Friday, 27 January 2012

Zen and the Art of Garden Maintenance

It's January, I have a streaming cold, I have been both busy but done nothing for the last few weeks. So before the 'horticultural hunting' season kicks off, let me take you back to Japan to see some more gardens.

Japanese Garden at Chelsea 2011

Last year at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show a person (who shall remain nameless) said they had been driven insane by the Japanese team building a garden nearby.  The continual shouts of "Hai!, Hai!, Hai!" during the Chelsea build weeks  had shattered this poor person's nerves!   'Hai' is usually translated as "yes" in Japanese but it seemed to be used for myriad purposes depending on how loud and fast the word is ejaculated. It can range from "Hi" to "WTF!"  I would say I loved Japanese gardens but I wasn't so keen on the one at Chelsea 2011 - the acers were the colour of overboiled root vegetables and the focal point sculpture resembled a pulled tooth. Also, in both this and the 2010 Japanese garden, the slightly yellowish water over the white gravel in the ponds makes it look like someone has wee'd in them. So I don't like ALL Japanese garden styles but I do find them all fascinating.

Our first taste of a Japanese stroll garden was the small but well formed garden near the Sensoji Temple in the Asakusa district of Tokyo.  This was pretty much what I had expected a traditional Japanese garden to be like - cloud pruned trees and koi carp.   Pleasant rather than exciting but a perfect little oasis amidst the bustle of temples, tourists and quirky shopping arcades around.

And talking about quirky I must show you this photo of a Japanese bag lady we saw nearby - she brought a smile to my face with her well-fed cat on her trolley and fag in her mouth - not a sight you see often in Japan! (clic on any pic to enlarge)

Leaving Tokyo and with my eyes glued to the landscape as the Shinkansen glided across the outlying urban coastal stretches, it seemed to me that  most Japanese houses had squeezed a cloud pruned tree or two into their tiny gardens, larger ones might also have a beautiful persimmon or plum tree and some neat lines of vegetables and the wealthiest would most likely have some vibrant acers too.

One of the styles of garden we were really keen to see was a Japanese Rock garden. I like rocks I like gardens - sorted! Or so I thought...

The first rock garden we saw was part of one of the temples at the top of Mount Koya.  This wasn't one noted in any guides and it wasn't clear it was open to the public but we had a quick nose at it anyway.  I thought it was rather lovely, I found the lines pleasing and could see myself sitting there feeling a bit 'zen'

One we were less taken with was the famous Daisenin 'dry landscape' rock garden in Kyoto.  We were more than annoyed to find that the monks had put the kybosh on people taking photos of these gardens which we didn't feel was very zen of them.  Although we could totally sympathise with the monks not wanting to put up with thousand upon thousand of irritating visitors taking pictures of themselves non-stop instead of actually paying attention to the gardens, it did come over as a bit grasping that they were prepared to sell you pictures at horrendously inflated prices!  As it was I did a) wonder if I should just blag my camera in by telling them I was the Countess of Cashmere from the world-famed Sea of Immeasurable Gravy or b) take a photograph on the sly whilst trying to avoid being filmed on the closed circuit tv the monks had installed.  The picture below is courtesy of Wikipedia

These gardens wrapping around the temple building were tiny and reading from the guidebook every stone represented something or another and added to the story. Frankly, saying that a stone had been specially chosen because it looked like a turtle didn't really wash with us because most flat stones look a bit turtleish.   A larger boulder reminded me of a half-submerged hippopotamus - which was close as the guide book said it was a bull. Despite my love of large stones and boulders I wasn't inspired by these gardens. I like my rock gardens crammed with alpines.

In the end I got a picture of the world-reknowned Kwasi-Modo zen gravel garden but to be honest it's not really my cup-of-tea either.

Kwasi-modo gravel garden

 Another temple offered us a garden full of acers.  This was more to our taste - the colours in these pictures are the reality!

This temple was unusually quiet as we entered but as we had wandered around the small garden a coachload or six of Japanese had turned up at the narrow temple door and the exit was clogged with people trying to de-shoe themselves before entering!! We fought our way through them to try and find our own shoes but in the melee the Bedsock was nearly knocked off his feet and trampled by less than usually polite Japanese men trying to find a space to place their footwear.

It would be true to say that by this time we were beginning to find the ubiquitous crowds more than a little wearing particularly when it came to taking photos.  The only other Brits we spoke to in Japan looked at our cameras and said "There's going to be a lot of photoshopping when we get home!" We exchanged sympathetic glances.

Although some places like Mount Koya and the Noto Peninsular had been quiet, in others we had become adept at cutting the crowds out as in the picture of the lovely Sacred Bamboo Grove below

the real picture contains the stream of Japanese Sunday strollers..

Every single one of these people has a camera with which they constantly photograph themselves and their posed friends.  Perhaps we take pictures of what we see - they take pictures of who they are.  A definition of a Japanese "Billy-no-mates" was the young boy carrying a tripod so he could photograph himself.  The interestingly dressed young man below and his friends had been uninhibitedly posing for ages whilst their gang snapped more and more photos of each other.

As with everything else Japanese we only slightly scraped the surface of the gardens and will have to return one day to see more.


VP said...

Oh I so want to go to Japan!

Our major encounter with Japanese tourists was in Oz where they take just as many pics of the food they're eating at the restaurant as well as those of themselves.

Oxonian Gardener said...

That bamboo is extraordinary!I'm not quite sure about the rock gardens, only me just not understanding the appeal of raked gravel. Though, it may just need to be seen in person...! Lovely post.

JamesA-S said...



My Dirty Life said...

The gardens look so beautiful. Feel very relaxed just looking at the pics. Stripped my bamboo recently, but not as impressive.

janerowena said...

Hmmm... what's the date? :)

I know that japanese students living here have to send photos home to prove to their parents that they are getting a bit of culcher, but I had thought that they would lay off a bit in their own country. Evidently not!

Lucy said...

Little stones are of little interest compared with big rocks. Big rocks are ok but only at the foot of cliffs.

Not even a stream of people can detract fully from that bamboo.

About taking pictures of people. I hardly ever take pictures of people. I am wrong. When I am old, I doubt if I will specially enjoy peering at my old photos of leaves and twigs. I'll want to see family and friends. I keep trying to reform and take pictures of people instead of plants. Total failure. I'll regret it.

Anonymous said...

The tranquil gardens & that well known beat combo Egg Brain
seem a little mismatched. YinYang perhaps (or is that another infernal Japanese noise machine? )

Wonderful pics.& words as usual.


Helle said...

Honestly called Kwazi-Modo? It's not just the Japanese, though, that only take pictures of themselves and their friends. The Chinese are exactly the same, and there is nothing more annoying than being told to get out of the way, the Chinese are not as polite as the Japanese ;-) - when one actually tries looking at something instead of being photographed in front of it. Love the acers and those bamboo(s).

Arabella Sock said...

James - I thought for a moment no-one was going to get it!

Jro - the Japanese NEVER leave off the photo thing and always include themselves in the photos. They have a quite different culture to ours in this regard, for instance they are not at all bothered if 'strangers' get in their photo and equally make no effort whatsoever to stand back or get out of the way when someone else wants to take a 'view'. At one fairly deserted temple I spent a while lining up my photo when a solitary Japanese man appeared from nowhere and stood right in the middle of it just gazing around. No amount of impatient sighs, followed by angry gesticulations, followed by "Get of my bloody photo mate!" was going to shift him, despite it being obvious what I wanted. Whereas the Bedsock and I were constantly stopping in our tracks to allow others to take a picture without us in the way. I really don't think they cared if we were in the way and so didn't understand our impatience. Perhaps it is to do with living in such densely populated areas - they just accept there are always people around.

Lucy, like you I rarely take photos of people and although lots of our photos adorn our walls none of them are of family, friends or ourselves. I wouldn't by artwork with people in it as it would be like inviting a stranger into the house. I have never particularly liked being photographed either - except perhaps when I was a teenager.

Simon, typical that you would be inquisitive enough to search out Egg Brain! Actually I thought the T-shirt said Egg Bran and was another peculiar Japanese breakfast combo which both constipated and relieved you at the same time!

Helle - I think I might have been a bit naughty on the Kwazi-Modo garden front...

Maki said...

Nice one

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