Appreciating Nature through Gardening

Archive for December, 2010

Tokyo National Museum

I encountered this “Monster Lantern” (20’ tall) while passing through Ueno Park on my way to the Tokyo National Museum. Typhoon Chaba was lashing the city and temperatures hovered around 50 F.   Wearing gloves and trying to keep my umbrella from turning out kept me from taking many photos outside.  I was wet to the knees and looked quite a fright – sensible people would have taken a taxi…

I studied Japanese Art twenty-five years ago — my recall is fuzzy beyond basic time lines.  Consequently, I’ve included links to sites that offer excellent descriptions for any who are interested.  The earliest artifacts included Jomon pottery.

An extravagant and lively piece (3000-2000 B.C.E.)

A solid contrast to the first work — the figure looks pained.

Dogu (3000-2000 B.C.E.) — an expressive form and almost feline face.

A gallery devoted to the history of Buddhism in Japan was represented by stunning sculptures.

A handsome figure of the Kushan dynasty (India, 2nd-3rd c.)

A monumental fragment smiles benignly.

A quintessentially Japanese  art form, paintings on screens address both practical and aesthetic needs. While the styles changed over the centuries to reflect the taste of patrons,  portrayals of the natural world dominated from delicate monochromatic landscapes to bold gilded images.

Autumn and Winter Landscapes by Sesshu Toyo, 15th c.

The Samurai culture Medieval Japan inspired amazing craftsmanship.

A finely embroidered kimono recalls Tsutenkyo in Koishikawa Korakuen.

While the objects on display were wonderful, and represented the highlights of Japanese art, the galleries struck me as rather sparse — two hours was plenty of time to squish through in soaked shoes.  Next stop, the Tokyo Edo Museum.


Hokoku-ji, Kamakura: Temple Gardens Part II

Ancient intersects modern at the entrance to Hokoku-ji (est. 1334), as modern girls in traditional kimono share a mobile phone.

I almost didn’t make it to this garden.  My walking map erred a bit on scale — what appeared to be a 1/2 mile stroll turned into a multiple mile uphill trek.  It was nearly 3 p.m., and with dusk falling by late afternoon, I worried a bit about losing my way on the back streets.  Fortunately, I persevered, and was rewarded with a hidden gem.

This Bosatsu with his walking staff looked like a saint for travelers, so I dropped a few coins at his feet.    The seemingly artless vignette composed of the ancient statue and naturalistic planting was characteristic of the small, enclosed garden.

While these stacked stones are roughly dressed to follow the shape of a traditional lantern, the rustic geometric shapes reflect modern sculpture.  I don’t know if this artifact is old or new, but it doesn’t matter; its timeless quality adds to its mystery.

I would swear that these leaves were deliberately spread over the surface of the pond for aesthetic effect.  The fact that no other leaves have accumulated elsewhere reinforces this impression.

Utilizing the fork of a dead trunk and a hollow branch collar in another, even barriers are imaginatively positioned.

The textured backdrop of this dry landscape garden contrasted strongly with the one at Meigetsu-an.   The variety of clipped shrubs and clumps of waving grasses added a dynamism to the scene that was absent in other gravel gardens.   Static rocks take second place to the vegetation, leaning more to Western gardening styles.  Have the plants been allowed to grow beyond strict limitations by accident or on purpose?  Either way, the effect is beautiful, with the stones lingering like ghosts under the leaves.

Famous for its Moso bamboo (Phyllostachys pubescens), narrow paths wind through the magical grove with shoots towering at heights of 20m.

Yagura, caves carved out of rock in the surrounding hillsides, serve as tombs for Ashikaga shoguns.

This old tree leaning precariously over the path was hollow through the main part of its trunk, but a wooden brace kept it from falling and preserved the lovely lines of its weathered branches.  This appreciation of the old and imperfect is the essence of wabi-sabi, one of the best qualities of Japanese gardens that is often missing from the Western perspective.   Although small, Hokoku-ji was well worth the effort.  On the walk back to the train station downtown, I stopped at a lovely lacquer shop and purchased pins carved in shapes of oak and ginkgo leaves finished with deep vermilion stain — mementos of a wonderful day.