Welcome to Japan House Gardens. My name is James Bier, designer and builder of the gardens. I would like to take you through the six stops along the walk explaining the concepts and details about Japanese gardens that might help you enjoy your stroll around Japan House. Take your time and absorb details as you go along.
There are more than one kind of Japanese garden, mostly tied to the country's history and they can be classified in four or five categories. The oldest style is a Hill and Pond Garden, used sparingly but going back to its roots in the Heian Period of 794-1185. Only a few remnants of these original gardens exist today in Japan but modification of this concept can be found at temples and modern gardens outside of religious areas.
Beginning at the end of the 12th Century, with the introduction of Zen Buddhism from China, came the concept of the Dry Garden, the raked gravel and rocks so commonly imagined in the West as THE Japanese garden. The idea of a raked gravel area associated with a shrine and being a sacred area goes back to at least 300 B.C. with Shintoism and animism, the original religions of Japan. The concept of raked gravel in the dry gardens we see now has borrowed this concept but not seeing it sacred but more as respectful.
In the beginning of the 17th Century, tea was re-introduced to Japan from China which led to the art of tea drinking, the Tea Ceremony, and the development of the Tea Garden used to prepare the guests for and to compliment the artful, refined way of drinking tea with friends. About that same time, small enclosed gardens were introduced in Kyoto by wealthy merchants. Houses at that time were taxed by the width of the house fronting the street. So, to circumvent that, lots and houses were made narrow but to go back a lengthy distance and butting up against the neighbors' houses. To get ventilation and sunlight inside the house, small areas in the house were opened up to the sky but enclosed on three or four sides by rooms of sliding shoji and walls. This area was landscaped from ideas borrowed from the dry and tea gardens to its own style called the Courtyard Garden. Thus, one or more gardens could be viewed from different rooms of the house in a very private setting. This concept spread and is found in many enclosed areas outside the home, bringing nature close to the building especially in dense urban settings. The gardens widely vary in size but are often small, no more than 108 square feet (12 m^2) in size.
A fourth style of garden is on a grand scale, focusing on a pond or series of ponds, and has paths around the rim allowing special aesthetic views at various points to be admired. This is called a Stroll or Walking Garden. I will talk more about this garden at our last stop. Another category of Japanese garden is emerging which I will call a Residence Garden, which combines the ideas of all other gardens in original uses. Not only are they found in residences but also today in restaurants, hotels, business offices and other places. In the past, many excellent gardens were private and were not viewed by the public but now some are becoming more well-known and some made accessible to the public.
At Japan House we have two major gardens, the Tea Garden and Dry Garden available for you to walk through at your pleasure. The Japan House front door area is somewhat enclosed but it has not been suitable to create as a Courtyard Garden and the pond in front of Japan House is planned someday to be a Stroll Garden. At the back entrance to Japan House is the Gunji Chabana Garden containing a variety of plants used in lkebana, Japanese flower arranging. Most of the plants there have a Japanese origin. In time, we expect to expand the area with more varieties native to Japan. At the north parking lot past the Cherry Blossom Walkway is an Entrance Garden. While it does not follow a traditional style of garden, it does contain elements used in the other gardens.
A Tea Garden, called Cha Niwa in Japanese, is an intimate garden, designed for a small number of people and, for that reason, it is rarely available to the public to visit in Japan. With a visit to the country to see gardens, you will most likely see a tea garden only in casual passing, if recognized at all. Japan House's garden is large and more literal in its concept and presentation than usually seen in Japan, and certainly more accessible.
The concept of design is that you are leaving a structured, urban environment and are going up into a mountain forest to be with Nature, to have a bowl of tea with a friend living in a rustic setting. To create this, a path is laid out to follow as an up-and-down mountain trail. The hill was here before construction and was perfect, with modification, to carry this concept. The path is often called the Dewy Path because before guests arrive, the plants and rocks are watered down to bring out freshness and color to the landscape. In Japan so often, the tea gardens are so flat and simple that a strong imagination is needed to create the mood. It is also most common to have the tea room built as part of a main building as we have here rather than have a separate tea house.
All tea gardens are divided into two parts, the Outer Garden and the Inner Garden. Often the whole garden in Japan is no bigger than our Outer Garden that you see across to the main gate. The bamboo fence and gate to the right is the division between the two gardens. The Outer Garden is meant to be predominantly evergreen but with some deciduous plants, also, more formal in pruning and arrangement, and more open in space. It is just the opposite for the Inner Garden, more deciduous, more natural growth, and a feeling of forest cover.
For the Tea Ceremony , the guests number no more than five or six. They would arrive at the main gate and proceed in, to the waiting bench, koshikake in Japanese, moving ahead to the hill and seat themselves above one of the flat foot stones, the tallest stone at the end of the bench being for the main guest. It would then be time to relax, converse, and enjoy the garden setting and individual plants. After a time, the host or hostess would come from the tea house or room into the Inner Garden and approach the bamboo gate, inviting the guests into the Inner Garden and to tea. The guests enter and proceed to the water basin.
Now you are in the Inner Garden where you see a change in atmosphere, more enclosure, darker, and closer to natural. Pause now at a water basin called a tsukubai which, in this setting, is thought of as a hillside natural spring that has been modified so that one can easily drink from it. Without this water basin, we would not have a Tea Garden. It is absolutely necessary. Fresh water is used, not recycled, because when guests enter the Inner Garden, each person separately takes a sip of water from a dipper and symbolically washes their fingers as an act of purification.
After this, the guests proceed a few steps further to a stone junction, then turn left and walk to the door that leads inside to the tea room. Once in the tea room, the garden has served its purpose and is not thought of anymore. Also, from this short stepping stone path is another path leading left to the bottom of the bamboo sleeve fence, sode-gaki in Japanese, a common privacy fence in many styles often imitating the shape of a kimono sleeve. This ends at a small refuse pit where symbolically the host or hostess has placed a few leaves and large garden chopsticks to indicate to the guests that the garden has been tidied before they arrived. Also to the bottom of the sleeve fence is another path where, in the past, samurai warriors would have left their swords by a storage area before entering the tea room. This is only suggested here because the glass wall prevents any such construction.
The water basin has a unique feature once popular in Japan, then lost, and now re-discovered in some tea gardens. A large ceramic crock has been buried in the ground in front of the stone basin, upside down and with a hole at the top for water to enter and another hole in the side about two inches above the bottom for the water to drain out. A pool is formed at the bottom where water dripping in creates a sound in the chamber accompanying the drip of water above coming from the bamboo pipe. It is most noticeable in a quiet part of a day. Now let’s proceed along this stepping stone path to the next stop, near the bench by the woods.
From this location, you have a good view of the Inner Garden and the variety of plantings. Flower color is subdued in a tea garden, no intense colors but the use of white, pale blues, yellows and pinks are preferred. The one time bright colors are allowed is in autumn when the Japanese maples turn brilliant, intense red. This usually happens here about the third week of October.
The center of the Inner Garden is left open for plants needing sunlight or bright light. The main groundcover here is a bright green Pearlwort or Sagina that resembles the mosses so commonly used in Kyoto's famous gardens. Other groundcovers include grass-like Japanese sedges and wild, broad-leaf hostas which also have their origin in Japan. Throughout the gardens at Japan House, an attempt has been made to use trees, shrubs, perennials, and groundcovers with an Asian origin as much as possible. Many plants commonly used in Midwest landscaping are native to Japan , Korea, or China. This includes the common Japanese yew and Korean boxwood, the mainstay at Japan House. In Japan. the evergreen azalea would be commonly used but does not survive well in our area so, we miss the flowering that Japanese gardens display in spring.
To complete the Inner Garden, a cluster of Siberian maple and American dogwood trees create a woods to extend the feeling of being in a forest environment. Underneath the canopy, a woodland floor is being established that contains a wide variety of shade-loving plants, many originating in China or Japan as well as the U.S. This includes different sizes of hybrid hosta, creeping ginger, yellow wax bell, epimedium, rogersia, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, mayapple, trillium, twinleaf, helleborus, and ferns.
Now please follow the path ahead to the garden rear exit and cross over to the other side of Japan House where the next stop is at the junction of the walk with the Stroll Garden walk.
Dry gardens come in many sizes, shapes, and styles depending on the time period, the designer, and the location. Kyoto has the largest concentration of dry gardens in Japan and they are mainly associated with temples. But today, the dry garden can found in many places and can be mixed with other styles creating new presentations. Dry gardens can be strongly religious while representing nature when associated with temples. Without a religious purpose, the gardens may depict or suggest scenes from poems, or famous landscapes, or just show an abstract nature scene.
Karesansui Niwa, the Japanese words for the Dry Garden means "dry mountain stream." Why dry? Because every Japanese garden has to include water in some form in its design. In the Tea Garden, the water basin serves this requirement. The Stroll Garden is centered on a pond or group of ponds. The gravel in a Dry Garden is imagined as water. It could be a running stream, a river, a pond, a lake, or an ocean. It is for your imagination to see how the gravel is presented. Representing water, it should always appears very clean, raked level, smooth, and horizontal but can even be raked or scooped up in shapes representing waves, even violent waves.
Often the older Dry Gardens in Kyoto are rectangular but others are more freeform with a more natural outline. The most world-famous garden in Japan is the Ryoanji which contains 15 rocks grouped about on a raked gravel bed in a setting about the size of a tennis court. Only a little moss at the bottom of the rocks gives any sense of greenery. Thus, plants can exist minimally or not at all in such a garden.
The Dry Garden at Japan House I consider a little modern in design with its free form outline that suggests the shoreline of the actual pond in the distance. Asymmetry is paramount in any Japanese garden design and is demonstrated here in its configuration and balance of the right and left sides. The concept is simple and does not contain any religious connotation. There is a pond, a lake, an ocean, whatever you want to make it. Crushed white granite gravel is used containing tiny flecks of black mica which subdue the whiteness and which gives the gravel its sparkle in the sun. This is raked smooth like glass and a pattern of waves are added around the shoreline and island edges. To look its best, the gravel needs to be raked and cleaned frequently to give it an immaculate, undisturbed appearance. Behind this is a continuous line of evergreen Japanese yews pruned as hills or mountains wrapping around the body of water. Behind this are bayberry shrubs loosely pruned to suggest clouds. The large 2000-pound rock is a part of the hills as a cliff and possibly suggesting by its shape, a tumbling waterfall. The other rocks are islands or hill extensions.
A technique in Japanese garden design found so well in Kyoto is called shakkei, using borrowed scenery where a distant natural background scene is made part of the garden giving the illusion that the garden is larger than it really is. Man's intervention is not permitted in the scene. At the Japan House Dry Garden, there are two low areas in the bayberries where the view of the Arboretum behind becomes borrowed scenery when viewed from inside Japan House.
Dry Gardens can be colorful at certain seasons in Japan using perennials sparingly and flowering shrubs such as evergreen azaleas but usually, the gardens are quiet most of the year. At Japan House, the use of the groundcover wooly thyme is suggesting the common use of moss in Kyoto and gives a little color in spring when blooming. Color comes also from nearby perennials and trees in seasonal change. Now, your last stop in the stroll around Japan House is at the end of the Dry Garden walk towards the gazebo.
For our last stop, I would like to explain about a Stroll or Walking Garden called Kayushiki Niwa in Japanese. I said at the start that this garden style is on a grand scale, larger than the other styles developed. It appeared on the scene starting early in the 17th Century although a few were built earlier. Many are associated with castles once occupied by regional warlords of the past and are scattered about the country. They reflect the huge power and wealth the local rulers had and their competition with other rulers to produce the most impressive layout. Other such gardens were built by those in the political realm and wealthy merchants. Today, too few of these gardens are visited by Westerners due to their scattered locations but it is certainly worth the effort to see them if possible.
All Stroll Gardens focus on a large pond or series of ponds and can incorporate many features in the large space: bridges of small stone slabs to large wooden structures , also streams flowing in, waterfalls , boat docks, stepping stone crossings, iris marshes, tea houses, dry gardens, and even suggestions of the rural scape, that is, rice paddies and tea plantings. Some gardens are relatively flat while others will have hills, coves, and islands to create interest. To view all of this, a series of paths around the ponds are developed leading in various directions for exploration. There would often be special locations noted to have particularly good aesthetic view or composition across the water.
In America are Japanese-style gardens scattered in many cities varying greatly in quality and authenticity. The Stroll Garden has appealed more to parks departments than any other style. We do have three good samples of a Stroll Garden in this area. Considered the best in quality in North America is the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, Illinois. Another is at the Chicago Botanic Garden and one at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis.
A plan has been drawn for the future construction of a Stroll Garden here in the pond you see ahead, when funding is available. A bridge has, in honor of Professor Kimiko Gunji, already been constructed time to connect two pieces of land. The gazebo nearby, called an azumaya, would be part of the Stroll Garden and faces the pond.
To end my guide through the Japan House Gardens, I would like to make note of the large stone lantern outside the main gate to Japan House. This was donated to the College of Fine and Applied Arts by Nihon University Art Department and is located at a major walking, docking junction to suggest the illumination needed at such an area. Stone lanterns in Japanese gardens are never lit but serve as garden ornaments but do reflect their functional use at specific locations. The idea of lantern use in gardens was borrowed from the functional use of temple lanterns and was first used by tea masters in their gardens. Another major lantern is located south, along the main Arboretum walk. This is about 300 years old and is a family lantern donated by Shozo Sato, the founder of the original Japan House at the University of Illinois.
I hope you enjoyed your stroll through the gardens and will come back repeatedly to experience the change in the seasons. Gardens are never static and are always changing daily and yearly as living, breathing, eating, sleeping, growing, and aging art.