The last Japanese garden

November 16th, 2012

When one thinks of contemporary gardens in Japan, there couldn’t be anyone more infamous than Mirei Shigemori. He was an artist both immersed in abstract art and western modernism, as well as traditional Japanese cultural arts such as gardening, ikebana, and the Tea Ceremony. He brought a new form of gardening to Japan incorporating ground breaking elements into his gardens – including his use of concrete – “liquid stone” a man made material that had never been used in a Japanese garden before, the ripple like effect of raking pebbles,  creating an image of waves against pointed rock islands, and finally the work of his rock gardens both symbolizing purity, but at the same commenting on the state of the environment and the future world devoid of nature.

Although he was greatly influenced by western culture, his garden designs were enriched by the traditional Japanese gardens he admired so much. He was always on the cutting edge, but he never deviated too much away from natural aesthetic value. A garden is man made and thus doesn’t necessarily have to imitate nature, we can manipulate it to romanticize the best qualities of nature and use it to tell a story.

Mirei Shigemori, offered this story as a way to explain man’s close connection to gardening:

“When people lived in primitive huts or caves, as hunters and gatherers did. They enjoyed intimate contact with nature and the gods. But this changed when ancient people built houses and started to spend more time indoors, protected from the direct contact with nature and its forces. So the process of civilization in this respect was a path to alienation from the gods in nature, creating an increasing distance between man and nature.

Then, there came a point when people, fearing the absence of the gods, started to bring nature back into their lives and close to their homes in the form of gardens.”

Tiles and moss from Tofuku-ji Hojo, one of Shigemori’s first commissions. He took on the project without asking for money because he knew it was an oppurtunity to create something that might last forever. Shigemori was free to do whatever he wanted with the design, but the Buddists who ran the temple asked if he would include the use of the paving stones in the garden, as their Zen-sect was not allowed to let anything go to waste. This iconic pattern of paving stones and moss has now been copied all around the world.

Clipped azaleas inspired by rice fields in Japan.

Mirei Shigemori’s Garden residence, onlooking a collection of vertical stones. The pendant light hanging above was a gift by his friend and fellow designer Isamu Noguchi.

Hashi no Niwa garden, Komyo-in temple.

Picture window – rock formation.

Matsuo Taisha shrine, one of Shigemori’s masterpieces.

Most of the above photos were taken from the book Rebel in the Garden.

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