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Japanese Garden

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Who knew I’d love wandering around gardens in Portland taking photographs?  Well I didn’t.  Th adventure of doing so brought me some much joy and also time to reflect on me, my own healing and why taking time off is so important.

I enjoyed my visit to the Japanese Garden and I encourage you to check them out too when you have a chance whilst in Portland, Oregon.

Let me tell you about the Five Gardens at the Japanese Garden.

The Flat Garden (hira-niwa) is an example of how gardens in Japan have continued to develop the dry landscape style of the karesansui garden over time. In a garden such as this one, the designer worked to balance the relationship between the flat planes (the ground) and the volume of stones and clipped shrubbery and trees to create a sense of depth of space. The garden is meant to be seen from a single viewpoint either from within the Pavilion or from the veranda. The whole is framed by the sliding shoji doors if viewed from inside or by the veranda itself if viewed from outside. This framed view can be appreciated in much the same way we would appreciate a landscape painting—perhaps a view of a shoreline across the water of the raked gravel plane. Mountains and hills are depicted in the rounded shapes of the azalea shrubs. The Flat Garden also provides a distinctively seasonal beauty in all four seasons. The Japanese laceleaf maple is more than a century old and can be said to represent autumn, while the weeping cherry signifies the spring. Winter is represented by the black pines and summer by the imaginary cool “water” of the raked gravel surrounding the Circle and Gourd Islands, which symbolize enlightenment and happiness.

The Strolling Pond Garden (chisen kaiyu shiki teien) consists of Upper and Lower Ponds connected by an enticing stream. The Upper Pond features a Moon Bridge, while the Lower Pond has a zig-zag (yatsuhashi) bridge through beds of iris against the backdrop of a stunning waterfall.

Strolling pond gardens were intended as recreational sites for the wealthy and were attached to the estates of aristocrats and feudal lords (daimyo) during the Edo period (1603–1867), when this style of garden was at its height. These gardens were sometimes created to be reflections of a landscape of some distant place once visited, or the place of one’s birth, or even a famous place in China. An earlier style of pond garden called chisen senyu shiki was popular during the Heian period (794–1185), but the earlier gardens were typically viewed from boats floating on ponds rather than strolling along pathways near the water. Both of these styles have served as inspiration for poetry and art, but in Edo times the larger scale and grand style of the Strolling Pond Garden served the daimyo’s interest in luxury and the display of wealth.

A Japanese tea garden (cha-niwa or roji) is a place for quiet reflection on the beauty of nature and the art of living in harmony with one another and with all things. Amid a wooded setting, a pathway with carefully placed stepping-stones and lanterns leads through the rustic garden to the teahouse. The gardens are designed to present a peaceful, natural space that serves as an interval—both in space and time—a place to detach oneself from the hectic everyday world before entering the teahouse and the tranquil world of chanoyu (tea ceremony). This spiritual and aesthetic practice focuses on achieving a heightened awareness of the beauty of the present moment through the simple act of sharing a bowl of tea with friends in a tranquil setting.

The tea garden consists of a pathway (roji) that leads to Kashintei (Flower-Heart Tea House), connecting inner and outer gardens, separated by a simple bamboo gate. The outer garden path (soto-roji) leads guests to the machiai (waiting place), until the host greets them and invites them to enter the inner garden path (uchi-roji). Here guests pause at the tsukubai (arrangement of stones around a water basin) to rinse their hands and mouth, symbolically removing the dust of the real world behind. The path through the gardens represents a journey that is so important to the creation of the proper state of mind for the tea ceremony that the word roji has become synonymous with tea gardens themselves.

Kashintei (literally “Flower-Heart Room”) is the name of the Tea House. The structure was made in Japan by master craftsmen employed by Kajima Construction Company. It was constructed using wooden pegs rather than metal nails, in the style of traditional structures in Japan. Kashintei was dedicated on June 1, 1968. Tea houses are composed of several strictly defined spaces. There is an anteroom (mizuya) where the utensils for the ceremony are readied beforehand. The actual sitting room (zashiki) is where the tea ceremony is performed. There are mats (tatami) on the floor; in fact, Japanese rooms are measured by the number of tatami they contain.

While the Tea House is an authentic structure, it is also unusual as it has walls of sliding papered doors (shoji) around the tatami mat area, a surrounding slate floor, and outer walls of sliding doors, making it useful for tea demonstrations as well as tea gatherings in our Garden. Most tea houses are 4.5 tatami mats or smaller and are enclosed by solid walls with very small, paper-covered windows. Most have a tiny door that requires guests to crawl into the inner space. The sense of enclosure and intimacy help the participants focus on each other and the tea ceremony.

Kashintei Tea House is small, as most tea gardens are, built historically in urban environments. Yet the experience of walking through the roji to the tea house was meant to give a sense of traveling a considerable distance: out of the city and deep into the mountains to the hermitage. As the guest walks the winding path, all his cares drop away. He arrives at the tea room composed and serene.

This garden itself was renewed in 1998-99. Artifacts were relocated and a new fence was installed. Renovation was conducted in collaboration with a Japanese landscape consultant and members of local tea schools. The tea garden is appropriately more rustic than most other garden styles. This is particularly evident in the use of naturally shaped stepping-stones. Tea gardens were the first kind of garden in which stepping-stones and lanterns were used.

The Natural Garden was created to be an environment that encourages visitors to rest, relax, and reflect on the very essence and brevity of life. This garden in its current configuration is the most recent addition to the Portland Japanese Garden, and it is also the most contemporary style, referred to as zoki no niwa, a style which includes plant materials that fall outside the list of plants traditionally associated with Japanese gardens. Notable is the use of vine maple, a shrub indigenous to this region. The garden focuses primarily on deciduous plants and is laid out to present seasonal change, from the budding new leaves of spring to the coolness of summer shade, the changing colors of autumn to the naked trees of winter.

Originally called the Hillside Garden, referring to the steeper terrain in this part of the Garden, the denseness of the trees and shrubs create an immediate difference in atmosphere, something wilder yet equally tranquil. The flow of energy (ki) through the garden refreshes and restores all those who walk there. While the flow of ki is primarily directed by the waterway, note that nearly all the deciduous trees lean slightly in the same direction that the water is flowing. This garden was originally planned by the Garden’s designer, Professor Takuma Tono, as a moss garden, but the plants proved difficult to maintain. The garden was redesigned in the early 1970s and then again in 1990, due to damage from earth movement.

Gardens of raked sand (or gravel) and stone are referred to as karesansui (literally, “dry landscape”) gardens. This style was developed in Japan in the later Kamakura period (1185–1333). Many Chinese landscape paintings of the Southern Sung dynasty were imported to Japan in the 14th and 15th centuries by Zen Buddhist priests, and they were emulated by Japanese artists like Sesshu (1420-1506). An important Japanese aesthetic principle underlying both landscape paintings and dry landscape gardens is yohaku-no-bi, literally “the beauty of blank space.”

While dry landscape gardens are sometimes referred to as Zen gardens, it is more accurate to refer to them as karesansui. In Japan, often this style of garden is part of a Zen Monastery, such as the famous Ryoan-ji in Kyoto (although it does occur elsewhere). Often attached to the abbot’s quarters, this style of garden was not meant for meditation (zazen), but more for contemplation. Care of the garden is part of the monk’s practice, as is every other action in their lives. For those who interpret these gardens as vehicles for contemplation, they may offer a cosmic view of the universe represented in sand and stone.

This karesansui was designed by Professor Takuma Tono in the 1960s, when Zen Buddhism was little known or understood in this country. Professor Tono was inspired by a tale that’s said to be over 2,000 years old. A tale of a previous incarnation of Buddha, the Jataka Sutra originated in India. It is recorded on a painted panel in the Horyu-ji temple at Nara, and it depicts the Buddha facing the dilemma of saving a starving tigress and her cubs trapped in a bamboo ravine. The Buddha’s self-sacrifice to save starving creatures is a lesson in compassion on the path to attaining enlightenment.

There is so much to take in at the Japanese Garden – make sure you give yourself a lot of time.  It will be well worth it.  Bringing a camera a long is a must to capture the beauty and to take it away with you for future reflection.