In per­fect har­mony

Gar­den mar­vels for all sea­sons

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION JAPAN - ROBIN POW­ELL

RYOAN-JI, KY­OTO: Don’t skip this fa­mous attraction just be­cause im­ages of its 15 rocks in a rec­tan­gle of gravel are so fa­mil­iar; the most fa­mous of Zen dry gar­dens is a rid­dle worth puz­zling over in per­son. Con­sider, for in­stance, how time is ex­pressed through the medium of rock. The Ja­panese word for land­scape, san­sui, can be trans­lated as water and moun­tain, or water and rock. In this gar­den, rock stands for both, as well as for the ef­fect of water on rock, which over the ages be­comes sand. This rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the drip of time is bal­anced by the cherry tree that hangs over the wall of the gar­den, its fall­ing blos­som a re­minder of the fleet­ing mo­ment. Any time.

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TOFUKU-JI, KY­OTO: In the 20th cen­tury, Ja­pan’s lead­ing prac­ti­tioner of Zen gar­den de­sign was Mirei Shige­mori, who cre­ated a num­ber of the gar­dens in the tem­ple com­plex of Tofuku-ji, fa­mous for the fiery colours of its au­tumn maples. Find a way through the leaf-view­ing crowds to Shige­mori’s gar­dens, in­clud­ing the Gar­den of Van­ity, at the sub-tem­ple of Ryo­gin-an, where straight lines of white sand are raked be­tween a bor­der of smooth river stones, backed by a bam­boo fence. Novem­ber for the con­trast of the bril­liant leaves and aus­tere dry gar­dens.

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DT SUZUKI MU­SEUM, KANAZAWA: The Zen dry gar­den is in­verted and turned into a wet gar­den at the Mu­seum of the Zen teacher DT Suzuki, who is cred­ited with in­tro­duc­ing Zen Bud­dhism to Western philoso­phers. As you would ex­pect, his mu­seum is a tem­ple of min­i­mal­ism and con­tem­pla­tion. En­trance to the small gar­den around the build­ing is free. At first glance it’s es­sen­tially a re­flec­tive pool backed by con­crete walls over­hung with ma­ture trees, but then an un­seen foun­tain bur­bles once, send­ing rip­ples across the water, echo­ing the raked pat­terns of a dry gar­den, them­selves echoes of rip­ples on a lake and waves on the ocean. Spring for the hedge of flow­er­ing may and cherries; au­tumn for the colour on the hill­sides.

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KENROKUEN, KANAZAWA: In Edo-pe­riod Ja­pan, war­lords showed their so­phis­ti­ca­tion and wealth by build­ing flour­ish­ing es­tates that com­bined lit- er­ary ref­er­ences and sen­sual plea­sures in what were called stroll gar­dens. Kenrokuen is one of Ja­pan’s of­fi­cial Top Three and the cul­tural ref­er­ence here is to the 11th-cen­tury Chi­nese poet Li Ge­fei’s six el­e­ments of a per­fect gar­den: art and age, spa­cious­ness and seclu­sion, water and views. But you don’t need to re­mem­ber that to love the way the gar­den fol­lows wa­ter­ways down the hill and into sev­eral lakes, defin­ing the spa­ces, walks and views. There are plum blos­soms and cherries, a wis­te­ria-hung tea­house perched on the lake and an an­cient pine sus­pended over the water on bam­boo poles. Early spring for plum blos­som, April for cherries, a bit later for iris, sum­mer for hy­drangea, au­tumn for fo­liage colour and win­ter for snow.

BENIYA MUKAYU, YAMASHIRO ON­SEN: Of­ten Ja­panese gar­dens are de­signed to be looked at, rather than walked through. The most fa­mous of these view­ing gar­dens is prob­a­bly the Adachi Mu­seum of Art in Shi­mane pre­fec­ture, to the west of the main is­land of Hon­shu, where six gar­dens are framed by win­dows as if each were a sep­a­rate paint­ing. The gar­dens of Beniya Mukayu, a lux­ury hot spring ryokan out­side Kanazawa in cen­tral Hon­shu, are much less for­mal but are also de­signed pri­mar­ily to pro­vide views from in­side of the chang­ing sea­sons ex­pressed through trees. You can ven­ture into the gar­den proper, es­pe­cially to ex­pe­ri­ence a tea cer­e­mony in the tiny pav­il­ion, which is reached, as re­quired by de­sign prin­ci­ples set out in the late 16th cen­tury, by un­even step­ping stones, act­ing as a phys­i­cal re­minder that the path to en­light­en­ment is not easy.

Au­tumn.

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AN UR­BAN ES­TATE: Tokyo’s Ho­tel New Otani is sur­rounded by more than 4ha of im­mac­u­late gar­dens that date to the 16th cen­tury. When Yone­taro Otani agreed to build a ho­tel to ac­com­mo­date im­por­tant vis­i­tors to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics on his es­tate near the Im­pe­rial Palace, the plan was to main­tain the land­scape and pre­serve its Edo-pe­riod walls. There are wa­ter­ways, bridges, wind­ing paths and pic­turesque tea­houses plus the largest out­door swim­ming pool in cen­tral Tokyo (sea­son starts July 15) and rooftop rose gar­den. More: newotani.co.jp.

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HEIAN SHRINE, KY­OTO: The Tale of Genji has been called the world’s first novel and was writ­ten by a no­ble­woman, Murasaki Shik­ibu, who lived in 11th-cen­tury Ky­oto. Genji is a charm­ing prince look­ing for love, and as well as the sto­ries of se­duc­tion, the book fea­tures plenty of gar­dens and gar­den parties. Ji­hei Ogawa VII, a lead­ing land­scape artist of the late 19th cen­tury, used Genji and other Heian-pe­riod lit­er­a­ture as sources for a gar­den that brings to life the so­phis­ti­cated leisure of court life in clas­si­cal Ky­oto. It’s a stroll gar­den of con­trolled views and sea­sonal treats. If you miss the flow­er­ing of the val­ley of cherries, you might catch the per­go­las of wis­te­ria, or the maples re­flected in the still wa­ters of White Tiger pond. A large wind­ing gar­den bed is planted with all 800 plants men­tioned in Heian pe­riod writ­ings, while the lake fea­tures a cov­ered bridge that echoes West Lake in China’s Hangzhou, recog­nised as one of the most beau­ti­ful land­scapes on Earth. Any time.

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RIKUGIEN, TOKYO: When the Toku­gawa shogun es­tab­lished Edo as the new cap­i­tal of Ja­pan in the early 17th cen­tury, one of his peace-keep­ing strate­gies was to force his feu­dal lords to live in Edo (now Tokyo) for six months of the year. Main­tain­ing two ex­ten­sive prop­er­ties and house­holds kept the frac­tious war­lords busy and un­der­funded. It also al­lowed for the rapid devel­op­ment of Edo’s ar­ti­san and craft class, in­clud­ing its gar­den work­ers. Rikugien, in Bunkyo-ku, is one of the few re­main­ing Edo-pe­riod gar­dens in Tokyo, and it’s a model of its type, with wind­ing paths fram­ing views around the lake and from its hills. Its name trans­lates as Gar­den of the Six Princi- ples of Poetry and it was de­signed to fea­ture 88 views of fa­mous places in Ja­pan and China re­ferred to in clas­si­cal waka poetry. You don’t need to recog­nise a sin­gle one to love this re­mark­able gar­den. Any time.

HAKONE OPEN-AIR MU­SEUM, HAKONE: Opened in 1969, this is art in the gar­den on a grand scale, with works from the lead­ing sculp­tors of the 19th and 20th cen­turies, in­clud­ing 26 by Henry Moore on ro­tat­ing dis­play, ar­ranged on a hill­side in Hakone, gate­way to Mount Fuji and about 90 min­utes by train south­west from Tokyo. The hills are coloured with splodges of pale pink and bronze in spring and vividly streaked in reds and or­anges in au­tumn. The gar­den con­tin­ues in­side the mu­seum fences, with av­enues of cherries, un­du­lat­ing clipped hedges, gar­den beds of hy­drangea and helle­bore as well as ponds and wild ar­eas.

Au­tumn.

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NEZU MU­SEUM GAR­DEN, TOKYO: In Mi­namiAoyama, just along from Prada’s di­a­mond-bub­ble build­ing and Issey Miyake’s suite of stores on up­scale Omote­sando boule­vard, is the sur­pris­ing serenity of this pri­vate mu­seum and gar­den. One of its treasures is the 18th-cen­tury Korin iris screen, in which re­peated clumps of plump-petalled iris, coloured with lapis and mala­chite, sug­gest a me­an­der­ing stream against a gold-foiled back­drop. The screen is brought to life at the bot­tom of the gar­den where a stream and pond are edged in huge clumps of iris. Early May for the iris dis­plays.

• jnto.org.au

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Zen dry gar­den at Ryoan-ji Tem­ple, left; Heian Shrine in Ky­oto, above

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