-794). There is a theory that originally the soil excavated from ponds and waterways was simply heaped up somewhere nearby, and that these heaps logically became integral elements in the overall design of the garden. However, the influence of geomancy was strong throughout the Nara and Heian (794-1185) periods, so we find the author of the Sakuteiki advising against raising a hill in the southwest quadrant of the garden: “The problem with a hill,” he warns, “is that it will become an obstacle to the Great Path of the White Tiger [Byakko 白虎], so building a hill that closes off paths to that direction is an offense [kinki 禁忌].”

Looking from the ōyama (“great mountain”) towards the tomoyama (“companion mountain”), Kyū-Shiba-Rikkyū-Teien, Tokyo.

Looking from the ōyama (“great mountain”) towards the tomoyama (“companion mountain”), Kyū-Shiba-Rikkyū-Teien, Tokyo.

What was different about the Tokugawa-period tsukiyama was their size and dominance in the overall design of the garden. A measure of the importance can be seen in the use of the term tsukiyama itself, which came to be used as a synonym for a garden, and the Tsukiyama-tei-zōden (築山庭造伝 Transmission of Making Mountains and Creating Gardens) dates from this period. Representation of famous mountains such as Mount Fuji was also common, but, as Günter Nitschke notes, “Their contours [were] usually rounded and soft, their surfaces grassy, and their mood open and cheerful.” Generally, such mounds were erected at the furthest point from which the garden would have been viewed, which added to their grandeur and heightened the perception of distance.

Today, tsukiyama refers generally to the class of gardens dominated by artificial hills and mountains, and contrasts with the term hiraniwa (平庭 “flat or level garden”), which covers predominantly horizontally designed landscapes. Such gardens lack natural and artificial gradients or mounds, and may constitute either meadows and open moorland, or an expanse of raked sand such as the dry landscape at Ryōan-ji. In either case, the key to success lies in a subtle manipulation of the ground plane (jiban 地盤).

Grassy mounds with specific roles in a tsukuyama garden include the ōyama (大山 “great mountain”; a.p. taisan), or principal mound, and the tomoyama (友山 “companion mountain”), or companion mound. The Companion Mountain is often set to one side of the ōyama, backed by foliage trees, and sometimes supported by an architectural or ornamental feature, stone arrangements, or decorative flora. Surrounding these principal mounds are the koyama (小山, “small mountains”; a.p. kosan), small hillocks or gentle rises that represent the lower foreground, or middle-distance mountains. There may be a winding pathway leading to an architectural element such as a shrine or an azumaya 東屋 atop the main mountain as well.

 

Piling Up Sand

Although tsukiyama (築山) in its widest sense refers to a style of garden in which elevations and vertical earthworks form the basis of the design, the term is sometimes used to designate a single artificial, free-standing mound of soil, sand, or debris that symbolizes a mountain or mountain range. Most artificial mounds range anywhere from about a meter in height up to anything as large as a small hillock. Famous examples of conical sand tsukiyama can be found at Kamakura Shrine (two steep conical sand mounds), Daisen-in (two small conical sand mounds), and Ginkaku-ji (a large cone of sand representing Mt Fuji). The mounds at Daisen-in may be ritual in origin, and Leonard Koren believes that they owe their origin to the piles of purified gravel that were kept ready to be spread out “to form a path for important visiting personages such as a new temple abbot, or the emperor.”

 

The large pile of sand representing Mt Fuji at Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto. © Y. Tokano

The large pile of sand representing Mt Fuji at Ginkaku-ji, Kyoto. © Y. Tokano


Bibliographical Notes

The notion of skimming or flipping through books can be understood in at least two different senses… Bayard, P. (2007). How to talk about books you haven’t read. Translated from the French by J. Mehlman. New York, Berlin, London: Bloomsbury; pp. 29-30.

Thus, the term chisen-kaiyū-shiki-teien… Here, and in terms such as chisen-shūyū-shiki-teien (池泉周遊式庭園 “pond-spring excursion-form garden”) and zakan-shiki-teien (座観式庭園 “seated-view-form gardens”), shiki (式) simply means “form” or “style”.

“His hosts were anxious that he should see a newly completed Japanese-style garden… E. Charles Nelson (2004). Foreword. In Levy-Yamamori, R. & G. Taaffe. Garden plants of Japan. Portland & Cambridge: Timber Press; p. 8.

In re-creating such scenes in their gardens… Nitschke, G. (1993). Japanese gardens: Right angle and natural form. Köln: Benedikt Taschen; p. 184.

The imperial family also built and maintained lavish stroll gardens… Keane, M. P. (1996). Japanese garden design. Photographs by H. Ōhashi. Drawings by the author. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle; p. 101.

A rich merchant during the Han dynasty… Parkes, G. (2000). In F. Berthier, Reading Zen in the rocks: The Japanese landscape garden. Trans. with a Philosophical Essay by G. Parkes. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press; p. 95.

The author of the Sakuteiki advises against raising a hill… 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. 190. Later, the author advises against building a hill directly atop another “because two overlapping hills evoke the image of the written character for ‘curse’.” The kanji used to write tatari is 祟: The radical is comprised of the kanji for two mountains, one atop another (p. 192).

Representation of famous mountains was also common… Nitschke, G. (1993); p. 187.

The mounds at Daisen-in may be ritual in origin… Koren, K. (2000). Gardens of gravel and sand. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press; p. [84]. The flat-topped cone of sand at Ginkaku-ji is known as the Kogetsudai (向月台), or the Moon-viewing Platform.


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