My time in Japan has been characterized by a wide variety of experience in culture and learning. Since my last post, I have traveled to many places that have unique qualities not only within Japan, but also to the world. Of these visits, many of my favorites, naturally, have been the gardens. I began to compare garden features here with those of the gardens I was able to see in England. I see sharp contrast between gardens here and there, but some principles underlie them both.
First, it’s fall color season in Japan, so here are some photos of the autumn display:
An obvious difference, but one I did not notice at first, is in the usability of space within the garden. In England, gardens often encouraged people to use the places as originally intended. Playing, picnicking, and general activity were welcomed in the open spaces. This made for an active feel with noise and interaction during the peak times of the day. In most Japanese gardens, open areas are preserved for viewing only, with visitors being kindly asked to remain on the paths. Now, some of this deals with the fragility of the landscapes along with the massive amounts of visitors that frequent Japanese gardens, but it also speaks to the meaning of gardens in each culture. English gardens felt like a grand outing: a place to escape to nature with the family for the day. Japanese gardens have more of an inward, quiet feel. Each person interpreting the garden with their own set of feelings. There are gains and losses with each philosophy and viewing the contrast is quite thought provoking.
As a side note, I feel US gardens fall somewhere in between, with the English active mentality, but also the feel that you should stick to the paths. Quite frankly it amazed me to see how many grass paths were maintained in the UK!
There are many parallels between England and Japan in garden design, but more so I have been reflecting on characteristics of gardens. However, one design feature that I have found valued in each is the concept of a borrowed landscape. Gardens are beautiful within their boundaries, but the view beyond can change the spirit of the place. In England, borders often framed rolling sheep pastures or distant villages. Here in Japan, mountainscapes are utilized in the same way, providing a green backdrop that makes the garden feel far from civilization. Regardless, utilizing untouched nature to enhance the beauty of a designed garden is a smart concept that established itself in both countries long before idea sharing between the two.
Learning characterizes my travel, but culture is what truly shapes my experience on the TRIAD. Life in Japan is a sharp contrast between life in England. In just the same way, culture shaped historical gardens in Japan and England in very different ways. Horticulture in England went through several design periods, which make it difficult to generalize, but a theme of lushness and opulence held true for the most part. Sometimes that was in plantings, sometimes in the sheer size of the place, and sometimes how the manor home was framed. Regardless, lavishness was a symbol of wealth, which was a symbol of power. In Japan, the opposite has and continues to hold true. Gardens are incredibly complex from a design standpoint, but they are by no means lavish. Each detail is intentionally created, but the garden as a whole is unpretentious. Flowers are used sparingly and the plant palate is often modest.
There are many more comparisons to be made between the gardens of Englapan, but for the sake of keeping my post manageable, I will leave it at those. With 40 days remaining in my journey abroad, I am eager to continue exploring new perspectives.
P.S.: Tomorrow the Christmas installation at Kiseki no Hoshi begins and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about that!!