First time I ever saw a Japanese garden was in Ireland back in 2000. Too young to care, my memory relies on faded photographs and disbelief in my fashion choices back then. Two years ago during my first visit to Japan I saw several famous gardens throughout the country and fell in love with this aesthetic.
The Japanese garden is essentially very different from the western one, mostly because it relies on philosophical principles trying to capture the essence of nature. What that means practically is that you will always find asymmetry, water, rocks, bridges, ponds and fish and miniature idealized views of nature.
The garden will reveal itself to you with a different view as you move along incorporating borrowed scenery from outside the garden (such as hills or trees) to make the garden seem bigger. Even without basic understanding of how much work and thought was put into creating such works of art, it is impossible not to be in awe at these beautiful creations.
Yesterday I found myself roaming around Shinjuku and after a very satisfying meal I decided to stroll down to Gyoen National Garden, one of Tokyo's biggest parks. I headed straight towards the Japanese landscape garden and on my way found several ginkgo trees layering the ground with their fruit - ginnan. You can not miss it, the smell these things emit is a well known one, and there is no sugar coating it. It smells like, well ... shi*t. What an ouverture to my idyllic afternoon in the park.
Soon enough the landscape began to unravel and alter before my eyes, at times subtly and at others dramatically. People watching was also particularly entertaining in that setting as you would expect: from worn out sarariman (ie.salary man) enjoying their lunch on the lawn to lively pensioners, teamed up mothers with children and of course couples. Some in love, some hoping to get there. I kept bumping into a mixed pair (he was white and she was Japanese) and by the level of his enthusiasm I assumed he is not yet where he wants to be. In my mind I wished him luck in his endeavors and parked my weary legs on a pretty hill overlooking a lake. Since I had no proper picnic blanket, I used my mini parasol and tenugui (Japanese all purpose towel) to make my bed. I have never napped in a public park before. Sun warmed my feet and breeze kept it pleasant on this unusually hot October day.
Sudden post-nap medical emergency required immediate sugar intake and I indulged in a fine matcha ice cream.
There was one more stop before my afternoon was over - the glasshouse. Or the 'house plants' house, I should say. Variety of different tropical/other plants you normally see in people’s homes (shrunken and sad longing for the sun and humidity of their native environment). Here they all were, but bigger and happier, blossoming and showing off their rich foliage. This occupied my mind, but I was quickly driven out by another friendly addition to any humid glasshouse, the ever-hungry mosquito.
''Adopt the pace of nature. Her secret is patience.''
The park is still green, I cannot wait to see the autumn colors.
"Life in Japan" blog Written By Andrea Ohnishi