Konnichiwa, Dear Reader!

Anna Olha / BA Arch II year student / 2015/2016

In the hot summer month of July of the year 2016 me and Anete were lucky to travel a long distance to the faraway country of the rising sun. Japan… I was extremely happy and anxious to go there and enjoy the beauty of that magnificent place. By the time the plane landed in Tokyo the first thing we saw was the fabulous water basin - I felt like it was as clear as glass because one could see the fish swimming in water. I marched into the terminal of the airport and noticed huge sign saying "welcome to Tokyo city air terminal". The excitement filled us from head to toes and I just wanted to run outside and enjoy the fresh air. Once I raised my head up, I got my first “cultural shock” – instead of seeing advertisement of sun-tanned ladies in bikinis offering to purchase self-tanning cream, I witnessed white dressed lady on the billboard, advertising sun blocking cream with an extra whitening-effect… On my way out of the terminal I was stunned by the organization and the sparkle of the place, at that time I could smell the freshness everywhere and people around us welcomed the arrivals with a bright smile on their petite faces. Now, when the time has passed, if you’d ask me what left the most impression on me, I could name few “on the spot facts” about an everyday life in Japan and many beautiful gardens - two of them caught my attention more than the others.

The aim of our trip was to visit the gardens that's why I will probably start with them. In general, Japanese gardens feature numerous components, but their main function is the contemplation and observation of beautiful landscape from different spots. The seasonal differences here are considered as an advantage, since the ever-changing landscape makes these gardens attractive all year long. During our short trip, thanks to our magnificent and carefull guides, we managed to visit many unique places that express the nature of Japan in such a way, that it can be only understood when experiencing it.

The first garden I’d like to highlight is Zen-Buddhist temple's garden, where on the tiny piece of land you can go through so many different emotions. Each side of the temple offers completely different view and awakes diverse feelings, however, if you look at the landscape composition from the angle, the overall design appears as a continuous landscape story. It all starts with the most saturated part with many elements. Once you turn around the corner, you notice the second scenario, still rich with the landscape elements. The next sight around the corner looks less saturated and has only few design elements, while the last scene remains pretty clear, leaving more space to the viewer’s imagination - the dry stone garden free from greenery and key-stones allows the sun and shadow play its own games. At the moment of our visit it was ideal spot to dive into meditation by enjoying the beauty of minimalistic landscape architecture. What a masterpiece from architectural point of view! Unfortunately it was one of the few spots, where we’re not allowed to make photos… Despite the limitation of the land plot, the feeling of nature and environment helps the viewer to escape from daily routine or the ordinary reality. It welcomes, relax and softly hug the visitor with its true beauty!

The second garden was the royal family villa gardens in Kyoto - Shugakuin Rikyu. This truly majestic place is designed to allow visitors to enjoy a change in scenery while walking around the pond. The garden is divided into three sections - major part of the garden, large pond and its surroundings. Those three parts are complimented with an island with bridges, a cottage with a wooden-floored room, through which visitors can enjoy views of urban Kyoto, gorgeous mountain and posessions of the imperial court garden. I was truly amazed by the scale and quality of the work, performed by gardeners and landscape architects of that time. It seemed like every square centimeter is carefully planned and dedicated to specific role. The division of zones is smooth however the variety of landscape scenarios is so wide. I can only guess the complexity of task, delegated to those, performing maintenance works. Each and every path here seems to be winding, with numerous visual surprises waiting just around a corner. Visually, the various private and secure areas are naturally separated by farmer's fields and pathes. This garden was a perfect example of Zen principles - the overall composition is light so the viewer treats the landscape as spontaneous natural garden. However the design itself is far from being accidental. The only shame was that tour is both exciting and brief. Conclusion – I have to come here once again and experience the place during different season. According to our dear Toshio and Andreas, autumn with its bright red-yellow-brown colours is a perfect time to do so. I also enjoyed the Mecca of different tourist places, such as Golden pavilion, Kamakura Daibutsu and 1000 gates, but they were so crowded by tourists.

Now a bit about “Japanese” features. I was shocked when in the middle of Tokyo, on the way to Rikugi En Garden I saw kids, aged about 5, going home from school all by themselves. Later I found out that they all have GPRS transmitters in their backpacks. I guess, the level of overall security is dictated by the natural qualities of people – organized, kind, silent, sometimes even unnoticeable. Wherever you go – gardens, restaurants, banks – you can feel that people forward traditions from generation to generation and treat each other with a great respect. To sum up, I think Japanese people and gardens has tought me a lesson of nature: when creating design composition, you should not change natural landscape. Instead architects need to maximize the usage of what they have on hand, because often original surroundings look amazing just like that and all you have to do is to spot and emphasize the natural beauty. Once you finish, the garden, like a grown child, should be able to progress by itself, to shear emotions and bring feelings. The more mature the garden is – the more knowledge it cherishes.