Entering the Garden
|A shelter (amayadori) along the path.|
kaiyū-shiki-teien: A strolling garden
Uniquely Asian concepts and esthetics are involved in traditional Japanese gardens, many of them stemming from the Shinto faith. In time Zen Buddhism also exerted a strong influence, such as the austere zen rock garden of Ryōan-ji (late 15th century) in Kyoto.
|A huge granite boulder has been partially carved to create a seat so one may sit and contemplate the pond and its surroundings.|
Values such as simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizen), tranquility (kanji), refined elegance and subtlety (shibui), and the use of the suggestive rather than the descriptive mode of communication are either products of Zen thought or were reinforced by it. Just as it is impossible to describe Zen in words, describing a Japanese garden is almost impossible. One must experience it to understand the concept. And like Zen, once it is understood, it becomes elusive again.
|A single pine tree bends towards the water as though wishing to see its reflection.|
An important concept in the Japanese garden is "simplicity" or kanso. In this concept, beauty is attained through omission and elimination. Simplicity must not be confused with plainness. To the Japanese, simplicity means the achievement of maximum effect with minimum means. Buildings, bridges, fences, and pavement all utilize natural material constructed in an imaginative and refined manner.
|Iris growing along the banks of the pond, their beauty doubled by the reflection in the water.|
Japan is a group of islands surrounded by oceans and seas and its people have had an affinity for the sea since their beginnings. Water as a design element in the garden is crucial. One of the most popular styles of garden is called chisen, in which a pond or lake occupies the most significant portion of the garden. Water's importance is not as a substance but as a symbol and expression of the sea. Even the quantity of water present is unimportant. The Zen aesthetic suggests one could enjoy the tranquility of the sea in the contemplation of a puddle of water contained in a shallow stone basin.
|A stone lantern stands between the water and a craggy juniper. A large black pine bonsai hovers nearby.|
Groups of stones representing a rocky seashore may be arranged near the edge of a lake. Trees and plants used in the garden are closely interwoven with the spiritual and physical life of the Japanese people. The pine is a major basic structural tree. Traditionally it is called tokiwa and, as an evergreen, it expresses both longevity and happiness. The black and red pines symbolize the positive and negative forces in the universe. The Japanese black or male pine called omatsu represents the former force and the red or female pine called mematsu represents the latter force.
|A peninsula of stone stretches out into the pond, inviting the visitor to venture closer to the water and be embraced by it.|
Crane and tortoise sculpture is used extensively in Japanese gardens representing longevity.. According to mythology, the crane lives a thousand years and the tortoise ten thousand years.
Note: For more information about the history, design and aesthetics of Japanese gardens, I refer the reader to "In the Traditional Japanese Garden: An Introduction" by Dr. Koichi Kawana.
All photographs were taken by the author at Gibbs Gardens, Ballground, Georgia.