Monday, 5 December 2011

Kenruoken - the perfect type of a perfect pleasure


We are a week into our holiday and have yet to visit a garden which is odd for a holiday conceived with just that activity in mind.  Jetlag oversleep robbed us of an early morning visit to the famous fish market in Tokyo and our attempt to re-coup the day with a plan change wander around the Imperial Gardens was foiled when we arrived just as it was closing at a 4.00pm dusk. Imperial Gardens fail was a happy accident as we fell into a nearby sake bar and began our odyssey into the joys of rice wine then followed it with a fabulous tempura meal, sublimely fresh, delicate and delicious.

Since then every day has overflowed with new sights, new tastes, new experiences. For everywhere we visit we miss ten other places that we would dearly love to have seen. But that is Japan - too much of everything and so much choice one feels continually overwhelmed.

Today's garden is Kenruoken one of the top three in Japan.  It is what's known as a 'stroll' garden and the name means "Garden of the Six Sublimities"  encompassing the six attributes of a perfect Japanese landscape garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, watercourse and panoramas.  As usual we have been up since the 'crackov' our bodies obligingly re-setting themselves to early morning rising in order to beat the ubiquitous and annoying, milling crowds. And boy how the Japanese mill! Herding behind some raucous guide and stopping only to take photographs of themselves they never seem to take time to just stand, stare and absorb. In any Japanese garden the most difficult quality to find will be seclusion.  Luckily the masses invariably take the well worn central pathways rarely going off-piste so with a bit of clever manoeuvring we can usually lose them.  Despite our early get-up we have waited until some misty rain has cleared and arrive only just before the grouping guided tours. The sun is breaking through the clouds to creat a steamy warmth over the gardens as we race up the hill to the Kasumigaike Pond with the Kotojitoro Lantern and take our 'money shot' before the crowds arrive. (Clic on any pic to enlarge)

When I first looked at my holiday photos I felt disappointment at my failure to capture the moment when such excitement rose up in me that I was lost in the breathtaking beauty of it.  Perhaps it is not just my lack of camera skill and more the impossibility of recreating the balance where every tree, every sculpture, every curve of the mossy bank of the lake has been so precisely placed to create the perfect scene.

The Bedsock is also entranced but feels that the rope sculpture over the trees, whilst unusual, is an unnecessary enhancement.  And then we realise - this is no sculpture but another example of the Japanese custom of perfect packaging, where everything from fabulous food to kimono clad women is beautifully wrapped and presented.

The trees are having their branches supported to prevent breakage under the load of heavy winter snow Kanazawa is prone too.  We later see this labour intensive activity all around the town as even the humblest of street trees acquires its attractive winter over wear. 

We wander on, escaping the hoarse cawing of the tour guides coming up behind us.  The attribute the garden misses in its six sublimities is "Peace and Quiet". On our travels we have found that the one thing Japanese don't seem to enjoy is silence and in a garden, that one would feel should be given over to harmony and reflection, the noise seems harshly out of place.

We wander on and soon leave the hordes of people posing for photographs behind - in fact we now have some parts of the garden entirely to ourselves.  My excitement levels haven't dropped and as usual in Japan my only worry is that by focussing on one scene I am missing the beauty of another.  Everywhere I turn it is quite magical.   And so pristine - in pursuit of perfection Japanese workers are actually sweeping the stream!

In Spring the sweeping will remove the fallen blossom from the cherry trees lining the banks..

And every fallen leaf must be removed!

Down to the plum grove and another place of such beauty I want to cry.  I love the outline of the trees, I love the sprinkle of autumn colours over the myriad greenness of the scene.  I love the soft, soothing flow of the stream..

the brilliance of the butterfly

even the spiders come perfectly packaged!

Of course, as we all understand, no visit to a garden is complete without partaking of refreshments and at Kenrokuen the traditional tea house comes complete with kimono clad ladies serving us green tea and some strange little sweetmeats whilst we kneel on the tatami mats.  The usual elegant and ordered ceremony of bowing and placing of provisions takes place whilst the Bedsock and I ponder on whether we will ever regain the feeling in our cramped knees.  Men may sit cross-legged or kneel whilst women may kneel or observe the mermaid position - all of which are exceedingly uncomfortable for our Western limbs although we are gradually becoming more used to it.

An instructive tea ceremony we attended at the En Tea House in Kyoto
Our visit is nearly over and all that remains to do is sit on the tea house verandah and contemplate the shady pool

and see the oldest fountain in Japan.

As we leave I already feel bereft, I want to see Kenruoken cloaked in the Winter snow, in the Spring with the plum and cherries flowering and a river of blue irises running alongside the stream,  in the blowsy leaf-filled summer shaded from the heat.  Most of all I just want to see Kenruoken again.

Oscar Wilde wrote "a cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure.  It is exquisite yet leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?"  This is how I feel about Kenruoken.


Our tour was planned by me and organised by the excellent Inside Japan Tours without whose ideas and knowledge it would never have happened


Helen/patientgardener said...

I think it look stunning but I know what you mean about photos not capturing your reaction. I suppose photos are a 2D image and its very hard to convey an emotion in this way. It does look wonderful and I am jealous of your trip

VP said...

It all looks and sounds wonderful. I've wanted to go to Japan ever since a colleague went there at cherry blossom time. My only worry is the prevalence of tea as I'm allergic to it. I'm sure the Japanese would be mortally offended if I refused their hospitality.

WV says doushee - shame that one didn't come up for your previous post ;)

NB re your comment over at mine - the lilies don't have any scent :o

Plant Mad Nige said...

What absolutely FANTASTIC photographs! Now you've made me even crosser that our trip to Japan was cancelled because of the horrible earthquake. Fascinating to see the care taken over snow precautions on the trees.

An utter joy to read. Hope your trip continues to be brilliant, despite the noise. You'd think, with all that Zen and Shinto, that silence would be a requirement, especially in a Tea garden, if not a strolling one.

PS - the weather's crap here so don't come home yet.

Arabella Sock said...

Too late Plant Mad Nige.. I am home, I've been home and jetlagged a week, somehow writing as if I was still there seemed to make the blog flow better. It was quiet in the tea house where everyone observes due respect and decorum. The Japanese (in our experience) were the most amazingly helpful and unbelievably polite people we have ever met EXCEPT when they are on their days out taking photos of themselves and at that point its every man/woman for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Your photos are beautiful, and what a perfect quote. The tree protection is my favourite bit, such meticulous attention to detail, and I like the way the mechanisms of protection are so beautiful in themselves.

HelenReeley said...

Very moving writing Arabella..very moving. And now I want to go despite the jetlag. X

Anonymous said...

You know something?
This country is less interesting place when the Socks are elsewhere. Jolly good to have you back.
The snow protection is marvellous. Were tyne gardeners wearing those boots with the big toe is a separate bit? If you see what I mean.

JamesA-S said...

'Tis not anonymous but I...your fairy godmother..

Arabella Sock said...

Ooooh James - you certainly know how to make a Sock feel happy. Us Socks always succumb to a bit of schmoozing.

I'm not sure the gardeners had those weird boots but in many of the places we stayed, and had to remove our own footwear before entering, we were provided with socks with separate big toe. Socks for a sock to slop around in - very apt.