The Landscape Guide

Heian Period Japanese Garden Design

It was not till the warlike period of Heian, about 800 to 1150, that the court nobility began to build palaces in Kyoto, the capital, and that gardens were laid out in the front of the strange collection of houses. which were joined to each other by corridors. At that period there existed only one typical style, imported from China, which brought into a single picture the view of lake, island, bridge, water falling from an artificial hill in the background, and different sorts of trees and stone-work oddly shaped and twisted. There would be a grotto at one corner, and some sort of hermitage or hut to enliven the scene. People were wont to come to a place like this on fine summer evenings. There were covered walks leading from the house to the garden, which also served as walls for the whole enclosure. In the ninth century the famous artist Kanaoka was busy, drawing such houses and gardens. His death was followed by the closing years of the Heian epoch, a period of much revelling and licence, when the nobles took to all kinds of extravagances; but famous gardens were laid out at Kyoto.

The greatest admiration was excited by the house of a chieftain of the Minamota clan. This house was encased in brick—a style which at that time was positively unique. The owner made a park round his house which copied in miniature a landscape that was famous in Japan—the salt coast (shiwo-mama) of the province of Mutsu. It is characteristic of the nobility of that day that they had hundreds of tons of salt water evaporated there, so as to give the fresh-water lake the proper taste of the sea. In the same spirit of exaggerated æstheticism, they would cover tall trees with artificial cherry- and plum- blossom, in order to recall the spring, or would hang garlands of wistaria on pine-trees in the autumn, or would pile up great masses of snow, so that they might still see traces of it under the sunny skies of spring. The mixture of snow and flowers is, of course, one of the things that the Japanese have delighted in at all times.