Kare-sansui 枯山水 [Tea Magazine, 茶雑誌・臺灣・2015年8月]



“庭屋一如 the Garden and the Building are one existence”

The beauty of the Japanese garden is very well known to the world. Every year, many cultural tourists and art lovers visit the gardens in Kyoto as well as those of other cities in Japan. Most of the gardens are found in Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, but many masterpieces can also be found in private tea ceremony gardens.

The creation of gardens has changed according to the change in people’s life style and also their ideology. Since the beginning of architectural history in Japan, gardens have been mostly designed together with buildings, as people considered them to be inseparable as pairs like Ying and Yang (陰陽). In this article I would like to explore the changes in garden design that have occurred over the years in Japan.

“Longing for the Pure Land (浄土)”

In mid-late Heian period (10th – 12th century), a clear method of garden design arrived in Japan from China and Korea. At the same time renowned garden making guide “Saku-Tei-Ki(作庭記)” was published. This scientific book covers metaphysical idea of garden making through the eye of the Shinto(神道) and the Vajrayana Buddhism(密教/金剛乗). This garden style in the Heian period time is called Pure Land Garden(浄土式庭園/池泉回遊式庭園). These gardens were mostly made in Pure Land Buddhist temples, where people worshipped Amitabha  Buddha (阿弥陀仏).
This design became a characteristic of the late Heian period gardens.

“Embody the Emptiness”

Then the time of rule by a retired emperor (院政期) faded and the rule by warlords(将軍) began. It is called the Kamakura period(鎌倉時代). During the Kamakura period, the new rulers practiced Zen Buddhism which was the most practiced school of Buddhism in Song dynasty China (宋時代). Many Buddhist devotees were deeply involved in Zen culture and its artifacts. Zen emphasizes the importance of enlightened masters. Therefore, scrolls of calligraphy and paintings drawn by the masters were more valued by them than anything else. Temple and Garden design also changed in the Kamakura period. Garden design became more minimalistic and close to Mountain-Water landscape paintings (山水画). It was a very important shift in Japanese garden history because there was freedom in interpretations. Masters and artists were dedicated to creating that landscape that would best manifest their state of spiritual awareness. Certainly, there was some competition in beautiful garden making in that period among the garden Masters. In this way we can see that gardens were not an imitation or reproduction of nature but a symbolic representation of an ideal spiritual inner landscape (自己的内在風景). As the building design changed throughout the period, the garden also changed according to the change in living style.

 “Visualize Non-existence: Mitate – 見立て”

In the Muromachi period(室町時代), garden making entered a drastic transition. It was the time when the most well-known Japanese garden in Ryo-An-Ji (龍安寺) was created.

It is important to know the idea of Mitate(見立て) in Japan. Mitate is the shift of perception in value, in order to “visualize” something which doesn’t physically exist.
From the Kamakura Period to the Muromachi period many Kare sansui (枯山水) gardens were created especially in Zen monasteries in Kyoto.
Most Kare sansui gardens consist of rocks, trees, bush, moss and white granite chips. The white granite chips are mostly found in the Shirakawa (白川) area in Kyoto where a large granite (花崗岩/御影石) mine exists. The etymology of ‘Shirakawa’ actually originated in the white granite chips found along the Shirakawa river.

In the Kare sansui garden, instead of using actual bodies of water, the garden designer used the white granite chips to express flowing river or waves in the sea. Thus, the experience of Mitate can be more profound than seeing real water. This we can call a miracle of human creation.

Today we can find many Kare sansui gardens in the Zen temples of Kyoto. Most of them were made in the Kamakura to the Muromachi period. In the Muromachi period, some artist groups formed around the Shogun (Master Warlord). They were called Do-Bo-Shu (同朋衆) . The talented designer of the Ryo-An-Ji (龍安寺) garden is not known, but it is believed that it was created by some members of the Do-Bo-Shu.

“From the Elite to the Citizens”

Most certainly, the designer of Ryo-an-ji’s garden studied Zen garden masterpieces from the previous Kamakura Period. In the Kamakura period, there was a very well-known Zen master, Muso-So-Seki (夢窓疎石/夢窓国師). He was very good at garden making and calligraphy. His masterpieces are still to be found all over the country. Those now responsible take very good care to maintain the spirit of his creations.

During this same period, private gardening began. The well-known Kare sansui garden of Ginkaku-ji (The Silver Temple銀閣寺/慈照寺) was created by the retired Shogun Yoshimasa (将軍-足利義政) and his Do-Bo-Shu members for the purpose of silent contemplation/ meditation, while the Kinkaku-ji(The Golden Temple) building and its main garden were much more visible for visitors to experience.
Shogun Yoshimasa was a well-known collector of Chinese artifacts. He adored and shared his collections with his friends, leading to a new culture in Kyoto, called Higashiyama (東山文化) culture. He intensively practiced flower arrangement, incense ceremony and the tea ceremony in a room called 同仁斎 (Do-Jin-Sai) in Togu-do (東求堂) building in Ji-Sho-Ji 慈照寺. Today, we still can see some exquisite items from his collection in his room, just as they were adored by him 600 years ago.

“Wider entrance towards the way of enlightenment”

Since the end of the Muromachi period, garden making takes on a more private aspect because of the rise of tea culture all over Japan. The Tea ceremony was first practiced by temple monks and lay-Zen practitioners in the Kamakura period for their meditation practice. It followed that the tea ceremony was then enjoyed by warriors (侍階級), art-lovers and the cultured people called Do-Bo-Shu. However, during the Momoyama Period (桃山時代) some merchants (商人階級) also started to practice the tea ceremony as well, and some of them became very successful tea masters.
For example, the famous Sen-No-Rikyu(千利休) and his master Jyo-oh Takeno(武野 紹鴎) both belonged to the merchant class. On becoming tea masters, Jyo-oh and  Rikyu and their students established the aesthetics of the Japanese Tea ceremony, which became known as Cha-no-Yu(茶の湯).

From Cha-no-Yu, not only the philosophy but also architectural design, flower arrangement, incense appreciation, painting, calligraphy, ceramics,lacquers, poetry, woodwork, bamboo crafts, metal work rapidly evolved. And of course, garden design also has evolved together with all the other art forms. Japanese tea-ceremomy gardens are not as big as the gardens in the temples. From the Momoyama to the Edo period, not many Kare sansui gardens were created. But the focus for Mitate shifted to more realistic style gardens in order to create a mountain path in a tea ceremony garden(露地は山野の如し). This shift occurred  parallel to the beginning of city life. Therefore, the ideal of tea-house making was ‘Hermit in the City’ (市中の山居). Thus, another Mitate was established in Japanese culture.

“The quietest music of the world”

I have visited many gardens in Japan that are felt to be masterpieces, including one of the Heian period, Mo-Tsu-ji(毛越寺) temple garden in North East Japan and Byo-Do-in(平等院) in Uji(宇治), Kyoto. However, like many others, my first experience in the garden of Ryo-An-Ji (龍安寺) has remained deep in me.  When I first visited the temple, the place was crowded with many tourists but the silence of the garden remained undisturbed. Rather, I felt the seemingly noisy circumstance was enhancing the silence of the garden. I believe that there is no other garden as that of Ryo-An-Ji’s. Let me explain:
In order to write this article, I considered Kare sansui gardens where white granite chips were used as a metaphorical representation of water. But, the stone garden of Ryo-An-Ji rather looks like a sea of clouds as if we saw it from mountain peaks. This could be the state of enlightened consciousness of the designer projecting symbolically a view from high mountain peaks brought out in the Kare sansui garden of Ryo-An-Ji.

The silence is as close as Emptiness.
Yet the emptiness doesn’t mean there is Nothing.
True emptiness contains Everything and its silence remains undisturbed.
It reminds me of the poet So-Tong-Po(蘇東坡) who rightly said, “無一物中無尽蔵- When one obtains Nothing he/she can embrace Everything”.

Ryo-An-Ji’s garden is not only a masterpiece of Japanese art but it is also truly a flower blossomed in the soil of the Asian culture, and the Silence still heard in the present day is a treasure for all of Humanity.

In Auroville, South India (於曙光村・南印度)
Jyoti Naoki Eri – 江里尚樹 – Director the ONE ASIA project

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