What does a Japanese garden have to do with Japan?

inkognitoJune 10, 2005

Perhaps the heading stands on its own but just in case: when James Rose suggested that a Japanese garden could only exist in Japan he was making a point that bypassed most. There is no doubt that we can import the ingredients, I saw bamboo and lanterns in Home depot today, there were statues of a laughing buddhas and water features guaranteed to scare deer.

There is also a tendancy amongst those who appreciate the garden aesthetic to feel that that have to eat raw fish or wear a kimono.

So, what does all this have to do with Japan?

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breezyb(z6/7VA)

Culture & style - the relative peacefulness that both Japanese culture + style bring to a garden.

Does this bother you?

And you must be travelling in very strange circles if you find a tendency for folks who like Japanese garden styles to also have to wear kimonos & eat sushi. In over 45 years of gardening I have yet to find anything remotely resembling that statement.

Again - why your question? Sounds like just a bit of pot-stirring to me.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 7:21PM
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inkognito

There is a serious intent to my question, although "pot stirring" comes quite close.
"Culture & style - the relative peacefulness that both Japanese culture + style bring to a garden" you say, my question is: can these qualities be imported along with the stone lanterns etc. or are they one and the same?

    Bookmark   June 11, 2005 at 9:29PM
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breezyb(z6/7VA)

They're not "imported", the environment that brings out these qualities is created. Just like it is with an English Cottage Garden, a formal Estate Garden, or some homey carefully tended geraniums in a pot on the porch.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 12:45PM
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didgeridoo(z7 SC)

With regards to the question and statement that a Japanese garden can only exist in Japan, i point you to the statement of the Crown Prince (now Emperor) of Japan who said upon visiting the Nitobe Memorial Gardens in Vancouver, Canada... "I am in Japan".

The Japanese garden is a manifestation of a certain cultural climate, aesthetic sensiblity, and environmental conditions. Just like the separate distinct set of conditions which gave rise to Mediterranean gardens and formal English gardens. While the regional and cultural origin of each style deserves to be recognized, it doesnt create a boundary for its creation and existence. Can you create an English garden in Japan? Of course. Those who insist on playing a game of semantics and attempt to deny the source of their inspiration are probably just enamored with their own ego.

Can you have a tea culture, or wabi-sabi culture in the West? I think so. It is about values and aesthetics, and how we apply them in our particular set of circumstances. It doesnt necessarily mean the literal translation or an exact representation of the original (ie. kimonos and sushi), but an echo of the values and aesthetics.

-christian

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 3:23PM
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breezyb(z6/7VA)

Bravo Christian!!!!!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 8:48PM
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Herb

Christian - Agreed!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 8:53PM
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didgeridoo(z7 SC)

Wow, agreement on the JG forum, i will cherish this moment! ;)

    Bookmark   June 12, 2005 at 11:40PM
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patjonking(z7 VA)

A few years ago I want on a garden tour of private residences in my area. One of the homes had a Japanese-themed garden out back, and the owner and his wife were standing there in pink kimonos serving sushi. They looked very awkward to me. I'd have to agree that the kimono/sushi comment rings true.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 9:54AM
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nachodaddy(quiet, I’m trying to meditate!)

I recently returned from Hawaii where there is a large Nissei and Sansei population. Saw a very small Japanese garden there you would not find in any books. No kimonos or sushi (they put Spam in their sushi BTW) and *gasp* no Japanese Maples. However, it had the "feel". Got "chicken skin" (goosebumps) when I saw it. The garden was very old. While I was absorbing this place , I was thinking that the person who built this originally did not have access to Home Depot or Bob's Bonsai or even had a Paypal account. They just did it........

No pics sorry. I wandered off from the rest of the family while they did typical vacation stuff. Kept my eyes open the rest of the trip but did not spot another one.... One was enough.

"The Japanese garden is a manifestation of a certain cultural climate, aesthetic sensiblity, and environmental conditions"- Christian, you need to write a book...........

Michael

    Bookmark   June 13, 2005 at 10:58AM
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kobold(Vancouver BC)

Christian- I sign up for the first autographed copy...if it is about JG.

Andrea

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 4:11AM
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inkognito

I came across a thread on the LD forum with a good response that answers some of my own questions. It's on page five called "Principles of Asian Landscaping".

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 4:00PM
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DonPylant(z8TX)

Christian, more praise for your clear thinking views on the values and aesthetics of Japanese gardens!

INKognito, those fond of Japanese culture surely have different levels of appreciation. The Japan in my soul consists of all that I came to love in Japan. When I think about it, I am always drawn to the garden to enjoy a pot of tea. And, I am drawn to a pot of tea when enjoying the garden. My daughter has never been to Japan, but is also drawn to the garden to enjoy tea. Is this from my sharing, or something she personally associates with her experience with tea?

By another example, the few private Japanese style gardens in my area have often been enjoyed via gatherings of Japan American Society and others fond of the culture, where sushi, kimonos, and shakuhachi were familiar - not pretentious. It was a level of comfort the audience was ready for.

Perhaps sushi and green tea do not taste better when enjoyed in a Japanese garden, but for me, it sure seems like it.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 9:35PM
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nachodaddy(quiet, I’m trying to meditate!)

Don;

Kinda like how a pretzel and a hotdog taste better at a ball park.....

Michael

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 10:10PM
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didgeridoo(z7 SC)

Hey Micheal, the garden you discovered sounds like a real jewel. I think that the smaller private gardens sometimes seem to capture that essence better than some of the sprawling public ones. I visited a garden in Atlanta that Yama-san designed and constructed about 15 years ago in a small fenced in patio behind a condo. It was perhaps only 10' x 20', but the choice of materials and the arrangement really moved me when i entered the space. There were no buddhas or anything like that, but i have to admit that the space felt very sacred to me, it inspired awe. Later i had the privelage of working in this garden.

While i appreciate the compliments, dont hold your breath on the book deal, the more i see the body of knowledge associated with JGs, the more i realize what a novice i am. Besides, id much rather spend time behind a set of shears than behind a keyboard.

Though i must say that this forum really is a great tool for formulating ideas and bouncing them off of other folks, and its funny how we all end up working together (unwittingly) in a way to try and define the 'it' of the Japanese garden. Perhaps it is an exercise in futility, but i think understanding Japanese gardens on a practical level compliments the rest that comes from intuition.

Thanks for stirrin the pot INKo, the soup was starting to get a little film on top! ;)

-christian

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 10:19PM
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kobold(Vancouver BC)

Don, when we raise children, we hope and wish that we could pass them all the knowlege we accumulated in our lifetime, pass them the love of nature, art, music, our culture, their heritage.If we have any success, who knows, it is the genes or the good example?

Andrea

    Bookmark   June 14, 2005 at 10:37PM
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DonPylant(z8TX)

Andrea,occasionally, when I am successful in understanding something, learning some technique or achieving some allusive perspective, I am struck by the sadness of the finite lifespan we have. When you finally know enough to be really useful, its gone!

On a brighter note, Christian's stirring of the pot is similar to a good tea ceremony conversation. These threads have us all sitting on a giant virtual tatami, sharing a huge range of thoughts and opinions on Japanese gardens, gardening, culture, etc. If only the ancient tea masters could see us now! They would either be wide mouth with awe, or run screaming into the mountains...

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 10:55AM
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jeepster(5)

"The Japanese garden is a manifestation of a certain cultural climate, aesthetic sensiblity, and environmental conditions"-

I would like to suggest that one needs to integrate this ethos into their own cultural climate and environmental condition in order to acheive authenticity. One needs to see the Japanese way and then apply it their hemisphere of esthetics and materials. I think that by focusing on garden "trinkets" one runs the risk of comming up very short. The question should be, can an authentic Japanese garden exist out side of Japan and if so how then? Cetainly, in my estimation, not by trying to REcreate a Japanese garden, but by creating a japanese garden.

My goal is to create one that 1) a Japanese person would enter and feel authentic (i.e. "I am in Missouri but I feel Japan") and 2) it would be worthy of rehab 50 years from now.

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 12:28PM
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inkognito

Time to get the spoon out again. It seems that jeepster is saying that there is a peculiar "Japanese way" of seeing things that would automatically allow anyone Japanese to create a garden that we would recognize as authentic. This can't be true can it?
'Aesthetic sensibility' is available to all, although not everyone, of whatever nationality can access it. The same could be said of both a 'cultural climate' and 'environmental conditions', although these effect us all they effect us differently. Look around at the people you know, including your children and name ten who share your way of seeing exactly. Are the Japanese different?
There must be something else. I am not denying that being Japanese might give you a head start but the 'it' surely transcends such a narrow view.
In the post I refer too on the LD forum (where edzard writes a wonderful piece incidentally) laag is suggesting that a designer could analyze and extract what the 'it' is and emulate it satisfactorily. Can this be right?

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 2:56PM
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nachodaddy(quiet, I’m trying to meditate!)

Tony;

I agree with you. It is like saying someone who grew up in a soccer town in England would understand the subtleties of "hands in the ruck". You would never see it because you would not know what to look for..... However, you would be well versed on a 4-4-2 versus a 3-5-1 and if David Beckham is good husband or not.

Jeepster, it is admirable of what you are trying to accomplish but in my humble opinion it just ain't gonna work how you want it to. If you take a salary person working in Tokyo who spends his weekends hanging out in Harajuku dressed like Stiv Bators and run them through your garden, they are gonna ask you where you keep the eye liner, not what kind of pruning shears you use. I think it is a cool idea though..........

Analyze, extract, emulate. Nah.... When I read what laag wrote (beautifully said I may add), I think of Slawson's higher path to authenticity. Big picture, don't put the cart before the horse stuff.....

For the record I own 8 kimonos and think that paying $50.00 for all you can eat sushi is a good deal. They have to have saba though, so I can breath on my kids.

I see a lot of google searches to figure this one out, but it will all make sense in the end.

Mahalo

Michael

    Bookmark   June 15, 2005 at 5:31PM
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jeepster(5)

"Time to get the spoon out again". I think ya lost me here IMK, what spoon?

It seems to me that it's called "Japanese gardening" because it was developed in Japan by Japanese. If I gave the impression that I think that only Japanese could accomplish such art then I appologize, it was not my intent. I feel that one needs to find the vision of the art in order to perform it correctly, otherwise one runs the risk of just "emulating".

After reconsidering what I posted, it may not be possible to creat a space that feels "Japanese" to a Japanese person simply because of the plant materials that thrive or do not thrive here in Missouri's harsh environment, that theyn are not accustomed to. With that said howevere, if say I were to be visited by a Japanese person who was a garden nut like me or say you all, and they recognized the underpinnings of the japanese way and it made sense to them, even though I used native materials amd manipulated my native environ, then I would say that I was succsessfull.

What I am striving for is a manifestation of the Japanese way without resorting to any overt Japanese stylings that hit you in the face immediately (i.e. bridges, lanterns, gates, etc., etc. It's seems far to often that one simply relies upon these acutriments to "convey" the Japanese form or way which gives no depth to the vision.

I think one can be siccessfull in gardening w/o eating sushi and collectin kimono.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2005 at 7:28AM
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kobold(Vancouver BC)

jeepster, read the first comment, re: pot stirring. You need a spoon!

    Bookmark   June 16, 2005 at 5:03PM
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inkognito

Moving on..
"It seems to me that it's called "Japanese gardening" because it was developed in Japan by Japanese" may be the problem. Sorry jeepster, but understand that this is not a personal attack on you.
I think that a garden that is made with the attention to detail associated with Japanese gardens, that has a contemplative feel to it some see only in Japanese gardens and provides a space away from the speed and aggression of our everyday lives just like Japanese garden do, may not have anything to do with Japan, kimonos or sushi.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2005 at 6:07PM
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