The Landscape Guide

Japanese Garden Design 

The civilization of Japan is modern compared with that of China, but it is of the Chinese school, as is unreservedly recognized. The relationship is made very clear by the fact that the Japanese first obtained a notion of literature when they accepted Buddhism, which happened with astonishing quickness in the fifth century A.D., and it was from China that this religion overflowed into Japan. Japanese authors, who had to invent a written speech, adopted the single-syllable language of the Chinese, by means of which they wrote their own language phonetically. The Japanese are a surprisingly receptive as well as a very zealous and diligent people. They absorbed the results of Western civilisation in a single generation. In the domain of art the Japanese have originality, but in all else they appear only as an offshoot from the great Chinese tree, and only began to exist when that tree was independent and full-grown. This is especially true in the case of painting, and in the garden art which is so intimately connected therewith. China offers riddle after riddle to an inquiring student, in spite of the fact that in her life and art there is such remarkable continuity and coherence, and problems occur all through her history. Japan. on the contrary, has all her cards on the table and allows a greedy inquirer to make investigations into the innermost recesses of her spiritual history.

At the present time the garden art of Japan is known and admired in Europe. It is examined and imitated as few others are. This is not simply the result of unrestricted trade between the nations and the incomparable advantage that the Japanese have themselves seen European gardens, but is also and perhaps still more due to their philosophical type of mind. In life, thought, and action the Japanese have always been in complete harmony with their environment and history, and the greater part of their literature consists of works that are meant to be instructive. Many of the national characteristics that incline the Japanese towards gardening are shared by the Chinese, or indeed by most of the people of Asia; but we are particularly well informed as to the love felt by the Japanese for nature and the garden. It is not a mere æsthetic exhibition made by the aristocracy, although we are dealing with a people so aristocratic that all culture so called was for a long time confined exclusively to the one class. Delight in the beauty of nature is expressed in great festivals shared by all classes, and in this particularly festive nation flower fêtes take the first place.