Thursday, February 11, 2010

Virtual Garden Visit: Kyoto, Japan

Two of our most popular posts last winter were the virtual garden tours of the Montreal Gardens' Topiary and the Famous Gardens of the World.

So even as we drag ourselves through the freezing days of February, we can daydream of gardens to visit. Our virtual tour today takes us to Kyoto, Japan.

I found a flight from Newark airport to Osaka International via San Fransico and a six night stay at Hotel Sugichio for $1,332 for one person. (You could leave on Monday!)

(Pictured above: Jonengu shrine - Besides the gardens I list below, there are many attractions in Kyoto including ancient shrines, modern museums, and great restaurants. If you really do go, here's a little help from The New York Times Travel Section.)

After 24 hours of travel time (almost 19 hours in the air) you will arrive, crash at the previously mentioned three star hotel, and then the garden tours can begin. Six days, six local gardens.

We'll start at the Kyoto Gosho Imperial Palace Garden.

"The palace and garden are within the old palace enclosure but were built during the Edo period (c 1855). The style is loosely based on the Heian shinden-zukuri style, with large gravel courtyards and a small pond garden. Courtyards of this type were used for festivities but typically had a stream flowing under the building and through the courtyard. Lakes were larger and were used for boating parties."

Then we travel to Mirei Shigemori Garden.

"The Shigemori Resodence is a traditional town house dating from the middle Edo period (1789) with an adjoining garden and tea ceremony pavilions (Muji-an, 1953 and Koukoku-an, 1969). Both garden and pavilions were designed by Mirei Shigemori, seminal 20th century architect of Japanese garden, author of the Hojo Garden, Tofukuji Temple (1939) amongst over ninety religious and domestic gardens. The house belonged to the Shinto order, "Suzuka", of nearby Yoshida Shrine and was acquired from the order by Shigemori for his family in 1943.

The main garden consists of four rock configurations symbolizing the Elysian islands: Hojo, Eiju, Horai (central island) and Koryo placed on the sand garden. Horai island consists of a crane style rock composite and Hojo, a tortoise style rock composite. The stones known as "blue rock" in the Awa region of Japan are mainly from Shikoku island. The garden is overlooked by a veranda and a sparse main room with shoji screens, tatami mats and a hanging paper light conceived specially by Isamu Noguchi*(see end of post). The tea cermony pavilion is a rich hybrid of traditional and modern design. In contrast to the shrines and temples of the city, the house is domestic in scale and is connected to the rhythms of everyday life."

Shugaku-in Imperial Villa Garden:

"This villa complex in the foothills of Mount Hiei was made as a country retreat for occasional visits by the retired Emperor Gomizunoo. It has three residential buildings with gardens for members of the imperial party. They are set in the 45 ha of pine forest and linked by paths. It is a stroll garden with a boating lake. The Cloud Touching Arbour (Rinun-tei pavilion) in the Upper Garden has a fine view of Kyoto and is an exceptional instance of a 'borrowed landscape'. Never before had the idea been used on such a large scale. As in English gardens made 150 years later, views were planned like landscape paintings with foreground, middle-ground and background. The design is said to have been planned as a clay model (which remains the best way of planning large-scale compositions of landscape with architecture)."

Nanzen-ji Zen Temple Garden:

"Nanzen-ji is a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto. It began as a detached palace in 1264 but was repeatedly destroyed by fire and most of the old garden was lost. A new Zen garden, called the Leaping Tiger Garden, was made after 1611 and is a good example of the karesansui (dry garden) style. . It has a large sand rectangle enclosed by a buildings on two sides and a sloping bank on another side. The bank has rock compositions at its foot which can be seen as tiger cubs or as a turtle and a crane (animals associated with the Isles of the Immortals). Nanzenji is now the headquarters of the Nanzen-ji branch of Rinzai Zen."

Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion Garden):

"The garden was designed as a country house for the Shogun Yosimasa and then became a temple garden. It is approached by a narrow walk lined with bamboo. The space then opens to show a large treasure pond which has two islands. The roof of the pavilion was intended to be covered with silver leaf. A low mound has white quartz, raked to symbolise waves and designed to be viewed by moonlight. The garden has a sho-in (scholar's seat) belonging to the Muromachi Period (1333 - 1573)."

Sento Gosho Palace Garden:

"Sento' means retirement and this palace garden, near Katsura and designed at the same time, was made for a retired emperor (Gomizunoo). It is a stroll garden with three sections. The long narrow lake has a tortoise island, an arched bridge and a beach with carefully positioned Odaware stones. There was also a model farm, made to teach the emperor's children about agricultural life."

*If you can't travel to Japan, you can get a taste for Japanese Gardens at the Isamu Noguchi museum in Queens or The Hammond Museum and Japanese Stroll Garden in Westchester, NY. or even at Innisfree Gardens, which has a Japanese "cup design" in Millbrook, NY.