Japanese Gardens

This essay has a total of 2487 words and 11 pages.

Japanese Gardens






Japanese Gardens


The role of gardens play a much more important role in Japan than here in the United States. This is due primarily to the fact the Japanese garden embodies native values, cultural beliefs and religious principles. Perhaps this is why there is no one prototype for the Japanese garden, just as there is no one native philosophy or aesthetic. In this way, similar to other forms of Japanese art, landscape design is constantly evolving due to exposure to outside influences, mainly Chinese, that effect not only changing aesthetic tastes but also the values of patrons. In observing a Japanese garden, it is important to remember that the line between the garden and the landscape that surrounds it is not separate. Instead, the two are forever merged, serving as the total embodiment of the one another. Every aspect of the landscape is in itself a garden. Also when observing the garden, the visitor is not supposed to distinguish the garden from its architecture. Gardens in Japan incorporate both natural and artificial elements, therefor uniting nature and architecture into one entity. Japanese gardens also express the ultimate connection between humankind and nature, for these gardens are not only decorative, but are a clear expression of Japanese culture.
Although this extremely close connection of the individual with nature, the basic principle of Japanese gardens, has remained the constant throughout its history, the ways in which this principle has come to be expressed has undergone many great changes. Perhaps the most notable occurred in the very distinct periods in Japanese history that popularized unique forms of garden style—Heian (781-1185), and the Kamakura (1186-1393). Resulting from these two golden ages of Japanese history came the stroll garden from the former period and the Zen garden from the later. As we shall see, the composition of these gardens where remarkably effected by the norms of architecture and the ideals of popular religion in these eras. Therefor, in understanding each garden style in its context, it essential to also take into account the social, historical, and theological elements as well as the main stylist differences.
Japanese aristocrats from at least mid-eighth century customarily had gardens near their homes. During the Heian period a somewhat standard type of garden evolved in accordance with the Shinden type of courtier mansion (Bring and Wayembergh, p. 28-29). Characteristic of the Heian period was its extremely rigid class stratification; life for the farmers, merchants and artisans consisted of very simplified dwellings in comparison to those of members of the aristocracy. The architecture “norm” for aristocratic homes was in the Shinden-zurkuri style, “which was clearly based on the principle that the individual parts of the building should be merged as much as possible into the garden” (Yoshida, p.12). The main building, named the Shinden, represented the area reserved for the master himself, and always opened up to the south side of the garden. There were corridors, or tai-no-ya, connecting the Shinden to the rest of the buildings in the complex. There corridors created an enclosure which is where a lake would be placed and where the stroll garden was erected.
Kinkakuji, also known as the Golden Pavilion (1394), serves as an example of this Shinden type. The site in northern Kyoto was developed as a large retirement estate by Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1409) beginning in 1394. The pavilion itself was sited the edge of a sprawling palace complex that no longer exists today. This was intended as proof that the warrior shogunate could contribute to the cultural and aesthetic life of the land to an extent equal to that of the imperial aristocracy. It has been recorded that the actual emperor of Japan visited Kinkakuji in 1408, the first time an emperor had ever stayed with a person that was not a member of the imperial court. The shogun died the year after. After his death the palace was turned over to the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism and it has remained under its control ever since.

The Golden Pavilion is a three-story viewing and pleasure pavilion constructed on the edge of a pons as the focal point to a much larger garden on the grounds of the Rokuoni Temple. The pavilion itself is based on the Chinese Sung style, though each floor has a somewhat different aesthetic. The first floor was used as a reception room for the guests and as boarding site for pleasure boating around the small pond. The second story was for more private parties with an outstanding view of the garden. The third floor was an intimate space for meeting with confidantes and holding tea ceremony. Originally, only the ceiling of the pavilion’s third floor was guild in gold (hence its name), but in 1950 it was burned down by a student monk (Hayakawa, p. 18). A replica was quickly rebuilt in its place and is the example that contemporary visitors see.

Equally important to the Shinden as its architecture was the garden itself. Another complex that contained a stroll garden is referred to as the temple garden. The grounds surrounding the pavilion lie on four and a half acres, but the use of landscape elements make its apparent size much bigger. The foreground is filled with small scale rocks and plantings. The more distant elements blend into the background, visually extending the garden. Mt. Kinugasa rises in the background. Meanwhile, the shoreline of lake rolls back and forth, hiding the true size of the small pond and making it appear as much larger than it truly is (Ito, p.93-98).
“The introduction of a new form of Buddhism, and the symbolism of water color painting from southern China, had a direct influence on garden design” (Yoshida, p.14). This new religion, Pure Land Buddhism, was having an increasingly influential effect during the Heian period. “The garden was seen as a place where beautiful pavilions stood among large ponds full of lotus flowers. The idea of paradise was central to the whole sect…[also] the emphasis was on immortality in this paradise and the longevity of life” (Davidson, p.21). The garden of Kinkakuji is an example of this new fusion. The stroll garden is a re-creation of a Western paradise with rock gardens created under the Zen spirit.

There is nothing random about the layout of the garden of the Golden Pavilion. Every aspect has been preconceived and purposely manipulated. Kinkakuji is park-like in size, maintaining traditional elements such as islands, bridges, and paths. All of these elements, tough decorative, hold symbolic meanings. The islands “represent a symbol of longevity and continuing health…and the focal points for a pond” (Davidson, p.36). The bridges have practical functions such as connecting islands together, though the also have a special function of creating “alternative viewpoints that may not otherwise exist” (Davidson, p.37). In addition there were paths laid-out leading the viewer to numerous points of worship. This element clearly demonstrates how the garden of Kinkakuji is a combination of both a Heian stroll garden and the Zen aesthetic. The paths and the miniature rocks representing mountains in China fond along these paths were placed strategically to guide the viewer along a predetermined stroll, allowing the individual to experience orchestrated vistas.
The Kamakura period experienced an increase in the popularization of Zen Buddhism, this was the religion of choice for the shogun or Samurai class. The shogun appreciated the strict pr

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