In a Ja­panese coun­try garden

The NSW town of Cowra is the set­ting for a tran­quil me­mo­rial

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JU­LIA PA­TRICK

ONAu­gust 5, 1944, in an act of both courage and fu­til­ity, 1000 Ja­panese pris­on­ers of war at­tempted a mass break­out from their prison on the out­skirts of Cowra in west­ern NSW.

In­doc­tri­nated with the samu­rai code that held death to be prefer­able to the ul­ti­mate dis­hon­our of cap­ture, 235 Ja­panese were killed that aw­ful day, as well as four Aus­tralian guards. War cen­sor­ship was tight and Aus­tralians knew noth­ing of what hap­pened at the time.

But out of that hor­rific morn­ing the idea of a me­mo­rial to hon­our those who died slowly crys­tallised and even­tu­ally took the form of an ele­gant and au­then­tic Ja­panese garden.

A short drive from the town cen­tre to the Cowra Ja­panese Garden and Cen­tre of Ja­panese Cul­tural Her­itage in Aus­tralia takes you through typ­i­cal coun­try, but be­yond the en­trance and sou­venir shop lies an­other world.

World-renowned Ja­panese ar­chi­tect Ken Naka­jima de­signed the garden in 1976. Bal­ance and pro­por­tion were al­limpor­tant in the po­si­tion­ing of stones (an in­te­gral part of all Ja­panese gar­dens) and in the trees, plants and water that sym­bol­ise the nat­u­ral el­e­ments.

The shape and tex­ture of the plants — more than 120 species — were care­fully thought out, and while there are vi­brant splashes of aza­leas and camel­lias there are no ri­ots of bright colour. Naka­jima sought quiet hues — the blue of wis­te­ria, the yel­low and white of irises — to give the garden a har­mo­nious seren­ity.

Curved, paved paths wind through ev­ery cor­ner and clev­erly con­cealed spots sud­denly open out into sweep­ing per­spec­tives. Lit­tle benches are thought­fully po­si­tioned.

A wa­ter­fall splashes down a hill into the lake and ponds where koi carp in shim­mer­ing colours weave their way be­tween lit­tle is­lands. The beau­ti­ful tea house is the spir­i­tual cen­tre of the garden, while the tiny Edo house has the tatami mat­ting and sunken bath typ­i­cal of a Ja­panese home.

Cov­er­ing al­most 5ha, the es­tate is metic­u­lously main­tained by four full­time gar­den­ers.

Although it is a kaiyu-shiki strolling garden, elec­tric golf bug­gies are avail­able and a hand-held au­dio guide fills in de­tails and plant names.

The big, in­door cul­tural cen­tre has some won­der­fully ex­otic cos­tumes, war­rior hel­mets, paint­ings and ce­ram­ics, all care­fully and at­trac­tively pre­sented, and a small tra­di­tional stone garden with­out a bush or blade of grass.

Meals are served at the air­con­di­tioned cafe or on the ter­race, where a group of bon­sai is a charm­ing ad­di­tion. Strangely, there is not a sin­gle book about the garden it­self, and at the Cowra In­for­ma­tion Cen­tre the em­pha­sis is on the break­out. In a 10-minute holo­gram, a young girl tells the story of what hap­pened on that fate­ful day.

Cowra is one of our un­sung coun­try towns, en­cir­cled by canola fields, with blos­som trees lin­ing its main street. The Cowra and Ja­panese war ceme­ter­ies show just how beau­ti­fully and sen­si­tively laid out a grave­yard can be.


De­signed by Ken Naka­jima, the garden is a place of har­mo­nious seren­ity

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