Paradise Garden:

Ginkaku-ji - Temple of the Silver Pavilion

click here to enlargeThe Ginkaku-ji buildings originally were the retirement villas of shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1435-1490). After his death the complex was converted to the Zen temple of Jisho-ji. Yoshimasa was the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu's grandson. In honor of his grandfather and in an attempt at pursuing art, Yoshimasa planned to cover portions of the two-story wooden pavilion in silver. Although his intentions were never executed, the idea captured the Japanese imagination, and the name "Silver Pavilion" was born.

At Ginkaku-ji, natural living material such as plants and trees are placed against the sand that is raked. The constructed sand is in contrast to the natural materials. The interpretation between the sand and plants relationship draws from Zen, Tao, and Shinto. In Zen philosophy, the contrast admits the contradiction as a part of existence.


Zen Garden

Ryoan-ji- Zen garden - Karesansui -Landscape garden

click here to enlargeWhen the word garden is mentioned, one would think of green scenery, which includes plants, trees, bushes, grass, flowers, a pond, and so on. Zen gardens however, are created with little plant material, and have neither pond nor river. This garden has only rock, gravel, sand, and perhaps a few pieces of moss. The dry garden dates back to the Muromachi period, the fifteenth century. Its physical form represents Zen Buddhist philosophy, Zen self-examination, spiritual refinement, and enlightenment. The Zen garden originally was created as an aid to meditation and to teach the principles of the religion.

Zen gardens are regarded as representational of Zen discipline, because the garden is regarded as expressions of individual worlds of thought, therefore, copying was strictly forbidden. Their true meaning lies in the viewer's imagination and interpretation of the abstract symbolism landscape. Most Zen gardens rely on a strong sense of enclosure for its mood. Enclosure functions as the garden's definition, and is often a quiet escape place. The surrounding wall represents a visual boundary or by placing stones against the ground and gravel.

Zen priests of the Muromachi period experimented with various methods to design stone gardens, and their famous works still exist as examples of garden art. Often the same Zen priest was both painter and garden designer. One well known designer was Soami of Daison-in, whose style and design are frequently seen in both art forms. His work however, doesn't seem to exist any longer in the present time.

The main components that are used in the Karesansui or "dry-landscape" gardens are earth and natural elements. Every stone, plant, wood, or sand spread has meaning and representation in its placement.

In addition to natural elements, some man-made architectural elements can be added. Bridges, pathways, and lanterns are usually found in Zen gardens. Wooden and stone lanterns are chosen over metal because the main focus of a Zen garden is to create a natural atmosphere, a peaceful, balanced environment that is quiet and meditative.

The Japanese Zen gardens often are not to be entered, especially the sand areas of the garden. In the Zen garden, sand represents water, and these areas often were preciously racked into circles that signify water ripples. It is to be viewed from a designated distance.

The reduction of materials concept in the Zen garden to its absolute minimal reflects the Japanese attitude toward the sensitivity to art, beauty, and spaces, in which are often implied rather than stated: The spaces in Zen garden are to be sensed more than viewed!

Symbolism: Elements and their meaning in Zen gardens

  • Gates (torii), fences, straw ropes, and cloth banners acted as signs to demarcate paces.
  • Shrines were more of a mental construct than physical emplacements, a place that existed in the mind instead of a place that could be seen. The shrine is a setting of spirit. It is also a place where humans and spirit meet.
  • The garden is the setting for human activity.
  • Sand represents water.
  • Stones are the major elements of design in Japanese garden. They are considered more important than trees to the Japanese, perhaps due to the strong desire for eternity and stones represent the eternal elements in nature. Stones also represent fertility mostly because of their phalli's shape. The stones from the mountains near Kyoto have been highly treasured for centuries. The fine stones, especially, were handed down through generations of warlords. In Japanese garden design, stones are used in combination with other stones, or sand to imply a natural scene or to create an abstract design. The shapes of natural stones have been divided into five categories called five natural stones. The Japanese used the characters of wood, fire, earth, metal and water to represent stone elements, and are applied to five classes of stone shapes:
  1. Taido: wood. Tall vertical. Implies high trees. Also called body stones, placed in the back of a grouping.
  2. Reisho: metal. Low vertical. Implies the steady and firmness of metal. Often grouped with tall verticals. It is sometimes called soul stones.
  3. Shigyo: fire. Arching. Branches that shape like fire. These types of branches called stone atmosphere and peeing stones. Often placed in the front and to one side of other shapes.
  4. Shintai: water. Flat or horizontal. Called level base stones or mind and body stone. Usually used for harmonization in rock groupings.
  5. Kikyaku: earth. Reclining. Often known as root or prostrate stones. Usually placed in the foreground to create a harmony appearance.
    - Rocks represent the sense of power and desire or feeling of tranquillity .To the Oriental's perception, rocks suggest mountains, islands.
    - White sand cones represent the Shinto salt cones of purity.
    - Crane and turtle islands represent symbols of longevity.


Tea Garden

Kinkaku-ji - Temple of the Golden Pavilion

click here to enlargeAfter gaining power of Japan in 1338 and remaining in control for 150 years, the Ashikaga family reestablished Kyoto, and turned it into their capital. The Ashikaga reopened trading relations with China, which had been closed for centuries. During this period, a second wave of Chinese culture entered Japan, and this time with the influence of the Sung Dynasty. The Ashikaga family were the patrons of the Buddhism Zen sect and the arts; this had a great effect on Japanese culture. Although Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1358-1408) was the third shogun in the Ashikaga family, he was the first who was interested in art and culture. Gathering ideals from artists, poets, and Zen priests who had visited China, imitating the ideals of the Sung Dynasty and the Heian period in Japan, he built for himself a retreat in Kyoto called Kinkaku-ji, Temple of the Golden Pavilion, shortly before he officially retired in 1394.

The pavilion's architectural character was from the Chinese Sung Dynasty. Its overall form reflecting the pavilions and buildings seen in paintings of the period. The pavilion is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese forms, but the blending was so subtle that in the final analysis it is called Japanese style.

Most of the temple complex was destroyed during the Onin Wars of 1467-1477, only the Golden Pavilion and the pond surviving intact. In 1950 the pavilion was burned down by a deranged student monk A replica was built in 1955. The current main temple buildings, the tea house, and its garden were added in the early 1600s by the Emperor Gomizuno.


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