The Japanese garden, under the watchful eye of the gardener ...

Video conference by Robert Lavayssière, Doctor, treasurer of the Association of Parks and Gardens of Paris and West Paris (APJPOP) and member of the SAMC board of directors.

The appropriation of the art of the Japanese garden is a long process because the Japanese garden does not indulge so easily despite a long attendance. The French amateur gardener is no exception to this rule ...

Daitoku-ji-Koto. Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Daitoku-ji-Koto. Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

We can approach the garden with a blank eye and indulge in aesthetic emotion or botanical curiosity, but we must abandon its references, Cartesian and horticultural, to apprehend an ancient art built in a continuation agitated over the periods. with a particular art of staging.

Nanzen-ji. Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

The story makes it possible to integrate the successive evolutions and the continuity in a coherence of the art of the gardener which leaves no room to chance.

This knowledge makes it possible to try to decode the construction of the scenes, miniature landscapes or borrowed landscapes.

At the beginning was the "mother earth" and the simple space arranged in front of the palace or the temple with as reference the telluric elements, seat of the spirits (we), Shintoism remaining deeply rooted in Japanese life today. Different elements such as stones, cords (shimenawa) or the elements necessary for purification, ablutions with the basins (tsukubai), are found in many gardens of all persuasions.

Example of shimenawa. Fushimi Inari. Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssiere.

Then, despite the insularity and the hostile seas, the Chinese influence, sometimes also coming from Korea, brought philosophical and religious elements, Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism with its different schools and, in particular, the advent of Chan Buddhism which became Zen.

Koya San. Wakayama Prefecture. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssiere.

The garden is enriched with multiple elements referring to symbolic representations which are sometimes difficult to detect and / or decipher.

The establishment codes of gardens and residences are rather constant: orientation according to the rules of geomancy, space in front of the residence, place of life and spirituality, open to space in continuity, including in the garden a pond, a bridge and an island.

Eihō-ji. Gifu Prefecture. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

The continuity between the house, the palace or the temple with the outside is an important element: space of life and spirituality.

The bridge takes many forms, from simple recumbent stone to the complex bridge, sometimes adorned with a pavilion.

From these elements, the various gardeners have developed styles modifying the relationship between the home (s) and the elements of the garden.

Oddly enough, the writings seem quite rare and, through the various works, we encounter more hypotheses than certainties.

Daikaku-ji. Itami. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

The first gardeners were mainly Chinese, then the monks also became gardeners helped by the "inhabitants of the banks and rivers (kawara mono) ”, A term designating a population assigned to odd jobs, before the gradual appearance of professional gardeners.

At the same time, the residences were modified from the style shinden Chinese-inspired, very symmetrical, with a central pavilion and side pavilions, the central pavilion corresponding to the heavenly abode, Paradise of the Pure Land.

Nomura House. Kanazawa. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Nomura House. Kanazawa. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Le Sakuteiki (作 庭 記), by Tachibana no Toshitsuna at 11st s. "Garden Design Book" lays the foundation and defines 5 types of garden.

During the Kamakura period (1185-1333), the style shoin marks the birth of a Japanese style, asymmetrical in a smaller space with a space open to light and the garden which seems inaccessible and preserved.

Ryōan-ji. Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

It is necessary to integrate the fact that many residences have been destroyed, by fires and / or by wars, while others have changed destination, palaces become temples, for example. Finally, "a temple" is also often a set of temples, with a main temple and many secondary temples, more or less autonomous and also having gardens, sometimes well hidden.

In the collective imagination, the “Zen garden”, closely linked to Chan Buddhism, is often associated with a dry garden dotted with standing stones. The reality is not that simple and there are many variations, sometimes mysterious or by association of earlier styles. On the other hand, if these gardens are suitable for meditation, this association remains quite debated.

The stones are chosen and associated with care, more or less figurative, with multiple Taoist and / or Buddhist references, in the art of setting the stones.

Garden of the Adachi Museum. Yasugi. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Finally, the gardens sometimes integrate elements of the landscape in which they are inserted, “borrowed landscapes” or refer to famous pictorial works, Chinese or Japanese.

Shinjuku-goen. Tokyo. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

The large promenade gardens, appearing in the Edo period (1603-1867) bring together different elements according to a more or less organized route and sometimes integrate European elements, such as Shinjuku-goen in Tokyo which also includes a French garden and an English garden.

Naoshima Island. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Finally, it is necessary to distinguish two very specific types, the Tsubo-Niwa and the tea garden or Cha-Niwa. The unit area of Tsubo-Niwa, two tatami mats, gives an account of its installation in a house around a plant, a space dedicated to contemplation and where one does not enter, except maintenance. This type of garden accompanies the development of an urban class from the Edo period.

The Tea Garden and its pavilion was first a playful space, admiring Chinese objects, before becoming a ritual organized according to the strict code of the tea ceremony, during the Momoyama period (1568-1600) .

The tea garden is often discreet, apart, but it can be more imposing, especially in large gardens, imperial gardens in particular.

Over time, the previous periods have been integrated and many elements of the gardens are thus assembled, with the patina of time or "beauty in imperfection" (Wabi / Sabi ) and the meticulous maintenance that is part of a ritualization.

The Black Phoenix at Ritsurin-kōen. Takamatsu. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

Finally, it is necessary to distinguish two very specific types, the Tsubo-Niwa and the tea garden or Cha-Niwa. The unit area of Tsubo-Niwa, two tatami mats, gives an account of its installation in a house around a plant, a space dedicated to contemplation and where one does not enter, except maintenance. This type of garden accompanies the development of an urban class from the Edo period.

The Tea Garden and its pavilion was first a playful space, admiring Chinese objects, before becoming a ritual organized according to the strict code of the tea ceremony, during the Momoyama period (1568-1600) .

The tea garden is often discreet, apart, but it can be more imposing, especially in large gardens, imperial gardens in particular.

Over time, the previous periods have been integrated and many elements of the gardens are thus assembled, with the patina of time or "beauty in imperfection" (Wabi / Sabi ) and the meticulous maintenance that is part of a ritualization.

Moss garden at Kokedara (Saihō Ji). Kyoto. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

The contemporary garden often demonstrates the return to a certain asceticism associating Shintoism and the idea that we often have of the “zen garden”.

Many trees and shrubs are part of the building blocks of the garden, such as pine, a symbol of longevity, bamboo, a symbol of flexibility, and plum trees such as cherry trees, a symbol of evanescence. The association of 3 is synonymous with happiness ...

The pruning and shaping of trees and shrubs is quite an art in the hands of specialized gardeners and who require specific tools.

A wide variety of perennials punctuate the spaces, including in the so-called dry gardens, with more parsimony however. These Asian species are now acclimatized on all continents, especially in Europe.

Moss or, rather, mosses occupy a large place and are not considered "the weed" in Japan.

This parsimony can be offset by bonsai, an art from China, and also by the art of Ikebana, also Chinese, which allows everyone to become an artist with a branch by following codified rules while gaining in-depth knowledge. of the plant world.

Artist painting cherry blossoms. © Anne-Elizabeth Cabée / Robert Lavayssière.

In conclusion, the emotion that one can experience in a Japanese garden is obviously very personal, sometimes disturbed by tourist pressure, and variable according to the seasons which see the attendance increase in Spring with the flowering of plum trees then cherry trees, whose short duration recalls the ephemeral character of existence, or Autumn with the explosion of colors, those of maple trees in particular.

There are many Japanese gardens around the world, but few are those that really resemble Japanese gardens, especially for climatic reasons but also because of the need for meticulous maintenance which must also leave room for the patina of time.

Visiting a Japanese garden can be done without preparation and the emotion will be more spontaneous. The preparation allows you to better understand the different elements, sometimes difficult to identify, and the emotion will be different, the great difficulty being to be able to spend enough time there, or even to come back to it.

Robert Lavayssière.

 

There are many books in French on Japanese gardens and we can recommend:

Yoko Kawaguchi - Japanese zen gardens - Synchronique Ed. Antony, 2018

Sophie Walker - Japanese garden - Phaidon Ed. Paris, 2017

Marc Peter Keane - The art of the garden in Japan- Philippe Picquier Ed. Arles 1999

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