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Kumamoto En 熊本園

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  A team effort:
Kumamoto En entry
Entry view of Kumamoto En

The Kumamoto En Japanese Garden is part of the Sister City relationship between Kumamoto City, Japan and San Antonio, Texas. It was constructed between March and April of 1989 by a team of carefully selected volunteer craftsmen and landscapers from Kumamoto, Kyoto, Tokyo, and San Antonio. This team included craftsmen from Yasuimoku Koumuten in Kyoto. The garden is patterned after the famous 300 year old Suizenji Park 水前寺 in Kumamoto and contains many of the same elements. These plaques in English and Japanese stand at the entrance to the Kumamoto En (pictured below).

The garden occupies a small corner of the San Antonio Botanical Garden, on land blessed by a Shinto priest before and during construction. Upon entering the garden, you enter a place apart from the everyday world, a safe and peaceful haven where all anger, prejudice, and worldly problems are left at the gate.

Entry plaques
Dedication plaques in Japanese and English

Kumamoto En was designed to demonstrate the beauty of authentic Japanese gardening and introduce visitors to many elements used in Japanese Gardens. It is designed to be enjoyed one scene at a time, like a scroll painting, unrolling as you stroll through.

Different styles of garden paths, bamboo fencing, stone lanterns, and landscape construction styles from famous gardens in Japan are revealed along the path. Many of the elements in the garden are modeled after those of Katsura Detached Palace 桂離宮 in Kyoto, Japan.

Take a "walking tour" of Kumamoto En Japanese garden with photographs and short descriptions of its features in the following section.


Walking tour:

The first element a visitor meets is the kyaku ishi 客石 visitor's stone, the great flat stone landing at the entry gate. The carriages of royalty and dignitaries would be set here for their visit. Just past the wooden gate columns, a group of paving stones arranged in the ensyu 遠州 pattern guide the viewer, first to the right where the first stone lantern may be seen, then to the left to a sculptured Afghan pine (Pinus elderica), then slightly further to a grouping of sago palms.

The path continues on cut granite stones arranged in a design similar to one at the Katsura Detached Palace  桂離宮 in Kyoto. This style of paving is called Shin or "formal" style. These stones and all other building materials were brought from Japan or were personally selected by Mr. Kiyoshi Yasui, designer of Kumamoto En and owner of Yasuimoku Construction Company in Kyoto, Japan. The garden construction was guided by Japanese landscaper Katsuoki Kawahara, owner of Kawahara Company in Kyoto, Japan.

Japanese stone lanterns, usually made of granite, find their origins in Buddhist Temples, and later in the Shinto Shrines. Their windows, covered with rice paper to shield the wind and illuminated with small oil lamps or candles, cast their light as guides at a garden entrance, at a special viewpoint, or along the pathway to tea rooms or waiting arbors called azumayas.


Oribe lantern
Oribe lantern near entry

The first of three styles represented in the garden is known as the Oribe lantern 織部灯籠. It is a style of stone lantern designed specifically for garden use by its creator, Japanese warlord Furuta Oribe 古田織部, also a great tea master and a practitioner of the Sukiya way of life. It is located just inside and to the right of the entry gate.

The two opposing sides of the light chamber have windows shaped like the moon and the sun. The knob-like top to this and many other lanterns represents a lotus bud. A lantern with this type of base called a "planted lantern" (ikekomi-gata) because its base is buried in the earth for support. Some Oribe lanterns have a Buddha carved into the base. After Lord Oribe was converted to Christianity, he began having the Virgin Mary carved into the bases of his lanterns. This version of the Oribe is known as the Christian Lantern. See Krishitan doro – キリシタン灯籠 for more information.

Katsure style fence
Katsura style fence

There are four styles of take gaki 竹垣 -, or bamboo fence represented in the Kumamoto En. All are handmade from materials brought from Japan. The fence style on this side of the entry is named Katsura gaki 桂垣 after the style used in the Katsura Detached Palace gardens in Kyoto (gaki is a Japanese word for fence) See Katsura gaki for more on this fence.

One of the more difficult to construct, it is assembled with alternating sections of small and medium bamboo waddle to provide a subtle checkerboard effect. These sections are held in a wooden frame covered by half-sections of bamboo culm, cut at an angle at the top. The sections are topped with three half-sections of culm to protect the waddle from rain. All is held together with copper wire and palm rope tied with traditional knots, and supported from the back by posts and buttress-like poles. If you look closely, you will see that the entire fence sits upon a narrow layer of stone to protect it from the soil.

All of the bamboo fences in the Kumamoto En must be regularly maintained, the palm rope replaced, waddle re woven. Every few years the fences must be completely replaced by Japanese craftsmen from Kumamoto and Kyoto.

Past the Oribe lantern and along the Katsura gaki, the path turns slightly to the left and the formal Shin style path becomes a very natural path of rounded stepping stones set directly in the grass surface. A visitor must walk carefully, taking time to continue past the small grove of the palm-like sago plants called sotetsu 蘇鉄 (Cycas revoluta). This planting is similar to one across from the tea arbor at Katsura Detached Palace. The pathway continues with the Gyo , or semi-formal style of paving.


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