Kyoto/ ‘Pure land’ pond gardens

Kyoto/ ‘Pure land’ pond gardens
西行物語絵巻 Illlustrated Scroll of the Story of Priest Saigyo, twelfth century

 

(http://www.filination.com/blog/2014/08/26/heian-jingu-shrine-kyoto/)
Heian Shrine, Kyoto
Online collection, TheBritishMuseum
西行物語絵巻 Illlustrated Scroll of the Story of Priest Saigyo, twelfth century

It came with an important political consideration, as phenomenal also in other places of the world, the designation of the imperial capital in Kyoto as to disconnect any relatedness of the present emperor from the pass away of the former and also to reinforce their authority. As has been discussed in the text on brief history of Kyoto, it is noted that political power during the Heian period was largely centralized. With the urban configuration of the grid layout, the size of houses and gardens of the aristocrats was defined as such. By the later Heian period, it has been a significant feature that gardens comprise a large pond or lake with an island. I would like to illustrate on the example of a recreated garden at the Heian Shrine, where we can see a profound association of the features in the garden with the political background of the era. On the south of the Shinden, the main building, there lies a garden which planted with a cherry tree and a citrus tree on sides of the main steps. Citrus is an evergreen plant that symbolizes eternality. Besides, cherry denotes the coming of spring therefore it is interpreted as the representation of strong ruling of an emperor. As a result, the spatial representation and the plants is as a matter of fact an implicit sign of power.

On the other hand, the garden has displayed distinctive characteristics situating on the suburbia. They were seen as ‘rikyu’ (detached palaces) of the city. During occasions of festivals or ceremonies, the pond at the core of the garden was also significant for boat sailing and some entertainments would be staged on the island. The design and organization of the garden emphasizes also a place of pleasure away from the urban context. The garden is therefore regarded as a quiet and secluded place where the residents can relax and be entertained. This is an enclosed gardens with little attention made on responding to the surroundings. While borrowing of landscape and framing of surrounding landscape were profound and widely adopted in traditional Japanese gardens, the design strategies were not notably applied as features of the garden. The garden is indeed a unique and typical representation of the remote Kyoto garden. It is an indication of the inwardness of the Heian society and an embodiment of the character of the city as culturally preservative.

Reference: Gardens in History: A Political Perspective, Louise Wickham, Windgather Press, p.1-7, p.211-216.

 

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