When I go to my friends on the other side of Kamakura, I bicycle over the grounds of the Hachimangu Shrine. The atmosphere is great and relaxing, especially, when you pass the very big pond.
But there are always people and sometimes big crowds and lots of schoolchildren. They come from everywhere to visit the shrine and they are mainly Japanese tourists. And this on a normal weekday.
On that day, when I bicycled on the Hachimangu grounds, I discovered eight installations of Japanese gardens along a path.
In Japanese culture, garden-making is a high art.Though often thought of as tranquil sanctuaries that allow individuals to escape from the stresses of daily life, Japanese gardens are designed for a variety of purposes. Some gardens invite quiet contemplation, but may have also been intended for recreation, the display of rare plant specimens, or the exhibition of unusual rocks.
Strolling Gardens require the observer to walk through the garden to fully appreciate it. A premeditated path takes observers through each unique area of a Japanese garden. Uneven surfaces are placed in specific spaces to prompt people to look down at particular points. When the observer looks up, they will see an eye-catching ornamentation which is intended to enlighten and revive the spirit of the observer. This type of design is known as the Japanese landscape principle of “hide and reveal”.
Stones are used to construct the garden’s paths, bridges, and walkways. Stones can also represent a geological presence where actual mountains are not viewable or present.
The raked gravel or sand simulates the feeling of water in Karesansui gardens. The rocks/gravel used are chosen for their artistic shapes, and mosses as well as small shrubs are used to further garnish the Karesansui style (Japanese Lifestyle). All in all, the rocks and moss are used to represent ponds, islands, boats, seas, rivers, and mountains in an abstract way.
A water source in a Japanese garden should appear to be part of the natural surroundings; this is why one will not find fountains in traditional gardens. Man-made streams are built with curves and irregularities to create a serene and natural appearance. Lanterns are often placed beside some of the most prominent water basins (either a pond or a stream) in a garden. In some gardens one will find a dry pond or stream. Dry ponds and streams have as much impact as do the ones filled with water.
Green plants are another element of Japanese gardens. Japanese traditions prefer subtle green tones, but flowering trees and shrubs are also used. In addition, bamboos and related plants, evergreens including Japanese black pine, and such deciduous trees as maples grow above a carpet of ferns and mosses, which give a broader palette of seasonal color.
The tradition of the Tea masters has produced highly refined Japanese gardens of evoking rural simplicity. Chaniwa Gardens are built for holding tea ceremonies. There is usually a tea house where the ceremonies occur, and the styles of both the hut and garden are based off the simple concepts of the tea ceremony. Usually, there are stepping stones leading to the tea house, stone lanterns, and stone basins “tsukubai” where guests purify themselves before a ceremony.
After the tea ceremony was refined by Sen Rikyu, the historical figure with the most profound influence on the Japanese tea ceremony, the tea garden, house, and utensils all served as a way to “awaken consciousness and to realize with humility our relationship with all that is around us and with the universe itself(Miller).” Also, tea ceremonies were partly designed to teach participants how to gain absolute control over body and mind. As a result, “it emphasizes not disconnection but connection between body movement and mind. Culturally, the Japanese followed the five Confucian virtues (loyalty, righteousness, politeness, wisdom, and trust) to ground these tea ceremony ideals off of. In short, the tea ceremonies were a cultural activity to teach Japanese/Confucian virtues that were important for life.
In the Kamakura and Muromachi periods (1185-1573), a great many gardens were created during these two time periods due to improved garden techniques and the development of Zen beliefs and the refinement of the tea ceremony. Another factor that allowed gardens to flourish stems from the fact that the shoguns simply enjoyed gardens.
It was a wonderful treat.