After nearly 6 weeks in Japan I have come to the conclusion I will never be much good at the language but my communication through mime and actions has improved greatly and in most cases this has worked well for me so far!
I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Japan and the people are so nice and extra helpful despite my ignorance of their language, I haven’t been able to stare at a timetable in a train station with a confused look on my face for more than a couple of minutes without someone asking me where I’m going and then pointing me to the correct platform, even coming back to check I’m still in the queue and let me know my train is the one currently arriving!
I have seen many wonderful gardens already.
and of course lots of temples and shrines.
a few pagoda
and many lanterns
The natural scenery here is also beautiful and it’s nice to just drive around Awaji island enjoying the views of paddy fields, mountains, lakes and coast.
During my time at Kiseki noh hoshi I have already learnt many new techniques my favourite so far being the making of Kokedama or Japanese moss balls. To make them you first need to shape the soil to a rough ball then cover with moss which is held in place by a strong thin cotton which you wrap around the moss many times in all directions, the bigger ones are wrapped with a thin netting instead of cotton. These can then be presented in many ways such as hanging from the ceiling,
presented on a traditional plate or bowl,
or simply just on the ground like this giant one.
They are fun to make and allow artistic creativity in how you display them. I had fun creating my own mini landscape on a tray. Tomoko sensei even told me it was good which is high praise, though she then told me how to make it better! Her constructive criticism was useful though and I can see how to make it better now.
Whilst at Kiseki we were involved in the exhibition changeover in the main hall. This involved removal of all of the previous display down to bare earth and then landscaping, installing features and replanting to Tomoko’s new design. All this was completed in a week, and is done in this way 7 times a year! Though we were working to her original plan Tomoko was constantly on site to oversee placement and orientation of all features from paths, patios, stones and teahouse down to the smallest plant, some things were tweaked from original design but everything had to be placed just right in co-ordination with everything around it. I helped planting bedding, shrubs and trees, laying slabs and tiles, building a small wall from kawara roof tiles and laying turf.
We spent four days training at Sorakuen, which is a traditional Japanese landscape garden in the centre of Kobe, completed in the early 20th century and currently run by Kobe city council it is a peaceful oasis in the middle of a busy city. Under the expert guidance of the resident gardener Horonouchi sensei we were taught many traditional Japanese skills.
Firstly making a bamboo fence, starting with long lengths of bamboo which we had to cut down to size using the thicker ends for our horizontal poles and the rest to make the verticals. Each piece had to be cut to above a node at a longer length than we needed and then the excess was cut off the bottom end, this ensured that there was a sealed node on the ends that were showing. The horizontals were then screwed to the posts that had already been set out for us and the vertical sections had to be tied in using a traditional Japanese knot which was reasonably straight forward but I did struggle to get the hang of it at first! After all the vertical sections were in place we wound the rope through and round all the sections along the length of the fence which really strengthened the whole structure and made up for any of our knots which may have been a bit loose.
The Japanese style of pruning pines involves not just pruning for shape and removing crossing and congested branches to give each branch its own space and to create a branching structure where the ends roughly look like they are spread like the fingers on a hand. It also involves removal of many of the needles on each branch, this is a time-consuming process but done every year as it is in Japanese gardens it produces a nicely shaped and healthy tree. To strip the needles you simply use one hand to hold the needles on the end of the branch, roughly 10 pairs, and then strip off all the remaining needles down the branch, although it can look a little drastic when done well it allows you to see the shape and structure of the entire tree and its branches and not just a mass of needles in a rough shape.
Our last day involved practicing laying stones in the Japanese fashion. Some of the rules we had to follow are to use a variety of shapes and sizes of stones in all areas, not to align straight edges of stones within the path parallel with the path edges and pointing gaps should not follow straight lines. The idea is to produce a flowing random pattern with no symmetry. Here is the path we created in our practice wooden frame.
It was a great experience and wonderful to learn from a time served pro like Horonouchi sensei who has been gardening his whole life and is still going strong at the age of 71.