#93 The Land of the Rising Sun (2) Parks and gardens

By philberphoto | News

Mar 11

If you wanted to make a really beautiful park, what would be the most suitable place? Obviously one where neither climate nor setting presented major challenges. Well, Japan is just the opposite. Nature is as hostile as it comes, save for the Poles and deserts. Yet the Japanese have perfected the art of gardens and parks so as to make a visit an almost soul-cleaning moment of purity.

So our visit to Japanese parks starts with a miniature waterfall, a combination of water, rocks, and vegetation. All one needs are animals, and the sun, and the whole universe will be symbolically there. Remember, space in Japan comes at a huge premium, so everything needs to be small. Species of vegetation, plants, trees, even fountains and streams. Well, not everything; There cannot be a Japanese park without some expanse of water, and , in it, Koi carp. Decorative fish, which collectors pay a fortune for, if they happen to meet Japanese criteria for beauty. Well, Koi carp are not small…:-)Now these parks are never without their prayer-houses and tea-houses, where the Lords of yore could enjoy their calming and inspiring beauty while enjoying cha-no-yu, or tea ceremony. Some of these tea-houses are mundane and simple, and others lavish, but none more so than the Gold Temple of Kinkakuji in Kyoto. Unfortunately, this site is now totally commercialised to the point that one has to wait a long time to get to the only position from which a decent, if postcard-style picture may be shot.Much more interesting in my humble opinion, is to go, still in Kyoto, to the garden of Ginkakuji (note, only the first letter differentiates the two parks, and they are in opposite parts of the city), with, in parts, its eerie, almost Tim-Burton-esque ambianceThis is the second time the city of Kyoto comes up in this article. The reason is that this city, capital of Japan before Tokyo, was not bombed during WWII. Its historic and cultural importance, and the lack of significant military or industrial targets inspired the Americans to spare it deliberately, and its 600+ temples still stand because of it.

Annother style typical of Japanese garden is the Zen garden. Rocks, stones, gravel, arranged with incredible precision. Where Zen masters connect with the Universe and “listen to rocks grow”.

Now, of course, this incredible attention to detail, the meaningful place of every small pebble, all of this would come to nothing in a Western park, with its seemingly inevitable litter of dirty food packaging, discarded cans, cigarette butts and other forms of trash. Well, not in Japanese parks and gardens. Not one. This is not so surprising when you think of the large number of gardeners seeing to it. But also, remember, after the terrible earthquake and tsunami, no houses or remains were looted. In Japan, respect for the common good is not as abstract as a Zen poem. People, things, gardens are clean…

Of course, some of these parks and gardens are set around a palace, a temple or castle. But that is another story…