Gismondi, S. (ed.) Tasting the Landscape; 53rd IFLA World Congress, 2016. pp.416-417.

ISBN: 978-88-7970-781-7

The Taste of Water: Landscape Design in Japan
Wybe Kuitert

Professor Department of
Landscape Architecture
Graduate School of Environmental Studies
#82-416 Seoul National
1 Gwanak-no, Gwanak-gu,
Seoul, 151-742 South Korea

Although water is our most basic and most important resource for life, it is often spoiled and ignored
when short-term economic thinking comes in. Aquifers are easily damaged by tunnel building and
heavily intensive agriculture may spoil ground water. Design is the tool that landscape architects have
to counter this. If we know how to design with the
taste of water, we can physically demonstrate the
value of our most precious resource. Indeed, water
is a most grateful design material as it inspires for
its tactile and visual qualities, however rarely for its
sound, not to mention the taste in the mouth.
The taste of water is seen as a prime mover of
landscape design in Japan, in Kyoto and Osaka,
where valleys with side streams run from surrounding mountains. Under increasing population
pressure, the groundwater table lowered in these
cities and natural streams and artesian wells
dried up, making people more aware of the preciousness of fresh drinking water. Specifically the
adepts of sencha, a stylized way of drinking tea
- different from the formal tea ceremony known
in the West - developed a liking for tasty water.
Sencha tea was not much more than the homely,
everyday way of simply steeping dried tea leaves
in a little pot. Steeped tea could be taken outside,

1. Diagram that shows
the ideal of an open
and informal landscape
with a stream, all in the
sencha taste (Akisato
Tsukiyama Teizoden
Gohen, 1828)


at picnics, bringing along a simple portable set of
utensils. Soon, the dominant element in the taste
for sencha was a longing for an open and free, natural, scenic surrounding, at first hardly designed.
The ideal scenery was a lovely landscape, lightly wooded, with pure water nearby. Landscape
gained a status in the discourse for its own sake,
touching on the taste of the scene, linking water
and woods with tea, food, and other drinks, and of
course with a spirited conversation as well. The
taste extended literally to the taste of the water,
as pure water for the preparation of the tea had
to be naturally present. It was drawn from a well
or a small river, not brought along in containers.
Around Osaka and Kyoto, so-called ‘Famous Waters’ became well-known in the eighteenth century; these were accessible places, like old neighborhood wells or at temples just on the outskirts
of the city, or even Osaka’s Yodo River, which
must have had much better water in those days.
Notably, the Famous Waters could be visited for
free, and the recommended water could be tasted
or brought home. Such was also the case for Tadasu-no-mori in Kyoto, an old sacred shrine forest.
It became popular after some sencha tea adepts
started selling poetry with a cup of tea, made with

2. Side screens with fir
trees and pines leave a
central space with shallow streams open in the
middle. Murin-an owned
by Minister Yamagata Aritomo, built by
Ogawa. Photo by author,
December 9, 2009
3. A thin sheet of water
stretches out to touch
upon the main room of
the main building. Garden at Namikawa Cloisonne Museum done by
Ogawa. Photo by author,
October 13, 2013
4. Water for tea can be
drawn from the stream,
walking down the
stepping stones. Garden
redone by Ogawa, at the
restaurant Ganko Nijo-en. Photo by author,
October 30, 2010
5. Water designed as
soundscape by Ogawa
forms separate sound
cells that double up
with the spatial design
around waterfalls.
Research by Sowa
Haruyoshi (1999) on the
Tairyu-sanso garden

water from the forest streams. Tadasu-no-mori is
a light, deciduous forest that attracted many common people that came to see the tea-and-poetry
selling men, with an added legend holding that
dipping one’s feet in the water conferred protection against disease. A tourist economy developed
accordingly, with stalls for food and drink springing up to accommodate visitors and boards laid
over the streams to serve as picnic terraces for
day trippers. However based on the taste of water
though, this landscape was hardly designed.
From the later nineteenth century the sencha attitude became fashionable among wealthy politicians
and captains of industry with a different life style.
These men possessed landscaped estates where
limpid water took a central position. Their estates
emphasized being close to the water, as reflected in
an elaborate design of water shores and built archi-

tecture that all touches upon water as much as possible. Shallow streams and waterfalls are designed
in a setting of light woodland scenery, recalling the
sencha ideal. Of course, the water was used for preparing tea as well. A most technical perfection in
this kind of water design, including water sound, is
seen with landscape gardener Ogawa Jihei (18601933), who became well-known and inspired much
of Japan’s landscape design until the present day.
This presentation will introduce some sites that are
not open to the public, and will demonstrate how
the topographical setting of natural landscape was
elaborated in artful design, while analyzing the design methods that made the taste of water into a
particular design style.
More details are found in: Wybe Kuitert Japanese
Gardens and Landscapes, 1650-1950 University of
Pennsylvania Press, 2016 (autumn).