Muromachi attitudes towards nature and garden design

Changes in thematic inspiration, authorship and architectural setting

We liave now examined three variations of the second great Japanese garden prototype, all intended to illustrate the unique nature of the kare-sansui dry landscape garden developed during the Muromachi period Ryoan-ji is an abstract rock-and-sand garden attached to the south of the abbot's quarters. Daisen-m a highly symbolic garden of rocksu sand and plants surrounding the mam temple hall on all four sides, while Shmju-an

Tenryu-ji es probably the firs t garden m the history of japan deliberately to expiât landscape elements lyr.ng beyond its boundaries This 'borrowing ' technique is catW Shakkei

A monochrome mi drawing typKal of the MuromacN era This winter landscape is the work of Sesshu. the famous Zen mork. painter and garden artist Short and emphate vertical and diagonal brush-strokes are a particular characterise of his work (National Museum. Tokyo)

is a thin strip of rock-and-moss garden east of the abbot's quarters The gardens of the Muromachi era are much smaller in scale than their Heian predecessors; they also reveal fundamental new developments in the areas of thematic inspiration, authorship and architectural setting In identifying the nature and origins of these changes, we shall be examining the roles played by landscape painting, sensui kawararrono gardeners and Shoin-style architecture.

The role of landscape painting

In the figure of Sesshu (born c. 1420). .apanese painting finally progressed beyond the mere imitation of artistic models imported with the second wave of Chinese influence, and reached that final stage of acculturation in which absorption is so complete as to allow new and original departures Sesshu nevertheless visited China to undergo further training in the techniques of ink landscape painting. The art of the Sung and Yuan dynasties had slowly filtered through to Japan with the arrival of Chinese Zen priests, who came to settle in Zen temples in Kamakura from the mid-thirteenth century onwards.

Art historian Ichimatsu Tanaka mentions an early "Catalogue of Treasures of Butsunichi-an" compiled by the monks of the sub-temple of Engakj-ji in Kamakura. and concludes: "Judging by the examples of Sung paintings in the catalogue, however, it is reasonable to assume that Sung influence was already manifesting itself in the Japanese painting of the time."4* These

paintings were initially devotional in character, and included portraits of famous Zen priests or Buddha figures in a landscape setting.

The first independent ga-in, a type of art academy, was founded in the mid-fifteenth century under the Ashikaga shoguns. Many of its members were priests and painters residing in Shokoku-ji, one of Kyoto's five most important Zen temples. Josetsu, first head of the academy, and his successors Shubun and Sotan quickly established a distinct Muromachi style of suiboku, Japanese ink painting.

Sesshu had also been a monk in Shokoku-ji. But having trained at this remarkable dual institution of Zen temple cum art school, he broke away from its institutionalized traditions in his forties to begin an independent career, leading the life of an itinerant monk and painter. His rejection of the conventions of Chinese-inspired landscape painting is a symbolic indication of Japan's increasing cultural independence. Tanaka offers the following summary of Sesshu's achievement: "He thus represented the vanguard in a natural trend towards artistic independence as painting progressed from the religious to the purely aesthetic."43 Perhaps "natural" would be even better than "aesthetic", for Nature herself is now Sesshu's religious theme. Nature in his work is no longer the mere backdrop to devotional portraits of Buddhist saints, no longer the idealized setting of a Pure-Land paradise, but acquires its own religious significance. Sesshu's perception of nature clearly reveals the influence of Zen on his work: he accepts nature as "religious" iconography. The words attributed to Zen monk Dogen (1200 -1253) here spring to mind, in which he compares "the sound of the valley and the colour of the mountains" to the "tongue" and "body" of the Buddha.44 The later Zen priest and painter Hakuin expressed a similar belief when he said: "This very p ace the Lotus Paradise, this very body the Buddha." The dualistic vision of Heian times, in which the present world of suffering was compensated by the paradise of Amida Buddha beyond, has here given way to the non-dualistic Zen vision of the Muromachi era, in which sacred and profane, matter and spirit, Buddha and ordinary mortal are seen as a single whole.

It is interesting to note that Sesshu was simultaneously a practitioner of meditation, painting and garden des gn. Although conclusive evidence remains lacking, he is credited with the creation of a number of gardens in western Japan. If, as we have already suggestea, he indeed approached his painting as a form of religious exercise, then we may infer that he saw garden design in a similar light.

I would finally like to draw attention to Sesshu's particular preference for splashed and dabbed brush strokes, a technique which he learnt in China It is possible that he selected rocks with a view to achieving similar textures in his gardens.

The gardens of the Muromachi era are thus no longer the scenic illustrations of nature recommended by the Sakutei-ki in Heian times. They are related instead to a new school of painting whose own origins lie in the religious practices of Zen Buddhism. And like

paintings, they are designed to be viewed statically. The Heian chisen shuyu teien, the pond-spring garden designed to be enjoyed by boat, has given way to the Muromachi chisen kansho teien, the pond-spring garden designed to be enjoyed from fixed vantage points. At the same time, too, the waters of the first pond garden have effectively evaporated into the "dry" ponds of the latter.

The gardens of the Muromachi era are thus three times removed from nature. Firstly, because they are "constructed" like a landscape painting; secondly, because they are designed to be seen from a distance; thirdly, because they offer an increasingly monochromatic representation of nature, as found in Chinese landscape painting.

The role of ishitateso and kawaramono

Who were the people who actually designed and built the gardens of the Kamakura and Muromachi eras7 In Heian times it seems they were mainly designed by their owners, members of the nobility, as a form of aesthetic pastime. This thesis is supported by an anecdote from the Sakutei-ki, the "Classic of Garden-Making". The author of the Sakutei-ki, Tachibana Toshitsuna, was himself a noble and a garden-maker, and there is surely a hint of sympathy in the following account: "When the repairs to the Kaya-in buildings were finished, all those who were to erect the rocks disappeared. Even those who had just come along by chance and who had been thought capable of the job failed to satisfy the master's wishes. Fujiwara Yorimichi therefore completed it all himself."

The above passage implies two things. Firstly, that the aristocrat and garden-owner Fujiwara Yorimichi designed his garden himself Secondly, that even in Heian times there existed a class of professional gardeners whose services could be bought. If so, who were they7

An important key to our answer lies in the form of the Sansui narabini yakei-zu, a seminal text transmitting the illustrated secrets of garden design. It was composed in 1466 in Shinren-in, part of the Ninna-ji temple complex belonging to the Shingon sect in northwestern Kyoto. Ninna-ji had become known as a centre of ishitateso, "rock-setting priests" who combined their Buddhist duties with garden design. It seems it was they - and no longer the nobles themselves - who created many of the gardens of the Kamakura era

As years went by, so interest in gardening increased, a development encouraged by the willingness of the shoguns to promote the newly-imported Zen religion. By the early Muromachi era, what was once the province of semi-professional ishitateso had become the domain of Zen priests. The most famous of these was Muso Kokushi, whose name is linked with Saiho-ji and Tenryu-ji, two of the most famous gardens of the age, and who is even credited by some with the invention of the dry landscape garden per se Pnest-cum-gardener Sesshu even brought a third qualification to his work - that of painter.

But alongside the nobility, the Buddhist priests and the Zen painters, there were others involved in the

Reiun-m, the Spirit and Cloud Temple, is a sub-temple of Myoshirt-ji in Kyoto. This woodcut illustrates the intimate relationship between its Shom-style temple architecture and the small dry landscape garden The garden, employing a minimum number of rocks and clipped shrubs, is attributed to Shiken, pupil of Zen monk and painter Sesshu The scene is taken from the "Miyako nnsen meisho zue", the "Illustrated Manual of Celebrated Gardens in the Capital" of 1799

making of Japanese gardens who came from the opposite end of the social spectrum. These were the kawaramono, or "riverbank workers", social outcasts forced to live on the narrow riverbanks because it was the only land that nobody owned. They earned their meagre living from labouring work and from such despised tasks as the butchering of animals, abhorred for religious reasons by the rest of society.

These kawaramono were initially brought in, virtually as forced labour, for physically-demanding tasks such as earthworking. They were also required to find and collect rocks and trees for new gardens from all over the Kyoto region. Over time, however, their work must have taught them a broad spectrum of knowledge and a wealth of valuable gardening skills; by the fifteenth century they had earned the admiration and esteem of the Ashikaga shoguns, themselves avid garden builders, and their social status was correspondingly high. One of the most famous of the sensui kawaramono, the "riverbank workers as gardeners", was Zenami. The suffix "ami" indicates that he belonged to the Jishu sect of Buddhism, whose thirteenth-century founder, Ippen Shonin, commanded particular popularity amongst the "common people". Zenami is credited with the execution of Yoshimasa's "Villa of the Eastern Hills", the present-day Ginkaku-ji. He died in 1482 at the age of over ninety, highly respected by the shoguns for his unique talents as a garden designer and builder.

Karl Hennig is probably correct in assuming that the new garden prototype of the Muromachi era was „invented" between 1433 and 1471, and thus during

Zenami's active career as a professional garden architect.45, But whether the dry garden landscape is the intellectual property of the kawaramono, the Zen priests, the priest-painters or indeed even of the shoguns themselves, remains a matter of speculation.

Shoin-style architecture and the hojo garden

The Kamakura and Muromachi eras saw political power in Japan pass into the hands of the samurai, the warrior class which supplied the shoguns of the day. The focus of cultural life correspondingly shifted away from the palaces of the formers emperors to the residences of the samurai and the Zen monasteries which they sponsored. The garden was equally affected by these changes, and its scale, social function and architectural environment were all modified accordingly. The transition from the shinden-zukuri residential architecture of the Heian palace, with its ceremonial south and pond gardens, to the shoin-zukuri architecture of the Zen temple, with its garden in front of the hojo, the abbot's quarters, was a long and gradual process which lasted until late into the Muromachi era.

During the Kamakura and Muromachi eras, the Japanese copied both Chinese Zen thinking and Chinese Zen architecture Daitoku-ji and Myoshin-ji, two temples built for the Rinzai Zen sect in Kyoto, are clearly based on Chinese models. The core architectural components (entrance gate, lotus pond, main gate, Buddha Hall, Lecture Hall, bathhouse and toilet) are strictly aligned along a north-south axis at the centre of

Jo/a no ma. the main aud&Ke hid irt KOfOM Guest HaV. is a classic example of fufy-deve<-oped Shan-style architecture 4 ryp^ai feature a the bay projecting out into the garden, it contains its own dccoratr*? alcove (tokonomai and built-in v/ooden writing desk (tsuie-shoii) from which the garden can be contemplatea The polychrome painting on a gold background tn the decorative alcove shows a waterfall an-J garden stream. ,vhose waters appear to fkn out towards the garden. Shorn and garden are thus futfy integrated

the temple complex. Around them, in less disciplined arrangement, lie numerous sub-temples. The abbot's quarters lie to the north of the central complex. The sub-temples were founded by eminent individual monks; they enjoyed a large degree of financial and organizational autonomy, and were also surrounded by high walls which separated them from each other and from the main temple - all features distinguishing them from their Chinese forebears. It was here, in the small courtyards created by the unsystematic addition of individual sub-temples, here in front of the hojo and the kyakuden, the Guest Hall, that the garden of the Muromachi era found its new architectural setting.

An important catalyst in the slow crystallization of Muromachi shoin-zukuri, literally „writing-room architecture", was the kaisho, the Assembly Hall designed to house festivities and other gatherings. The kaisho first appeared during the Kamakura era, when it employed the Shinden style of Heian palace architecture; it was used by the new military aristocracy for cultural events such as banquets, poetry, tea ceremonies and flower arranging. It was usually located to the north of the shinden main hall, in other words in the most private part of the palace complex.

The two great authorities on Shoin architecture, Teiji Itoh and Fumio Hashimoto, both agree that the changes first introduced in the kaisho "acted as a force drawing the whole of residential architecture towards the Shoin style as it was eventually formalized in the late sixteenth century."46

The following were to become typical features of

Shoin-style architecture, although not necessarily all are found in its early phases in any one single building:

Tsuke-shoin, a low wooden desk built into an alcove, with a window overlooking the garden, which was used for reading and writing and which gave its name to the style as a whole.

Tokonoma, a built-in alcove designed to receive flower arrangements and small objects of art. Vertical-hanging scroll paintings imported from China were particularly popular.

Chigaedana, a combination of asymmetrical shelving and cabinets which housed books and valuable tea utensils. These were also usually imported from China.

Chodaigamae, a set of painted sliding doors offering the master of the house a convenient means of leaving and entering the shoin.

Other important elements of Shoin-style architecture were its sliding wall partitions. Those indoors were called fusuma and were solid and often decoratively painted, while those separating the inside of the house from the garden outside were called shoji and were translucent. These partitions could be easily slid aside to allow a view of the garden from indoors. The garden became to some extent a framed element of Shoin architecture. This proved a characteristic of samurai and priestly residences.

Overall plan of Myoshin-ji, one of Kyoto's large Zen temples, built during the Muromachi era The core architectural structures are aligned m strict symmetry along a north-south axis. A Entrance gate, B Lotus pond, C Mam gate; D Lecture Hall; E Buddha Hall; F: Abbot's quarters, G Taizo-m sub-temple The remaining areas are sub-temples loosely grouped around the main temple.

Daisen Sub Temple

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