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Japanese Gardens

.. the strict precision of Zen culture in addition to its simplicity and refinement. These ideals led to the Zen garden. These gardens served a completely different purpose than their earlier counterparts. There was a shift back to an emphasis on looking rather than using.

These gardens were used specifically as aids to a deeper understanding of Zen conceptsthese gardens were not an end in themselvesbut a trigger to contemplation and meditation (Davidson, p.22). Unlike the Golden Pavilion, the Zen gardens were not meant for viewers to physically interact with, but instead as visual stimulus in the meditative processa spiritual aid. Ryoanji, at the Daiju-in Temple in Kyoto (1488-1499) is one of the most famous and celebrated gardens in Japan and is an example of the Zen aesthetic. Simply composed of stone and sand, it serve as a subtle and yet effective example of the dry garden type, or karesansui. The garden consists of a flat, rectangular surface measuring thirty by seventy-eight feet. It is located on the south side of the temple.

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On its north side is located the long verandah where the visitors appreciate the garden. To its east, the garden is bounded by a thin low wall. One the southern and western side, a low wall with thatched roof tile surrounds the rock garden. The wall, originally white in color has turned into a rusty earthy color, blending well with the rest of the garden. The garden itself is composed of fifteen stones in five groups, lying on white raked sand (Kincaid, p.

66-73). As illustrated above, the arrangement of the rocks leads the viewers eye from left to right. The biggest rock makes the group of three in the left. As the big rock slopes to the right, it leads the viewers eye to the same direction. The group of five in the back lies low to elongate the horizon of the viewer, and incorporate the wall as the dominating horizon in the garden view. In addition, this group of five serves as the counter-balance to the sweeping rightward movement, as it leans to the left. The viewers eyes then meet a second group of five on the right, which continues the composition leading it to the right.

Finally, the group of two in front copies the movement of the group of five, finisheing the complete movemnt in this garden (Ito, 19). The result is an asymmetric composition which achieves a certain balance. Rhythm is achieved in the composition of the garden by arranging the stones in different alternating heights, creating a sense of movement for the eye. One can realize the importance of harmony and design of the garden as each stone is carefully placed in their own positions. Each factorposition, height, and coloris taken into account to create an environment of harmony. The use of the dry garden has had a long history in Japan.

During the medieval ages, the Japanese began to experiment in unique and abstract ways with the use of rocks, while still keeping such traditional features such as the pond, stream, and artificial island. From this point on, rocks of various shapes and sizes where increasingly used to represent both natural formations and man-made ones, including mountains, cliffs, waterfalls, and bridges. Also, sand and white pebbles were used as water and therefor, in some of these old gardens, the pond was eliminated, which had been the central focus of Japanese gardens for centuries (Kincaid, p.22-23). In contrast to Kinkakuji, the garden of Ryoanjis function is purely meditative. Unlike the Golden Pavilion, there is a designated area for viewers to sit and contemplate the scene before them. In understanding this gardens function one must realize that it relies on understatement, simplicity, suggestion and implicationleaving room for the imagination by providing a starting point (Davidson, p.23).

The design of this dry-rock garden stands in stark contrast to the elaborate gardens of the Heian period; no longer do we see an complex landscape complete with lake, winding paths, bridges, islands, trees and plants. This idea of rigid simplicity, not focusing on elements of elaborately constructed vistas, but on elements meant to symbolize these landscapes. The elements used to create this Zen garden are simple abstractions of nature (Kincaid, p.65). The rocks play an essential role in the design of this garden, while maintain two functions. They have an intrinsic beauty of their own, and one the other hand, can represent something altogether larger and more universal (Davidson, p.38).

These rocks are used to symbolize religious meanings, and also to portray larger structures such as mountains. These rock formations can also represent islands, while the bed of gravel is seen as a body of water. Yet one must also note that this is merely just one interpretation of the gardens meaning and perhaps the most widely accepted. Another element of this rock garden is the wall that lines one side. It is very old and weathered over time. The use of this wall to finish this Zen garden compliments it by bringing in one of the three key Zen aestheticswabi.

Wabi refers to the poverty or rusticness; a preference for the old and worn. According to wabi, value is determined in what is wathered by time as opposed to the new and untouched. The use of this wall in completion of the garden was perhaps a conscious attempt by its creatures to instill one of the most important aspects of Zen thought. Both the Heian stroll garden of Kinkakuji and the Zen garden of Ryoanji express very different fundamentals in the art of garden design. Whereas the former relies on synthesized naturalism for religious significance, the latter uses abstraction and representation to achieve spirituality. In addition, the viewers actual physical relationship between the two gardens is fundamentally different.

While the Shinden stroll garden invites the viewer to take an active physical role in the garden, walking along its winding paths and boating along the shores of its lake, the viewer of the Zen garden is physically removed from the actual garden; restricted to observing it from a specific verandah. Likewise, the architectual structures of the Heian stroll garden are completely integrated into the actual garden itself. The Zen garden, on the other hand, the architecture (single temple) serves as a mere background for the garden and not part of the whole composition. Despite these differences in presentation, design, and the relationships between the garden, viewer, and the architecture, the general goal of both garden types are inherently the same. In the Japanese tradition, these gardens are meant to function as aids in understanding in one form or another.

In addition, both demonstrate the emphasis on the relationship between humankind and natureperhaps one of the most important elements of Japanese art and architecture. Bibliography A.K. Davision, The Art of the Zen Gardens. Boston: Houghtom Mifflin, 1983. Bring, Mitchell, and Wayembergh, Josse. Japanese GardensDesign and Meaning.

McGraw-Hill series in Landscape and Landscape Architecture. McGraw-Hill, 1981. Hayakawa, Masao. The Garden Art of Japan. Trans. Richard Gage. Weatherhill.Heibonsha, 1973.

Ito, Teiji. The Japanese GardenAn Approach to Nature. Trans. By Donald Richie. Yale University Press, 1972. Kincaid, Mrs.

Paul, Japanese Garden and Floral Art. New York: Hearthside Press Inc., 1966. Kucke, Loraine. The Art of Japanese Gardens. New York: The John Day Company, 1940.

Yoshida, Tetsuro, Gardens of Japan. New York: Fredrick A. Praeger, 1957. Arts and Painting.


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