The Landscape Guide

Kamakura Period in Japanese Garden Design

Zen gardens

The art of gardening shows what seems to be an entirely new feature in the next, the so-called Kamakura, epoch, lasting from about 1150 to 1310. The Buddhist monks, as we have said, were the chief cultivators of the garden and also the chief teachers. Even to this day we find, as in China, the best old gardens round the temples and monasteries; and these look very fine against the dark-green background with the complementary red colour so universally used in religious buildings.

We have already noticed the importance of stones in the Chinese garden. It is probable that the monks took from China into Japan the custom of naming the most important stones, which had special places assigned to them, after certain Buddhist divinities. In the garden of the Abbot of Tokuwamonu Lafcadio Hearn saw represented the legend of the Buddha, before whom the stones bow down. And even in the latest times stones bearing the names of gods are to be seen in monastic gardens: they are mostly nine in number, five standing, four lying down. Each had to have a fixed place, and they were to serve as protectors against evil. Probably these temple gardens had predecessors in China that were equally or more important. Hills are sacred to the Japanese as well as to the Chinese. Nearly all are dedicated to a particular deity, and have temples to which pilgrimages are made. The highest hill, and the most perfect the gods have ever made, is the Fujiyama; and to have a copy of it in one’s own garden is the best thing possible (Fig. 570a).

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A legend says that Fujiyama (Fig. 570b) rose in one night, together with the Biwa Lake, for the gods piled it up with the earth obtained from the lake basin, This hill forms a lofty example for the enduring work of a gardener; lake and hill serve one another.

The first Japanese treatise on the art of gardening appeared at the beginning of the thirteenth century, and was a kind of moral or philosophical essay. The art is founded, according to Yoshitsune Gokyogoku [Tachibana-no Toshitsuna], on the first principle of the prevailing philosophy of Laotse, viz, that everything in nature is split up into two corresponding parts, the male and the female, the active and the passive, the ruling and the ruled. In accordance with this principle, we must proceed in gardening as in every other form of art. Thus in a picture there is produced the effect of contrast and proportion; if there is a stone that has in it the male element, and is of a tall upright shape, there has to be a female stone as a complement, flat and lying down. Again, if on an island there is a tall spreading tree, there should be a slender lamp-post set up near it; and beside a hill of some particular shape there should be another hill of different shape. But this is not all: answering to the suggestive fancy that was adopted from China, and to the Chinese delight in symbolism, the Japanese supplied some positive meaning and definition for every single thing, all held together and controlled by regular fixed rules. In this way there came about a kind of grammar, a formal instruction in garden art, which was eagerly seized upon by the followers of Gokyogoku, and carried out in as accurate and detailed a way as possible.

The monk Soseki, a leading member of the Zen sect, and the artist-priest Soami, rank as the most important teachers and supporters of garden art in the fifteenth century. Soami makes a division of landscapes and seascapes into twelve principal kinds. When a garden is to be laid out, the designer must first have certain main points fixed in his mind, and these are generally marked by stones, which are therefore spoken of as the skeleton of the garden. And here we must concede to the dwellers in Eastern Asia that they have a fellow-feeling with Nature, and especially with inanimate Nature, which is unknown to Europeans. Lafcadio Hearn says that if we cannot feel with conviction that stones have a character of their own, as well as colours and values, the artistic idea of a Japanese garden will never be revealed to us, Soami classifies separately lake-stones and river-stones, stones that glide along, stones that float, on the waves, stones that interrupt a river and stones that the river avoids, stones on which the water breaks and stones that stand apart from it, stones that stand up and stones that lie down, stones where water-fowl dry their feathers, stones for mandarin ducks, and Sutra stones, to enumerate only some of the most important. But later on 138 kinds, and even more, were classified as necessary for a perfect garden, though in smaller places they could be reduced to five, which must be regulated as to size and position by the area of the ground. By the scheme of male and female—and some of the stones and other natural objects seemed to partake of both—a happy proportion was kept. There were, moreover, as many helpful stones as were needed to characterise a landscape of river, lake, or rock. Stones were often brought from a distance when they were required to elucidate some particular landscape. If the blocks of rock intended for a large place were’ too heavy for transport, they were broken up on the spot, and set up again with cement in the park, of exactly the same size and shape.

The garden artist had to take into account the suitability of the ground and the inclination of the owner before he chose between the two chief kinds of garden, the mountainous and the flat. In large places, belonging to one of the Daimios, or territorial nobles, the first of these styles was as a rule used for the principal view, which could be seen from the chief reception-rooms of the castle.

But there was plenty of choice as to whether the landscape should be a combination of land or of lake features. (In the latter case the Seiko—the Chinese Hsi-hu or Western Lake—was always the ideal in Japan.) A number of subdivisions were ready for selection. The style of sea and rock demands a great waterfall, firs beaten by the storm, rocks, and the stones of a beach. The style of the wide river, on the other hand, demands a smaller waterfall, stones such as are found in rivers, and an actual river widening out into a lake. The style of the natural stream demands a mountain brook and a small pool; whereas the style of waves must have no island, but many water-plants and only a few stones. The style of the marshy grass calls for hills that are round, like dunes, with flat stones. On one side of the sea there must be heath-land or moor, and beside the water either willows or gnarled plum-trees.

t must be borne in mind that in Japan all forms of art, including that of gardening, show three grades in execution. There is the perfect and completed style, the intermediate, and that which is merely sketchy. For every sort of garden a particular plan has to be made. Thus for the completed style of the mountain garden there must be at least five hills (Fig. 571).

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 The middle part of it is occupied by a broad hill declining on both sides (i), of which the original model is Fujiyama; 2 is its complementary picture, lower and quite near to it; 3 is on the side that faces 1, and stands in the foreground with a valley between, thickly planted, and either actually containing, or at least suggesting a hidden stream; 4 is entirely in front, and emphasises the hill-landscape; and with the same object there is a fifth hill in the background, so as to give the necessary impression of depth, between the two chief hills.

In a garden of this kind there have to be ten principal stones with their proper functions and names. The largest, 1, is the Watchman Stone; 2, its feminine counterpart, is on the other side of the waterfall. The Stone of Adoration is generally situated on an island, and the Stone of the Complete View is either in front or on one side, and shows by its position where the finest outlook can be obtained over the garden. In the same way all the rest of the stones have their places and names, which are thoroughly understood.

Correspondingly, the chief trees are easily recognised by Japanese eyes; 1 is a stately oak or some other leafy tree set in the middle, and has to be perfect in growth and beauty, so as to attract men’s gaze to it first; 2 is the favourite pine-tree, which stands on an island; 3 is the Tree of Loneliness. There is also the Tree of the Cascade, and so on. A maple is generally selected for the Tree of the Setting Sun (5), and is placed so far to the west that as the sun sinks it shines through the red leaves. Every perfect garden must have seven special trees such as these.

There must always be water also, whatever kind it may happen to be. A lake must take the form of a tortoise, or of a crane, or some other definite shape. The main picture must always be brightened by a waterfall. Running water must take the direction of east to west and should flow swiftly. The water-basins and the waterfalls are mostly placed near the house, so that they can be used for people to wash their hands, When water does not arise from the lake, there must be a spring; but if that is not forthcoming, there has to be a path which loses itself, and so suggests that the source is a long way off. Where no water at all can be got, it can at any rate be suggested symbolically by overhanging trees, and by river stones, or by a bed of firm sand. Lafcadio Hearn describes a certain garden which was almost entirely sand and stones. He says that the effect the artist intended was an approach to the sea over a chain of sand dunes.

The other inevitable ornament of every garden of this kind is the bridge, which is no less common in Japan than it is in China, but here there is more restriction about its treatment and situation. The bridge is always to be found, when there is an island, with trees and lamps. As to the lamp, it appears in its special garden form because of tradition, It really seems to have been of purely Japanese origin, and is not found in Chinese gardens. It has been imported into the gardens of the laity from Buddhist temple-gardens, where lamps are often arranged in rows as votive offerings. These lamps are not used for lighting as a rule; indeed, they are very seldom lighted. By their ornamentation and symbolic signs they are apparently meant to stand for something sacred, for some sort of religious feeling.

In the older Japanese gardens there are no grass lawns, and the ground in front up to the lake is only firmly trodden earth, kept damp, or else strewn with fine white sand, often marked out in ornamental shapes. In neither case may it be trodden on, so there are stepping-stones made of irregular blocks in winding patterns, which lead from the veranda to the bridge or to some other particular spot. The footpaths themselves are made either of stones or firm sand. Ornamental bars and gates are of more importance in the two other grades of gardens, which are content with fewer cardinal points in their lay-out (Fig. 572).

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 Charming bamboo screens are nearly always used as an ornament close to the veranda, and here there have to be washing-basins, which are decorated and placed among trees, stones, and lamps (Fig. 573).

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 Another ornament, also found in China in a somewhat different form, is the so-called Torii. These are wooden posts with two cross-beams, of which the upper one is curved. Like the lamps, they serve no useful purpose, and are often set up in long rows. At one time they were probably intended to ornament the ends of bridges. They came into gardens out of the Shinto temples, but their religious meaning has never been explained, and they have never been used as gates. In the gardens they may perhaps serve as a reminder of something that had a religious nature, such as a temple.

The gardens of the less exalted grades, those of the middle and the sketchy styles, differ in that they have, as mentioned above, a smaller number of fixed cardinal points to serve the artist when he has to make a garden of smaller size, or of a simpler kind, to suit the rooms in the house. Aiming at this change, he has at his disposal the second group of the so-called level gardens, for which, moreover, a threefold expression is ready to his hand. However simple the place might be, every garden had to reckon with the meanings of hills, stones, and trees; and with the necessity of exciting the imagination of the owner in a language of suggestive symbolism. For “it is the most striking gift of the Japanese that they can seize upon the fundamental characteristic objects in Nature and reproduce them in those smaller writings and pictures which serve the ends of decorative art.” It is the artist’s business also, bound as he is by the limitations of an obviously rigid rule, not only to realise all the possibilities of imitating actual landscape, but always to create some special meaning that suits the taste, the station, or the profession of the owner, and to impress this meaning on his whole picture. It is stated of the gardens which are famous in history that they have represented Calm Retirement, Happiness, Age, Wedded Love, The Book of Change, and many other things.

The Japanese liked to look on purely poetic or historical scenes with imaginative eyes, even when he was in his own garden. To behold Elysian isles, for example, he had only to make a lake, with water-lilies on an island to which his own bridge would take him; and with the addition perhaps of an old fountain the scene would be complete. A garden monument, shaded by a group of firs, would suggest to his mind some specially sacred temple. Thus his garden is not a mere picture to him, but he is also able to con- verse with it in the language of the poets. In every larger garden there is a series of pictures, a series of views such as there are in China, and they have to express their general unity by way of contrasts. It was a favourite custom to connect eight different scenes, answering to the Hak-kei or eight views, which made particular points in Japan so famous. Other gardens would often show far more than eight. In one famous park at Tokyo, which was destroyed in ¡867, there were the thirty-six views which took the travellers so greatly by surprise on the way there from Kyoto. So faithfully were these copies made that “ a tour through the park was just like a journey from one capital city to another.”

The miniature gardens, which had come about, as in China, through the cultivation of dwarf plants, became by degrees objects of extreme luxury and value, Like dwarf. trees in pots (Fig. 574), the tiny landscapes became almost priceless, according to our ideas.

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 Early visitors to Japan spoke of them: Kämpfer saw growing together in one box four inches long, one and a half inches wide, and six inches high, a bamboo cane, a pine-tree, and a flowering plum-tree, which together were valued at two thousand marks, and this was not an exceptional price. In 1910 the Japanese Government presented to the City of London two transportable miniature gardens as a most precious gift, one of them a hill- garden, the other a tea-garden. According to an inscription the trees varied in age from thirty to a hundred and fifty years; the rocks and stones had been brought from different parts of Japan, and so had all the distinctive marks of a place remarkable for its beauty. The palaces and shrines had been modelled in exact conformity to the ancient style, which went back two hundred or even five hundred years. This was read by the London public on the inscription, and they gazed with astonishment on these apparent playthings.