The Garden Guide

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

Muromachi Period Japanese gardens

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The great era for popularising the art of landscape gardening was called the Muromachi Period, corresponding with the ascendency of the later Ashikawa Regents, in the fifteenth century. At the commencement of this epoch, it is said that a famous priest called Soseki gave considerable study to the subject and established many rules; but no written work of his remains. Another priest named Muso-Kokushi (or Soseki) became renowned for his garden compositions, and the temples of Tenriuji, Riusenji, and Saihoji in Kioto, all possessed noted landscapes attributed to him. The same tranquil and prosperous times which helped so much to advance the sister arts of poetry and calligraphy, and which first stimulated the cultivation of the tea ceremonial, also brought patronage to the art of the landscape gardener. The arrangement of grounds became one of the important accessories of the refinement of the Cha-no-yu, or Tea Ceremonies, and henceforth the professors of this cult became the principal designers of gardens. They reduced to rule and theory the art which had hitherto been practised by the Buddhist priests, adding important modifications with special reference to the peculiar ethics of tea-drinking. Sho-ami, sometime called So-ami a famous Tea Professor and Painter patronized by Yoshimasa gave particular attention to the art of gardening which he greatly changed, introducing among other novelties the practise of clipping trees into various fanciful shapes. Examples of his work remain, though much broken and neglected, in the gardens of the Toji-In a portion of the temple of Saihonji, of the temple of Riuanji, of the monastery of Kiyomizu, and of parts of Maruyama, all situated in the city of Kioto. Fig. 3, from the grounds of a monastery called the Banto-In, in Kioto, exhibits an example of this treatment. The garden at Riuanji was considered the most remarkable in the northern part of the city, being a striking example of Sho-ami's fondness for austerity in style. His saintly patron who resided in the temple precincts having expressed a desire that no tree should screen his view of the distant shrine on the Yawata mountain, Sho-ami therefore selected an ocean prospect as the subject of his design. Abstaining from employing even a single tree, he combined clipped shrubs and bushes with rocks of fantastic shapes to represent the forms of ocean islands. To Sho-ami is also attributed the design of the garden of the Ginkakuji, or Silver Pavilion, built for Ashikaga Yoshimasa after his retirement from public affairs. See Plate XXXVI.