One of the few books that has escaped numerous moves and decluttering of our home is a 35 years old book called Japanese Style. It has influenced our aesthetics and inspired our home style, from the purchase of our first family size futon when we were a really broke young family to the attempt to design a Japanese inspired garden when we were a little less broke or at least the bank was willing to give us a home equity loan.
While we find things worth bickering about often, we are united in our love for most things Japanese. We can and do spend hours admiring the perfect patterns of raked gravel in Japanese dry gardens or the exquisite shapes and colors of Japanese pottery or lacquerware.
The Japanese have the unsurpassed sense of refinement, attention to detail, and the mastery of craft that extends from the gold leaf splattered imperial finery of an ink box to a humble toothpick￼ or just a simple bamboo fence. A wooden door becomes an intriguing piece of art ￼or a canvas for the rain to draw a masterpiece on. ￼Nature is also coaxed to perfection in Japanese gardens. Initial garden inspiration came from China, but as in many other things the Japanese took an idea and developed and molded and mastered and perfected it to unreachable heights. It takes a great knowledge of Feng shui and care and skill to set up a Japanese garden and then it takes hard work, patience and attention to details to keep it growing well. Japanese gardeners are in my book the unsung heroes.
There are big castle park gardens with large bodies of water that are wonderful for strolling, especially in the evenings under romantic lighting. Where you have water, you must have bridges. They come in different shapes and colors, but my favorite is a cheerful red. Under the bridges giant black, golden, and orange koi fish are swimming happily.Sometimes the water is not water at all, but is represented by white pebbles that flow like a river. And the fish are a ceramic rendition. How fun! The reflection of the trees in the water is replaced by the black shadows on white gravel river.We first encountered this concept at the spectacular Adachi Museum of Art Garden, considered by many the best garden in all of Japan. It certainly is the best and the cleverest set up for six gardens in total, because they blend in perfectly with the surrounding hills and while you can’t walk through them at all, you can watch large landscape tableaux through the contemporary museum windows, changing through the seasons. A very different experience of a garden, indeed! We had a few quiet moments at Yuushien Garden coffee shop that employs a similar wall window garden view idea. For a short time in spring time you can watch thousands upon thousands of yellow and pink peony flowers floating on the water. Peony symbolizes good fortune, bravery, and honor.No wonder it was depicted in a very similar pattern on a samurai’s lacquer box.
Water and modern architecture were also combined well in the D.T. Suzuki Museum, celebrating the life of the Japanese philosopher who introduced Zen Buddhism to the Western world. ￼Fittingly it was very minimalist, inviting the visitors to quiet reflection or shall I call it Zen meditation?￼For us though, it was the smaller, more intimate garden settings, that we enjoyed most. We stumbled upon the Namura Residence garden in the old samurai district of Kanzawa, not knowing that it was no. 3 on the list of the best. It is a tiny garden, but fits in all essential Japenese garden elements:
Rocks and stepping stones and koi, and a cube shaped water feature beautifully reflecting the surrounding trees.Water features are probably my favorite element of Japanese gardens.Mirek really likes stone lanterns in all their shapes and forms. Especially if accompanied by beautiful women, or shapely trees,or vibrant leaves. Oh, the trees! What can be more Japanese than the flaming Japanese maples? Only flowering cherries, if you please! Yoo-hoo, what about bamboo?Of course. Green, black, variegated? Tall, for sure! What I like about Japanese garden approach is that even if you don’t have a castle or a house, you can still plan a tiny Japanese garden in a corner by your front door or at least a mini one on a tray. If all else fails, you can always hang a garden painting on your wall.