TWO EARLY JAPANESE GARDENS

(The Authentic Garden, Clusius Foundation, Leiden, 1991: 237-239)

WYBE KUITERT
Wageningen,
The Netherlands

Dr. Wybe Kuitert (1955) is a
practising landscape architect. He
has been attached to the Research
Institute of Landscape Architecture,
Kyoto University (four years) and
the International Research Center
for Japanese Studies, Kyoto (one
year). He obtained his doctorate at
the Agricultural University of
Wageningen in the Netherlands in
1988 with a thesis on the cultural
history of Japanese garden art.
Besides his work as a licensed
landscape architect, he is an
honorary research fellow at the
Botanic Garden of the Agricultural
University of Wageningen

From 710 to 784 AD the town of Nara was the capital of Japan. This period
of 74 years was uncharacteristically long. In the past the houses of the
courtiers were clustered around the palace of the Emperor. With every
new Emperor the palace was rebuilt on a new site and the Court followed
suit. Naturally, such centres of government were not very large. In the 7th
century the ‘Taika Reforms’ reorganized the whole political system along
Chinese lines, which also implied a more permanent seat of government.
Nara was the first capital city which was meant to be permanent and was a
copy of the Chinese capital city Chang-an, albeit on a much smaller scale,
the Chinese capital being four times as large. The streets and buildings
were organized in a strict grid system, with one or more families on a
square area of one chÔ , enclosed by a wall. Within these walls the main
house and out-buildings were organized in a regular manner. Sometimes a
garden was laid out.
The area of the old town of Nara has been reasonably well excavated and
the remains of quite a few gardens have been found. It is highly probable
that Chinese and Korean experts were involved in the designing and
building of these early Japanese gardens. Korea as a political entity did not
exist in those days and each of the three independent regions (the ‘later
three kingdoms’), Koguryo, Silla and Paekche, influenced early Japanese
garden art independently (I Song 1982). In this respect the Korean
‘landscapist’ Michiko no Takumi, also known as ‘the ugly artisan’, should be
noted. This artist from Paekche is said to have been involved with the
design and building of the courtyard of the Imperial Palace in the 7th
century (Kuck 1968). Much of the sophistication and elegance of Chinese
culture reached Japan through Paekche. A great many plants with important
associations in Chinese poetry were introduced in Japan during this period,
such as the flowering plum (Prunus mume) and a species of bamboo with
black stems (Phyllostachys nigra). These species and varieties were planted
in gardens for their literary associations and not for their botanical or
horticultural qualities (Kuitert 1988). The 8th century gardens of Nara
must be considered continental gardens in style and content. This point is
illustrated by the remains of two gardens in Nara which were excavated in
the eighties.
The first garden discussed here was found while digging for the
foundations of a new post-office (Plates 42 and 44). The spot was named
Kyuseki or SakyÔ sanjÔ nibÔ rokutsubo, a reference to the street-plan of
ancient Nara. The most spectacular discovery was a pond in the shape of a
double S. The shape of the pond was defined by a layer of stones, each
about as big as a fist, on the bottom and by groups of artistically placed
rocks in certain places along the edge. Evidence of a small reservoir which
had been fed by the river Komogawa was found upstream. Water from the
reservoir entered the pond by means of a wooden construction involving
conduits and locks. The pond itself was about 15 m wide and 55 m long. It
has been restored and the water-level is now 20 cm above the bottom. The
remains of wooden containers were found in the stone lining of the
bottom. These objects were probably used for growing aquatic plants, such
as irises. The excavation also brought to light vestiges of building-piles. In
the western part of the garden there was a building in Chinese style, its
eastern side looking out onto the garden. This building has been
reconstructed. The pond and the building were enclosed by a wooden

fence. Outside the fence stood several smaller buildings for the preparation
of food and drink. It is certain that the building looking out on the garden
was used as a hall for ceremonial banquets. The roof-tiles of the building
are identical with those used in all the buildings of the imperial palace
compound and one has the impression that the garden building was not
part of a private residence of a nobleman, but rather an independent
‘detached retreat’ of the Imperial Court itself. The garden and its buildings
are not mentioned in any written source and were probably informal in
character. The water in the meandering pond flows from north to south.
The pond was probably used for kyokusui (or gokusui) parties (Narashi
KyÔ iku iinkai 1983; Tanaka 1989). The guests of a kyokusui banquet were
invited to sit along the banks of the winding pond. They were supposed to
finish a poem before a floating cup of wine reached them (Plate 41). The
Chinese calligrapher Wang Xi-Zhi (303-379 AD) inspired the tradition of
the kyokusui banquet. On the third day of the third month in the year 353
he invited forty-one ‘men of abilities’ for a kyokusui banquet. The resulting
poems were gathered in the ‘Records of the Orchid Pavilion’, one of the
most famous anthologies of classical Chinese literature. This type of party,
together with the winding stream, became part of the classical garden
repertoire and there are many descriptions of such banquets in Chinese,
Korean and Japanese sources. In Kyongju in Korea there is a channel cut
out in granite, which is the kyokusui garden stream of the Poseog palace,
destroyed in 927 (e.g. Kuitert 9-1988). A Chinese handbook for
architecture (Yingzhaofashi, 1100 AD) depicts a liu-pei-qu (‘gutter that
runs a wine-cup’), which is virtually identical to the granite channel of
Poseog (Tanaka 1989). Such large granite channels have never been found
in Japan, on the other hand winding streams lined with stones do not occur
on the mainland. Though one should not be tempted to draw the
conclusion that the Japanese liked more naturalistic shapes and that in
China and Korea architectural shapes were preferred, the naturalism of this
8th century garden in Nara foreshadows later Japanese garden design. In
this sense the early Nara gardens herald the beginning of a specific
Japanese gardening tradition. Yet the way in which gardens were used – one
of the central aspects of garden culture – was the same in Japan and on the
mainland, at least where the kyokusui-banquets were concerned. This is
one of the most important arguments for the influence of Tang dynasty
garden art on Japan.
The reconstructed Kyuseki garden has been opened to the public and the
post-office of Nara was built elsewhere.
The second garden excavated in Nara is the 8th century garden of the TÔ in, the Eastern Palace. This compound was a ‘detached palace’ in the southeastern part of the Imperial Palace compound. The roofs of the TÔ -in were
also covered with Imperial roof-tiles. From historical sources we can infer
that there were several gardens in Nara and about ten of these are known
by name. The TÔ -in is very important in this respect, as not only are there
relatively many historical sources, but the site has been extremely well
excavated and studied. The original lay-out of the garden can be
reconstructed from the stone lining of the pond and the remains of
wooden piles (Plate 43). It seems that a garden from the beginning of the
8th century was radically changed in the middle of the same century. The
old garden was covered and a new garden laid out on top of it. This second
garden was especially grand.
The use of stone is somewhat different than in the kyuseki garden
described above. Only the banks of the pond were lined with stones and
these were larger. The rocks of the artistically arranged groups were also
larger. A garden pavilion stood on wooden posts in the water, more or less
the same as in the Anap-ji palace in Korea, which was built in the middle of

the 7th century (I Song 1982). Though the Anap-ji is more than ten times
larger than the TÔ -in, the two gardens have much in common. In both the
pavilion stands on the eastern edge of the pond, looking out onto the
water, the architectural shapes of the building contrasting boldly with the
curving lines of the pond. Both ponds contain islands, a possible reference
to the Taoist symbolism of the ‘islands of the immortals’. In both systems,
water from natural sources flows into the pond from the north-eastern
corner of the garden. Both gardens are based on the same geomantic
principles (I Song 1982). An important difference is the fact that in the
garden of the TÔ -in the pond is crossed by two bridges instead of one. It is
known that ‘the ugly artisan’ Michiko no Takumi build a Chinese-style
curved bridge in Japan. This bridge was built a century before that of the
TÔ -in in Nara and maybe it took a hundred years for certain aspects of
garden art, filtering through Paekche, to develop into an indigenous
Japanese style. Ponds with pavilions above the water and an island with one
or more bridges became the dominant style in the Heian period from the
9th century (Kuitert 1988). During this period both Korea and Japan were
culturally isolated from China and developed their own characteristic types
of garden art. With the garden of the TÔ -in a style of garden art was born
in Japan which would become classical in the next ten centuries.

Chung Dong-Oh

I Song
Kuck, L.
Kuitert, W.
Kuitert, W.
Kuitert, W.
Nara kokuritsu bunkazai kenkyûjo
Narashi kyÔ iku iinkai
Tanaka Tan
Taji RokurÔ

Bibliography
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(in Korean, with English summary), journal of the Korean Traditional Garden
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the Institute of Landscape Architecture), Kyoto 1982.
The world of the Japanese garden, New York / Tokyo 1968.
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Themes, scenes, and taste in the history of Japanese garden art, Amsterdam 1988.
‘De onbekende tuinkunst van Korea’, Groen, 44(1988)9, p.28-30.
Yomigaeru Nara HeijÔ kyÔ (in Japanese), Nara.
Nara no bunkazai, No.2 HeijÔ kyÔ (in Japanese), Nara 1983.
Early Japanese Horticultural treatises and pure land Buddhism style, Washington,
Dumbarton Oaks Symposium paper, May 19-21, 1989.
‘ChÔ sen teien ni miru hÔ chi to sono kigen ni tsuite’ (in Japanese), ZÔ en zasshi, 2
(1935)3, Tokyo.

Plate 42 (above). View of the winding stream garden Kyuseki in Nara.
Stone work 8th century, building reconstructed recently
(photo Wybe Kuitert, February 1985).

Plate 41 (above). A kyokusui-banquet restaged at
the Jonangu Shrine, Kyoto
(photo Wybe Kuitert, November 3, 1982).

Plate 43 (right). View of a model that
reconstructs the outline of the garden TÔ -in.
The octagonal pavilion stands in the south-east
corner of the garden (photo Wybe Kuitert).

Plate 44. Another view of the
winding stream garden Kyuseki in
Nara. Stone work 8th century,
building reconstructed recently
(photo Wybe Kuitert, February 1985).

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