Japanese Gardens

I’m now in Kyoto, ancient capital of Japan, and complete overload of temples. Unfortunately you don’t get to see much of the insides of the temples, just darkened views of distant painted screens and laquerware. The temples with active worshippers all require advanced reservations to visit, so no insights into Zen Buddhism. Instead, just as in Myanamar I acquired a taste for Theravadin Buddha statues from Phil, I’m acquiring a taste for Japanese gardens from Rosemary (my mum). The Japanese seem universally excellent at all art forms, and particularly at generating weird and unique new ones. The peculiar list includes tea ceremonies, all over body tattoos (for the yakuza mafia only), and handmade paper as well as more “normal” arts such as lacquerware, flower arranging and video games. Good gardens have been grown in Japan for centuries, and some are maintained to this day.

What’s interesting about gardens? There’s a tension between letting the plants grow in a natural way, and controlling how they grow. At one end of the scale, every gardener does a bit of pruning. Otherwise you don’t have a garden you have a wild forest. On the other hand, the Japanese often carefully manipulate every trunk and branch to be exactly how they like – leaning trees over lakes at previously impossible angles, thinning foliage to create a view past the lower trunks, or creating precise geometrical shapes. This must require years of dedication and care, and a serene sort of patience not so much required when making computer games.

The garden designers do other interesting things, such as incorporate distant hills or buildings into the aesthetics of the garden, or creating viewpoints such that as you stroll new vistas are revealed and hidden round each corner. Then there are Zen gardens, which are quite fun and quite satisfying. These tend to incorporate patterns made out of stones, such as gravel raked in beautiful contours, so the occasional rock looks like it was dropped into a pool of pebbles and the waves frozen.

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