The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Gardening in Japan, 1912
Chapter: Chapter1. History

Korakuen Garden Okayama 1

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KORAKU-EN GARDEN, OKAYAMA. Among the many gardens for which the provincial towns of Japan are famous, the Koraku-En at Okayama, is a characteristic example. It occupies the grounds formerly belonging to Ikeda, the Daimio of Bizen, but now taken over by the prefectural government. Above it, still towers the picturesque many-storied keep of the old feudal castle. In the centre of the garden is a large lake of an irregular oval form, containing three islets, one of which, towards the south-west, is entirely cut off from all approach from the banks by either bridge or causeway. This is called the "Elysian Isle," a feature without which no lake scenery in Japanese gardening is complete. It is intended to represent a sea island, and is, in this instance, of a flat conical shape, covered with turf, and embellished with a few rocks, a stone lantern, and a bent pine tree stretching out over the water. The other two, called respectively the "Proprietor's Island," and the "Guest's Island," are situated in the shallower water on the opposite side of the lake. Of these, the one more distant from the shore is approached by stepping stones, and a short plank bridge. Its slopes are adorned with neatly trimmed evergreens and rare boulders. An open pavilion partly overhangs the lake. The nearer island is reached by an ornamental wooden bridge with a pretty balustrade, and it is furnished with a tiny tea-room set in a grove of miniature pine trees, and with a graceful stone lantern. Flowing from the lake, a stream, with pebbled bed, meanders through different parts of the grounds, crossed in places by bridges formed of granite slabs or wooden planks. This winding rivulet is looped in the north-east quarter of the garden, in such a manner as to divert the flow into a channel carried right through a long pavilion, called Kioku-sui-En-no-Chin, or the Arbour of the Floating Wine-cup. This building, of which a plan is shown in Fig. 7, is copied from a similar structure in China: it is used for a pastime of Chinese origin, held on the third day of the third month, consisting of combined wine-drinking and sonnet-making. A sunken cemented channel, with natural rocks let into the bottom, runs longitudinally through the building, and, raised about eighteen inches on either side of this, are matted floors, respectively three feet and six feet wide, for accommodating the assembled guests; movable boards being laid across in places to allow of passing from side to side. Over the lower end of the channel is a fixed plank upon which the superintendent of ceremonies is seated. The building has a steep staircase leading to an upper floor, forming a large banquet-room, the windows of which afford a fine view of the garden. The recreation consists in floating the shallow wine cups from one end to the other of the thirty feet channel, the period taken in transit being the measure of time allowed for the composition of a stanza upon some given subject. The stream is so arranged that it can be carried through the building or diverted around it at pleasure, by the opening or closing of a sluice. Beyond, it developes into a wide shallow pool or marsh, planted with irises and other water plants, and ornamented with a miniature island reached by a zigzag bridge of planks, in imitation of the scenery of Yatsuhashi. Towards the eastern side of the garden is a large hillock ascended by a winding pathway of rough stone steps, on the slope of which is a small summer-house of irregular plan, delicately constructed with attenuated posts and light low balustrades, the two sides towards the north being closed with plaited bamboo-work pierced with a crescent-shaped opening. The plan of this tiny building is shown in Fig. 8.