Garden Design Solutions That Address Spatial Constraints

Japanese gardens do not exist as independent entities. Until the Edo period, they were generally designed to be viewed from a seated position in the building interior, and so were directly correlated to the function and style of the architecture. There are no other known examples of this kind of correlation; it is apparently unique to the Japanese garden. Sakuteiki offers numerous suggestions for design solutions intended to accommodate particular site conditions and building functions.

The style of the shinden-zukuri garden was determined by the function and decorative style of the shinden main hall itself, and was subject to the various constraints inherent in the standard one-did site. Specifically, the pre­scribed stylized forms (yd) for expressing each of the six basic compositional elements—artificial hills, pond, island, flat and open white sand space, garden stream, and waterfall—were affected by the standard division of land allotted for the different areas of the garden. In a typical shinden-zukuri estate, the buildings occupied the north­ern half of the site, and the shinden was positioned at the center of the southern border. The southern half of the site, approximately 60 meters (197 feet) on the north – south axis by 120 meters (394 feet) on the east-west, was set aside for the garden. Thirty meters (80 to 98 feet) of that area (north-south) was to be set aside for the white sand area, leaving free 30 by 120 meters (98 by 394 feet) to house a pond that imitates the ocean with an island con­taining a musician’s stage of 30 by 120 meters (70 by 80 feet), and artificial hills for embellishment. As we have seen, Sakuteiki acknowledges the difficulty of achieving this

Подпись: 13 A garden stream broadened in the absence of a pond, Murin’an, Kyoto.
feat, and offers various techniques for implementing the stylized forms {yd) under specific limiting circumstances.

The myriad of interpretations seen in shinden-zukuri gardens corresponds to the simplified arrangement of the palace buildings which developed in response to the limi­tations posed by the one-cho site. There were two main approaches taken in garden design as means of addressing spatial constraints:


Whether the island is provided or not will depend on the aspect of the place as well as on the size of the pond. If the place is suitable for making the island, the usual arrangement is to bring the edge of the island toward the front center of the Main Hall {shinden), and to provide space for the Musician’s Stage toward the far side of the island. Since the musician’s stage extends seventy to eighty feet across… when the island lacks in space, there should be a device such as constructing a minor island behind, and extending a
temporary wooden-board floor from there over the pond water toward the main island. This device will relieve the narrowness of the island, and will make the front of the Musician’s Stage look wider by showing much of the island. Thus it is understood that the temporary wooden floor is provided where there is lack of space, yet keeping the front of the island normal in appearance.51

This item provides a good example of an interpretation that addresses the contradiction between the prototype and its implemented form. It proposes to fulfill the require­ment for a seventy-to-eighty-foot musician’s stage in a creative way, by extending a platform from the rear of the island, thus preserving the frontal view of the island from the shinden without inordinately increasing the size of the island in relation to that of the pond. It is an inter­pretation that reconciles aesthetic and practical concerns, and was passed down as a transmitted tradition (densho).

Garden Design Solutions That Address Spatial Constraints
When there is the garden stream but no pond, you

should provide in the South Garden such a feature as the Hillside Field and place stones which conform to such a feature. It is also a normal practice to place stones and make the garden on a flat ground where there is no hill or pond. Where the pond is absent, however, the garden stream should be made espe­cially broad, and the knobbed portions of the ground should be levelled off in order to make the view of the running stream visible from the palace hall floor. Along the skirt of the hillside field scene of the gar­den stream, planting of tall-growing trees and shrubs should be avoided. Instead, you should use such wild-flower plants as the Chinese Bellflower, the Patrinia, the Burnet, Plantain Lily, and the like…

The width of the garden stream should depend on the scale of the estate ground as well as on the available volume of water. The widths of two feet, three feet, four or five feet, are all practicable. If the house and estate are in large scale, and voluminous water is available, the running stream may be made as wide as six or even seven feet.52

This description of the small garden “abbreviates” the pond, leaving only the garden stream. Theoretically, it does not “omit” the pond, but provides it by widening the garden stream to the extreme (Figure 13). The combina­tion of techniques used here, which includes also leveling the ground, creates an interpretation that gives an appear­ance of depth to a viewer seated on the palace floor. Restricting the planting of trees and shrubs near the stream shows that subtle and careful attention is being paid the task of maintaining a unified sense of scale while making a small garden appear as spacious as possible.

On the one hand, the idea that “the garden stream should be made especially broad” in the absence of a pond calls for a subjective judgment as to what size stream would create the illusion of a pond in the context of a particular site. However, one very refined technique is offered for scaling specific details to the overall spatial illusion:

Sometimes stones are placed where there is no pond or running water. This is called the dry landscape. The dry landscape is created by first constructing the steep edge of a hill or the outline of some wild hill­side fields, and then associating stones with it.53

The garden without a pond or running water is a fur­ther refinement of the widened “garden stream with no pond,” and is termed a “dry landscape.” It is not an independent style which ignores the pond as a required element, but rather is one in a series of abbreviation tech­niques that evolved as ways to express the prototype.

As we have seen, the stylization process characteristi­cally involves a degree of abstraction. The dry landscape as an expressive mode was thought to meet the criteria for the prototypical shinden-zukuri garden.

Interestingly, the dry landscape-style “garden without water” of the late Heian period, which was attached to a hill or hillside field, shows the makings of Muromachi-period dry landscape-gardens. Abstract gardens did not suddenly appear in the Muromachi period, but were premised on this abbreviation technique of the shinden-zukuri garden.

The prototype set forth in Sakuteikis three overall principles is a grand and very brief treatise on nature. In contrast, interpretations are described in Sakuteiki with surprising attention to detail and are offered as techniques for implementing the prototype, premised on natural beauty, in real space.

View Obstruction

The shinden-zukuri garden was intended to “provide space for the imperial ceremonies,” banquets, and various social functions. For this purpose, the staircase, bridge, island, and artificial hills were to form a single axis origi­nating at the center front of the shinden. But since this

axis tended to emphasize the shallowness of the site, it was commonly disguised through techniques which provide only partial, or obscured, views. These popular techniques were used in a great variety of interpretations, bringing the further breakdown of symmetry and the rise of a more free-form garden. The main passages in Sakuteiki outlin­ing these techniques are as follows:

[I]n spanning the bridge from the island to the shore of the courtyard, do not bring the centerline of the bridge to fall in the exact center of the staircase of the Main Hall. You should, instead, set the east-side post of the bridge in line with the west-side pillar supporting the roof of the staircase. The bridge itself should be spanned at an oblique angle.54

Thirty meters (ninety-eight feet) was much too shallow for a front axial view from the shinden. To remedy this, Sakuteiki advocates an interpretation which presents the length of the bridge in diagonal profile, creating an illu­sion of depth.

The underside of the arched bridge, when it is visible from the direction of the seat of honor, presents a most unsightly view. Because of this, many big stones are placed toward the underside of the bridge to divert such a view.55

Creating a sense of vastness in a small site, here by show­ing an oblique view of the bridge, should not compromise the garden’s aesthetics. Scrupulous attention was paid to what would be seen from the shinden and specific camou­flaging techniques were recommended as necessary.

Some of the other techniques suggested in Sakuteiki for achieving this same effect are:

Do not place the Buddhist trinity stones facing straight toward the Main Hall (shinden) of the palace. You should, instead, place them facing a little off the exact front.56

When you make the scene of a hill, do not let the valley point toward the house… In general, the opening of the valley should not face the main front view of the garden, but instead a little away from it.57

In [the hill island] style, the hills on the island should show the outline of overlapped hillocks of varied heights…5S

In making the island in [the field island] style, a few streaks of hillside fields (nosuji) are built in varied horizontal outlines.. ,59

[W]ater is sometimes made… to fall zigzag to the right and the left by means of placing the water-hit­ting stones in two or three steps of lowering eleva­tions.60

The Sideways Stone will look attractive especially when placed in a slanting angle to the running direc­tion of the stream, showing its long and heaved mid­dle portion…“

The stones to form the cliff scene should appear as though a folding screen were set up unfurled. Or, it should look as if the door pieces were set in and out against the background hill.62

In other words, the view-obscuring techniques described in Sakuteiki include averting alignment of the bridge or symbolic stones with the shinden s central axis, rotating the valley opening, offsetting, alternating, overlapping, zigzagging, providing only partial views of objects, and concealing the depth of the site. All have the intended effect of imbuing a restricted space with a sense of limit­lessness. The application of these techniques gave rise to some of the most ingenious and effective interpretations of the prototype ever made.

These interpretations combined frontal, unidirectional, static view-obscuring techniques with others that were asymmetrical and more free-form, and became the basis for the post-Heian-period gardens that developed in re­sponse to changes in the palace’s function and further im­posed constraints, and ultimately led to the miegakure hide-and-reveal techniques used in the kinetic, multi-van­tage-point gardens of the sixteenth and seventeenth cen­turies.

Updated: September 25, 2015 — 5:41 am