WHY NOT MAKE A JAPANESE GARDEN?


Shino ware from the Momoyama period (1568-16000).

Wild morning glory.

In his novel A Thousand Cranes, Nobel Prize winner Yasunari Kawabata wrote about a flower arrangement associated with the tea ceremony,

“It was plain indigo morning glory, probably wild, and most ordinary. The vine was thin, and the leaves and blossom were small. But the green and the deep blue were cool, falling over a red lacquered gourd dark with age….He gazed at it for a time. In a gourd that had been handed down for three centuries, a flower that would fade in a morning.” When I first read Kawabata, twenty years ago, that paragraph seemed to encapsulate the essence of Japanese aesthetics. I still think it does.
Ikebana and Japanese gardening are two art forms I have never pursued. Both are so closely related to Buddhism I feel that they fit into most American homes and landscapes the way an elephant fits into a matchbox. In fact, the most unbeautiful garden I ever ever seen is a pseudo-Japanese assemblage of stone lanterns and trellises in the back yard of a suburban tract house. I am sure that it pleases its owner and if I squint and look at specific elements, I can see that it has a certain charm. Still, I would not attempt to recreate in my own space.
Old as my village is, by American standards, it is its infancy, compared to to its japanese equivalent. My house, which owes more to Scandinavia in its raw boned designed than to Asia, is no place for moon gates and pebble streams. Though I have used one of my few Fukagawa vases on occasion, my rooms call for wilflowers in jelly jars.
What made me think of Kawabata, Japanese gardens and ikebana was the blossom of a a bindweed vine that grew against one of my front windows. Ordinarily, my reaction to bindweed is one of profound aversion. Had I not forsworn harsh chemicals I would Round Up every single one in my yard, it being that pulling them up by the roots apparently encourages them to produced numerous offspring. But this particular vine had a pink blossom of such lyrical beauty I had no heart to kill it. Late afternoon light is one of the great treasures in my neighborhood. I have seen it in pale green, lavender and gold. The light that shone through the ethereal petals of the bindweed flower was silver, dusted with golden motes. It made the Shino pottery gourd Kawabata mentions superfluous. It was more almost than the heart could hold.
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