Variational types of the Momoyama karesansui dry landscape garden

Kare-sansui, the new garden prototype accompanying a new type of architecture, was first "invented" in the Muromachi era. The kare-sansui gardens of the Momoyama era reveal the same preference for more and larger rocks already seen in the pond gardens of the same period.

Matsuo Shrine

One of the most important kare-sansui gardens of the Momoyama era is found within the precincts of Matsuo Shrine in Yokaichi in Shiga Prefecture. Mirei Shigemori rediscovered the garden in 1936; he dates it to between 1570 and 1590 and suggests it formed the southern front garden of a no longer existing shoin. The garden is exceptional for its shape, dictateo by its site, whereby the view from the shoin is very deep and very narrow. The garden's designers were therefore obliged to place the turtle and crane islands one behind the other, rather than side by side as they were traditionally - simultaneously - viewed. The low-lying turtle island is now located directly in front of the shoin, while the crane island lies further back on an artificial hill. The largest standing rock on the crane island, well over five feet tall, represents the crane's wing. This garden is noticeably less abstract in character than its Muromachi predecessors, and is less derivative from Chinese landscape painting.64


The dry garden of Shinnyo-in, the "Temple of Absolute Truth" in Kyoto, takes the shallow, oblong form typical of the Momoyama era. Typical, too, is its location on the south side of the shoin. It was allegedly created by Ashikaga Yoshiaki, who became Shogun in 1568 and was an ardent lover of gardens like his forebears. The garden was subsequently moved from its original

Kyoto Shoin

The dry waterfall in Kanji-m Temple Garden, Kyoto, after a woodcut in the first volume of the "Tsukiyama teizoden" of 1735.


Overall plan of the dry landscape garden in Hompo-ji Temple, Kyoto. (After a drawing in Shigemori, M and K., Take/, vol. 9, 1972) A. Shoin, B: Storehouse, C: Lotus pond; D: Sun symbol composed of two carved stones; E Dry waterfall.

location and reconstructed in abridged form on the site we see today. The dry waterfall at its western end and the dry "stream" which passes in front of the shoin show it still indebted to the medieval gardens of the Muromachi era. New, however, is its use of double-layered symbolism, whereby the overlapping pattern of flat, bluish pebbles in the dry "river" resembles fishes' scales; these in turn symbolize the dynamic flow of water through the garden.


The L-shaped garden in front of the shoin of Kanji-in in Kyoto was destroyed by fire in 1780. In our own century, the restored garden has suffered further with the construction of a hideous apartment block on its south side, an eyesore which spoils the view of the garden. It is nevertheless possible to identify from this garden two characteristic features of the gardens of the Momo-yama era. The first is a bridge located above a two-stepped dry waterfall, with a rock triad behind symbolizing distant mountains. The rock settings on the two sides of the dry river are unusually well preserved. Similar dry waterfall compositions from the Muromachi era - Tenryu-ji, for example - all place their bridges below the waterfall. The waterfall also contains rocks whose purpose is to divide its imagined waters. In a second characteristic feature of Momoyama gardens, the middle of the garden is dominated by a sort of bay, which is visually concluded by a bridge of natural stone. In the centre of this bay lies a cyIindricaIly-carved rock, as used for bridge piers. It symbolizes a small island. Hewn stones would have been unthinkable in the dry gardens of the Muromachi era.


The juxtaposition of natural and geometrically-carved rocks within a single composition is a distinctive feature of Momoyama garden art. Hompo-ji, the "Temple of Original Law" in Kyoto, offers an even more startling example of such a combination. There is no written record of when or by whom the garden was created; Shigemori dates it, on stylistic grounds, to the 1570s or 1580s. The garden has the L-shape typical of the dry gardens of the times, whereby the longer arm of the L runs along the eastern side of the present shoin and the shorter arm follows it round to the south

flat, bluish pebbies arc- ».flapped like the scales of a fish to symbobe the dynam< fkM of water Shmnyo-m Temple. Kyoto

The dry landscape garden of Hompo-ji Terr,pie. Kyoto, contains a 'real' lotus pond (After a ,voodcut m the 'Mryako nnsen mersho sue')

The original garden must have extended further towards the north-east, but this area is today the site of a storehouse. In line with the typical format of Momo-yama gardens, it has a dry waterfall with a bridge in front of it in the south-east. The dry "sea" in front of the shoin has lost the white sand and g*avel that must once have covered it. If we may believe Ritoken Akisato. author of the Miyako nnsen meisho zue. the "Illustrated Manual of Celebrated Places in the Capital", the garden originally contained three artificial mountains in the form of a comma. Shigemon doubts their actual existence, however, believing it more likely that the sand of the dry sea in front of the shorn was raked into a whirlpool pattern suggestive of a comma. A highly unusual feature of the garden is its inclusion of carved stones; ten oblong, rectangular stones are interlinked to encircle a (real) lotus pone, while two semicircular stones laid together illustrate the ancient Chinese ideogram for "sun"

The temple belonged to the Buddhist Nichi-ren sea. and in Japanese the wond nichi-ren means "sun-lotus" It thus symbolizes both shmto ideals of light and Buddhist ones of purity. The presence of this ideogram within the dry landscape garden is perhaps an indication that the garden was created not in the Momo-yama era. but in the Edo period which followed M The setting of a "real" pond encircled by carved stones within a dry "sea' of white sand similarly displays an audacity not normally seen in the Momoyarra era

Nishi Hongan-ji

The best-preserved flat kare-sansui garden of the Momoyama era is Kokei no nrwa, the "Tiger Glen Garden". It is now located within the precincts of Hompo Nishi Hongan-ji Temple in Kyoto, the headquarters of the Buddhist Jodo Shin sea founded by Shmran Show (1173-1263). It is thought that the garden was originally created for Hideyosni's Fushimi Castle and was moved to its present site at a later date. In its current form the garden covers about a fifth of an acre. At its eastern end stands an artificial mountain with a Shim sen rock group To the north of this lie a dry waterfall and crane and turtle islands in a central "sea" of sand The garden is designed to be viewed like a painting from the veranda of the audience hall The front garden separating the veranda from the dry pond is strikingly narrow; according to Shigemon. this was the irxfr-rect consequence of a fire in the seventeenth century

A bridge of a single slab of stone links a turtle and a crane island. Bridges hewn from a single stone were among the technical innovations of the Momoyama era. The sago palms are already wrapped in their winter coats.

An island m a bay is here represented for the first time by a rounded stone such as those normafy employed for bndge-prer foundations

The dry waterfall m Kan^m as it appears today Above rhe waterfall. a bridge of natural stone fj'îîîS

Landscape Woodcut

Wew o^ f/;e Konchi-in dry landscape garden after a woodcut from the "Miyako rinsen meisho zue" of 1799.

which destroyed the existing audience hall. In the version subsequently rebuilt, the front of the hall was extended some eighteen feet into the garden.

There are undeniable similarities between the layout of this dry landscape garden and that of Sambo-in temple garden. The siting of its waterfall and crane and turtle islands ard its shoreline configurations all invite comparison. The alignment of its bridges is particularly noteworthy: here again, the first two bridges lie along the same virtually straight axis, while the third turns away at a sharp angle. Two of the bridges are made of hewn stone, one of natural stone; two are long and one is short.

What we see here is a dry landscape garden in the style of a pond garden. The kare-sansui garden of the Momoyama era thereby turns away from the abstract rock compositions of Ryoan-ji and the symbolic rock compositions of Daisen-in, its Muromachi predecessors, to return to more literal, iconic representations of crane and turtle islands, waterfalls and artificial mountains.60

If "less is more" was an appropriate description of the dry landscape gardens of the Muromachi era, the reverse is true of the Momoyama era. Its gardens overflow with rocks and exotic plants; austerity has been replaced by ostentation.

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Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

Homeowners Guide To Landscaping

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