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Stroll Through a Japanese Garden

Stroll Through a Japanese Garden

Japanese gardens aren’t merely for the appreciation of well-tended plants and nature. With each rock, pond, and tree representing some element of the garden’s creator’s aesthetics and worldview, the Japanese garden is meant to be seen as one whole work of art. This is the unique characteristic of the Japanese garden.

For that reason, in the same way you would regard a sculpture or watch a movie, you should try to imagine the context in which the creator built the garden to fully enjoy the work of art.

Many famous Japanese gardens express abstract ideas such as the utopian ideals of the time, or values that sit closely with the creator’s religious beliefs. Therefore it is useful to first grasp the background of the artwork- when was the garden created, who was its creator- in order to understand its deeper meaning.

This is not to say most Japanese people can read into the deeper meaning of the artworks. So please, just relax and enjoy the unique world of Japanese gardens as you will, but without straying too far from the topic, below are three main points to keep in mind when appreciating Japanese gardens.

■1. The entire garden is one work of art. Therefore, it is important to look at the entire garden rather than section by section, and try to see it in a broader context. Also when taking pictures, we recommend you use a wide angle lens to capture the entire landscape as it would be a shame to just take home with you a section of the entire beauty. For those that do not have a wide angle lens, how about using your tablet or smartphone to take a 360 picture?

■2. Unfortunately for the plant lovers, nature elements in Japanese gardens are usually not labeled with names and explanations. This is because they are not the focus of the garden. In fact, the focus is placed on stones and rocks, sand, stone lanterns, etc., objects that reflect the creator’s point of view. There are even Japanese gardens without a trace of a living plant! Seemingly casually placed rocks are meant to be there. For example, if you see even a bit of moss it has probably been intentionally left there and pruned with the upmost care.

■3. Japan is a country where the four seasons are very distinct. To maintain the beauty of the gardens, and the worldview they represent throughout the changing seasons, great care is taken in maintaining the gardens. Gardeners want visitors to imagine, “If I came at a different time of year, what would this same garden look like?” Blooming flowers in the Spring, lush greenery in the Summer, the warm red canopy of Autumn leaves, and the snowscape of Winter…with each season comes new beauty. Even in gardens that don’t incorporate plants, when snow falls, the atmosphere changes completely, and this, is the charm of Japanese gardens.

Lastly, we want to explain the three main types of Japanese gardens. Even some Japanese people are not aware of this classification, so you can be proud to know the differences.

A) Samurai Gardens (chisen-teien)
Incorporating water, ponds and rivers, small hills, and live plants and forestry, the samurai gardens are the most visually glamorous out of the three main categories. They can be further broken down into three categories by how they are enjoyed:
- Seated Viewing Garden (kanshou-shiki): The area of the garden is small, and is best enjoyed in one’s seat. These gardens are often used by hosts to entertain guests, as they could sit and enjoy the view together.
-Strolling Garden (kaiyuu-shiki) : Strolling gardens are often expansive in size and feature a focal point in the center, such as a large pond or hill. There can be bridges or small islands in the pond, and the circular footpath around the focal point allows the viewer to take in the garden from all angles.
- Sailing Garden (shuuyuu-shiki) :Even larger than the previous two styles, viewers take in their surroundings from on a boat in the pond.

Authentrip recommends the Tanaka Honke Museum in Suzaka, or the Adachi Art Museum to see this kind of garden, amongst other suggestions.

B) Zen Gardens (karesansui)
Using no water, this style of Japanese garden often seen in Zen temples utilizes instead sand and stone to represent water. Some Zen gardens even omit flower and forestry, using only sand and rock to express world view.
In the olden days, water was regarded as the symbol of all things, and when it ran out, so would life itself. It is said that the sand replaces water in Zen gardens to symbolize eternity.

Authentrip recommends Motsu-ji Temple in Hiraizumi for this type of garden.

C) Tea Gardens (chatei/roji)
Compared to the previous two, tea gardens are smaller in scale, being the area leading up to the tea house. However, it is not merely a footpath, but implies a path to preparing oneself mentally, enjoying the simplicity of nature, before arriving at the tea ceremony. Incorporated into the tea garden are elements of the ceremony itself, including the stone basin one uses to purify ones hands before, and the elevated stepping stones leading up to the teahouse.

Authentrip recommends the Adachi Art Museum tea house to see this kind of garden, amongst other suggestions.

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