Japanese Garden Design Marc Keane Gardening in Japan has always been a form of artistic expression using nature

's imagery as a vehicle. Much like painting or sculpture, gardening is a means of giving physical form to emotional or spiritual matters. Though not an intellectual pursuit, highly developed theories of gardening have been prescribed in treatises dating as far back as the 11th century. How to design a garden, as was true of all the other Japanese arts, is not taught directly, instead skills are "acquired" over the course time spent working as an apprentice to a master. This process of learning by assimilation may well have existed before the influence of Zen Buddhism, but it is certainly reinforced by that religion's inherent distrust of the spoken word and emphasis on "direct transmission" of ideas through action. In order to understand design as it is applied to the Japanese garden, one has two options: spend ten years as a gardener's deshi (apprentice), the minimum time considered appropriate before a master would allow a pupil to go off and start his own business or to take an inquisitive look at what constitutes traditional garden design. Garden design can be broken down into three components: theory, technique, and elements. Theory is the guiding light by which a garden is built and, in turn, the fundamental spirit it will hopefully express. Technique is the means by which theory is given form in the garden, the elements are the actual physical objects used. While this tripartite framework provides a rational explanation behind the specific design employed, it must be remembered that it is a way of understanding, not the design process itself. In other words, this framework is a means to an end, not the ultimate goal: these principles are experienced and when finally digested, are used unconsciously to build a garden. Within this theoretical trinity of design - principles, techniques and elements - it is the latter that is the most superficial or, the most obvious. Because of this, the elements are most often associated with the Japanese garden, moss and twisted pines, rocks and white sand, stone lanterns and stepping stones. However, it is the principles (and the techniques by which these principles are expressed), that contribute to the unusual choice of composition in

Japanese landscape design. When trying to recreate such a garden in a alien cultural or physical climate, importation of just the elements will only succeed in making a garden "Japanesque," what might be called Japanese style (wa-fu) whereas, with an understanding of the principles and techniques, one can create a garden with a truer Japanese spirit (washin). Without the traditional elements, a garden might not even look "Japanese" at first glance, but still have the harmony and beauty that is most attractive in Japan’s more famous gardens. This is not to say that to include traditional elements is wrong, but simply the least important and avoidable altogether, if one so chooses. DESIGN PRINCIPLES Nature and Control The innumerable themes in the garden, like those in the poems of Japan, are captured in images of wild nature. Where poems use words, images in the gardens are expressed through the controlling hand of the gardener. Japanese gardens are particularly dependent on control which is why they require so much intensive maintenance. Striking a harmonic balance between the wild and control, between the beauty of nature and that of man-made things becomes a fundamental principle of the garden. Nature in Japan can rage with untold fury - typhoons, floods, earthquakes, and tidal waves. Living with Nature means controlling it. Japanese gardens reflect this control but they also display the pacifying influence of Buddhism, which sees man as an integral part of nature and of the native Shinto religion whose gods inhabit nature. The dichotomy of awe and respect on the one hand, and the need to control nature on the other, fuses within the garden into a single harmonic aesthetic. This is most easily seen in the treatment of plantings whose forms are stylized derivations of natural images - windswept pines, craggy old plums - created and maintained very intentionally by the gardener. Control in the Japanese garden can seem excessive at times but it must be remembered that most gardens are relatively small. In the larger natural world, there are many checks and balances that exist to create the harmonic beauty we find there. Within the tight constraints of the garden these checks and balances

cannot exist and must be fostered by a caring hand. THE SEASONS There are two kinds of gardens in the world: those built in harsh climates that provide physical and aesthetic distraction, and those built in relatively temperate zones that revel and accentuate local surroundings. Japanese gardens are most emphatically of the latter. Since the end of the last ice age, the Japanese archipelago has become a diverse ecological environment. The Japanese pride themselves on their four seasons (shiki), which many Japanese consider unique to Japan.The truth, of course, is that there are many places around the world with four seasons and many places within Japan - to the north and south - without. In fact, the central region from Kyoto to Tokyo has the quintessential four seasons that smoothly blend into each other so that practically each month has its own distinct feeling. The incorporation of the seasons in all their abundance and subtlety, is central to the gardens of Japan but it is the keen attention to the intricacies of the natural world which so dominates, regardless of season. There is an adage, most often associated with Zen Buddhism, that the only permanent thing in our world is change itself. The acceptance of change as basic to the nature of existence in "this world" was expressed in the Heian aesthetic mujokan - a reveling in the ephemeral - and has since become a principle in many of the arts of Japan. The change of seasons is the most apt vehicle for visualizing this concept and is has long been a standard motif in poetry, painting, and ,of course, the garden. TRADITION In the Sakuteiki, an 11th century gardening text, an extraordinary balance between design and the customer's needs is clearly articulated in the following passage: "Keep close to heart the works of past masters and giving due respect to the opinions of the client, imbue the garden with your own taste." Giving respect to the client's wishes is a given for all garden design anywhere; being attentive to the "works of past masters" can be called incorporating tradition. A basic character of Japanese arts is that they have built upon previous styles rather than replaced them, what has been called

"succession rather than superposition". The importance placed on hierarchy and lineage, strongly reinforced (if not initiated by) Confucian thought, runs deep in the society as a whole. With regard to design, 90% of all "design" is "given," set by the nature of the materials, the site, and climate - to mention just a few of the predominate constraints. Obvious examples are sometimes forgotten: water does not flow uphill, rocks fall over if not set well, and plants die when planted in the wrong spot. All of these factors are worked into a body of knowledge that we call "tradition in retrospect." Any "design" must obey these factors or invite failure. This does not belittle innovative design , but rather it implies that an appreciation of tradition saves one from reinventing the wheel. Incorporating tradition does not, however, mean visionless replication of past forms. This was expressed succinctly by the 17th century poet, Matsuo Basho: "Do not seek to emulate old masters Seek what they sought" PERSONAL EXPRESSION Art not only reflects social and cultural values, but is a vehicle for individual expression as well. Personal influence in gardening can encompass a wide variety of manifestations, as many varieties as there are garden designers. Religious or political ideas, comments on man's relationship to nature or our place in the cosmos, humor, or satire - any emotion or spiritual feeling can be represented in the garden. To give just two examples, some gardens have been given over to evoking themes captured in the poetry of a previous era while others have been allegories of Buddhist thought. When a garden is designed without a guiding cultural spirit it can be relegated to the status of aesthetic play thus it may fail to carry any significant meaning. The Sakuteiki stresses this point. In the opening lines of the text one is urged, in addition to studying nature and the works of past masters, to "devise one's own taste" - waga ga fuzei wo megurashite. This is an endlessly evolving issue; there is no proper form or limit to the things that can be expressed within the confines of the garden. MAINTENANCE

At first glance, simple garden maintenance would not appear to qualify as a design principle. Gardens are usually seen as developing in three stages - design, construction and maintenance so design and maintenance would seem to be independent activities. In reality, if the degree of maintenance the host (at the suggestion of the gardener) is able or willing to undertake is not considered from the start, the design will fail to some degree. So, maintenance must be thought about at the outset as a basic principle of the garden. In addition, a great deal of the elegance and dignity of the Japanese garden is not the result of the brilliance of the designer nor the skill of the gardener, but is developed over the course of time by the caring hand that nurtures it. This patina evolves from years of care, like the wooden floors of temples, polished smooth from daily wiping. In the case of tea gardens, for instance, although the heavy work of maintenance may be left to a professional gardener, tea masters are impelled to involve themselves with the care of the garden. In doing so they come in touch with the change of the seasons which is central to the aesthetics of tea. DESIGN TECHNIQUES Enclosure Most Japanese gardens are enclosed. At times, this is simply due to the compressed urban nature of the site, but more often the enclosure is used as a frame.The frame suggests how the garden will be viewed and to what degree the surroundings will be incorporated into the garden; but more importantly, the enclosure allows the garden to be held as an independent work of art. If not for the enclosure, the garden would be juxtaposed against its surroundings and the subtle scale relationships within it would break down. Void and Accent (Ma) With regard to the spatial development within the gardens, the most important design technique is called ma , a tiny word that has complex meanings as various as space and time. The term ma, can be defined as a space or void that is physical, social, or related to time, or a combination of all the above. Ma is the result of events or

objects that "frame-out" a void and cause it to be; ma is not simply the result of these bracketing elements but the focal point itself. The punctuation of movement in Japanese dance or Noh theatre, moments of silence in Japanese music, the social distance held between host and guest during a tea ceremony, and the emptiness left in an ink painting are all discussed in terms of ma. Ma can exist as a physical space experienced when moving through the garden, it can be a visual space in a contemplation garden that is only entered with the mind, or it can be a time/space: a pause that is created in movement through the garden to enhance one's appreciation of it. In religious terms, ma can be used to represent the concept of mu, nothingness that is a central posit of Zen Buddhism. Aesthetically, ma is the technique used to create yohaku-no-bi , the beauty of paucity that was so important to the arts of the middle ages. SYMBOLOGY Beyond the aesthetic aspects of design, gardens can be imbued with meaning by interweaving symbolic images. In order for these images to have meaning though, it is necessary that the owner/ user of the garden has the same understanding of the symbols that the designer has. In most cases, these symbols are part and parcel of a society's collective heritage and so both the designer and client will often take them for granted without explanation. Symbology is a particularly common design technique in the Japanese garden and there are many types. The very fact that symbology played such an ubiquitous role in the gardens hints at one way in which they were perceived, as metaphorical artworks. Understanding these symbols gives insight into the meaning of the gardens and, although the concepts involved stem from societies and philosophies of the past and at times seem trite or stereotypic, many hold lessons that are as relevant today as they were in the past. Borrowed Scenery (Shakkei) Shakkei, literally borrowed scenery, is a technique for enlarging the visual scale of the garden beyond its actual physical boundaries by incorporating a distant view as an integral part of the garden. Originally called ikedori (capture alive), the technique was brought to

its most refined form in the gardens of the Zen temples during the Muromachi period under the influence of the ink landscape paintings of the day. It continued to be used over the following centuries and can now been seen in a wide variety of gardens. Reuse (Mitate) Mitate is a design technique that was originally associated with the tea garden and has become common in many gardens since the middle ages. Literally translated as "seeing anew" it is the process of finding a new use for an old object. The pieces themselves are called mitatemono (the suffix mono means things). In the tea garden, some of the best examples of mitatemono are the chozubachi, stone lavers used for cleansing the hands and mouth before entering the tea house. Another common use for found stone objects is as paving material, often combined with other stones into long, rectangular sections of paving that are called nobedan or ishidatami (stone tatami). DESIGN ELEMENTS As was mentioned earlier, the design elements are easily grasped; accordingly many have become symbolic of the gardens themselves, but they are essentially superficial aspects of the total design.The following are a few of the elements most commonly associated with the Japanese garden. Rocks (Iwa , ishi) In ancient Japan, prominent rocks jutting from the landscape or sea (iwakura) were seen to be places where the Gods would alight when descending from the heavens or mountain tops. Accordingly, the prototypical image of rocks is as sacred objects - mediums to the realm of the gods. This image was joined in the following centuries by two other images that came from China: Horai and Shumisen . Horai is a legendary mountain in the sea purportedly somewhere off the coast of China, that was said to be the abode of the Immortals. Building a Horai image in one's own garden was an attempt to entice the immortals to alight in order to receive their blessings. In the garden, Horai is represented by a stone, of an irregular shape that is

placed solitarily in a pond. Shumisen derives from the Buddhist description of the cosmos in which there is a central immovable mountain surrounded by eight seas and eight ranks of mountains. The mountain at the center is called Shumisen . In the garden, Shumisen is usually recreated as a prominent upright stone, often placed in the rear of, and higher than, a cluster of other rocks that form the base of a large triangular shape. During the Heian and early medieval periods, under the influence of theories of geomancy, certain rocks were believed to be imbued with all manner of super-natural powers and were given names to reflect this. The rules of divination (eki) determined how the named rocks should be placed and it was believed that a fortuitous arrangement of such stones could provide good fortune for the owner of the garden; likewise, evil would befall the person who ignored the importance of the rules. By the late middle ages, when gardens came to be built much in the same way as the ink wash paintings of the day, rocks came to be representative of mountains as they may be found in a dramatic landscape, rather than in legends. It is significant, however, that the gardens were not modeled after Japanese landscapes, but those seen in Chinese paintings. The concept of discovering an inner reality by contemplating wild nature, as practiced by Chinese recluse philosophers, was the central theme in both paintings and gardens. White Sand (Shirakawasuna) This element has become synonymous with Japanese gardens. Its earliest uses may have been in the creation of the sacred spaces (kekkai), clearings made in woods around particular trees or rocks (iwakura). There is no evidence to prove this, but it is common for shrines today to spread sacred ground with white sand as a sign of purification, and this may have been passed down from ancient times. Both the southern court of the Heian period Shinden palaces and the stone gardens (karesa-sui) of medieval Zen temples include this element as part of garden design. In the case of the Heian gardens, the use of white sand was mostly functional. In addition to creating a formal air to the courtyard, the sand also provided a dry, flat area that could be used for large gatherings. In contrast, the Zen gardens imbue the material with the symbolic meaning of water. In the karesansui , white sand takes on

the meaning of streams, waterfalls, rivers, or the broad ocean. The lines raked into the flat expanses of sand mimic the rhythmic motion of waves and the ethereal effect of moonlight reflecting on the sand was highly esteemed. Water (Mizu) Water is often used allegorically in the garden. Buddhists found the natural process of water springing from a mountain source, gathering strength as it rushes down a valley, and eventually running into the calm sea, to be an apt metaphor for human existence. Birth, growth, death, and rebirth - Buddhism proposes that if one is pure enough, the last step would be ascension to nirvana , escaping the endless cycles of rebirth. The wide expanses of sand in contemplation gardens that represent the sea not only provide a visual calm, but can also imply peace in the afterworld. Bridges (Hashi) Bridges are used functionally for the purpose of crossing water, but there is also a symbolic aspect to them as well. The word for bridge, hashi , is a homonym with the word edge. Symbolically, then, hashi bridge the gap (ma) between one edge and another. This is often seen as a link between two worlds, usually that of man and the gods. In Heian period pond gardens, for instance, the central island (nakajima) in the pond, represented the Pure Land of Amida Buddha, also known as the Western Paradise. A curved bridge leading from the central courtyard to the island symbolically connected "this world" with "heaven," inferring the possibility of rebirth in paradise .In the contemplation gardens of Zen temples, bridges are often built into the landscape scene. These gardens were modeled after Chinese style ink paintings which also often included a bridge as part of the scene. A central theme of these paintings was the contemplation of nature by a recluse philosopher in order to discover the inner meaning of life. The symbolic reason for putting the bridge in the painting carried through to garden design as well. The bridge is representative of the passage out of this world of man and into the world of nature, as well as representing the journey from an ordinary plane of consciousness to a higher one.

Pines (Sugi) In Asian iconography, pines are an image of longevity, which derives from the ancient image of pines which covered Horai, the "perfect island" conceptualized in Japanese mythology. Evergreens also represent permanence, in contrast to the ever changing aspects of nature. The two most popular pines in the garden, the red pine and black pine, are symbolic of the mountains and the seashore, respectively. This is due to their natural habitats and is a good example of "learning from nature." Plums (Ume) The plum (and the cherry) is symbolic of evanescence and have been favorite garden plants since Heian times. In the middle ages, the life of the samurai was equated with the brevity and intensity of these flowers. The plum, pine, and bamboo form a classic botanical trio in Japan and are also used as a ranking system. Called by their Sino-Japanese pronunciations, ho-chiku-bai (pine, bamboo, plum), these three plants are said to represent three good things in descending order, something like Best, Great, and Good. Gardens in restaurants and inns will sometimes use these three plants in combination as an image of felicity. Where Next? The gardens we think of as being "Japanese" are all from the medieval period (15th-17th century) or later. The gardens before that time, while not Western in their aesthetics, included some aspects that are now thought of as being non-Japanese, like the ample use of flowers and grasses. As one small example of contemporary innovations in garden design, there is a trend among "new garden" designers to use split granite stones in their gardens rather than the natural boulders of the past. This is caused by the rising costs and diminishing availability of natural stones and a shift in tastes, but it is also in part a response to modern architecture. Buildings of the past were made of subdued, natural materials and rocks taken from the rivers or mountains with a patina of age fit in well with them. Now steel, glass, concrete, and other processed materials dominate the architectural scene. Some designers feel this requires a new garden

material that has the visual strength to compete with current surroundings. It is unlikely, however, that over time the Japanese garden will change radically. "Succession rather than superposition" - the aphorism continues to hold true today. Moreover, gardens of the past are not dead or meaningless; the aesthetic qualities expressed in them can be felt as strongly today as when they were first created. Notes 1. Translation by author, after modern Japanese transliteration in "Sakuteiki - Gendaigo taiyaku to kaisetsu" Professor Jiro Takei, Kyoto Geijutsu Tanki Daigaku © 1995 2. Paraphrased from Form, Style, Tradition by Shuichi Kato, Kodansha International © 1971 pg. 4 3. Translation as found in This Moment: a collection of Haiku by Margaret Chula, Katsura Press © 1995.