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Japanese Garden Design    by Marc P. Keane & Ohashi Haruzo order for
Japanese Garden Design
by Marc P. Keane
Order:  USA  Can
Tuttle, 2004 (1996)
Hardcover, Softcover

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I get a feeling of serenity simply from looking at pictures of Japanese gardens, and Ohashi Haruzo's color photos offer a lovely variety in Japanese Garden Design, as do author Marc P. Keane's elegant drawings. In his Foreword, Preston Houser makes an intriguing distinction between two types of tourists - 'pilgrims' and 'shoppers' and tells us that Kyoto's gardens attract the former. He quotes Ezra Pound, 'Let the wind speak. That is Paradise' and tells us that Marc P. Keane gives us tools 'for decyphering just what the wind has to say.'

Keane begins with the origins of Japanese gardens, from the nature of the volcanic archipelago itself, with 'mountains rising abruptly from the sea', to the cultures of the people who inhabited these islands through history. He talks of the balance between 'natural and man-made beauty', and of the derivation of use of stones and ponds in gardens from early animistic 'sacred spaces'. For 'Creative Inspiration', the author takes us on a tour of gardens from different periods: those of the Heian Aristocrats (mentioned often in the world's first novel, The Tale of Genji); of Zen Buddhism (including the famous Ryoanji contemplation garden); the Tea Garden (famous for its 'wabi-cha', tea ceremony); private Tsubo Gardens (vessels for 'ki', life energy); and Edo Stroll Gardens (laid out in broad open spaces). Each era is placed in a historical, cultural and architectural context. Garden design influences explained along the way include Geomancy ('the Way of Yin-Yang'), Buddhism, Bonsai, pilgrimage sites, and poetry.

The second part of the book covers 'Design' - 'Principles', 'Techniques' and 'Eements' needed to create 'the harmony and subdued beauty that is most attractive in Japanese gardens.' The quote of 17th century poet Matsuo Basho is most apt, 'Do not seek to emulate the old masters. / Seek what they sought.' We are advised to learn from nature, balance between wildness and control, incorporate the seasons, involve personal expression, and consider maintenance. Techniques (such as the use of 'borrowed scenery' and the route of the path) are offered, with numerous examples. Meanings of traditional garden elements (rocks, white sand, water, plants, sculpture, walls and fences) are explained. Keane ends with a brief perspective on where contemporary innovations might lead. At the back of the book is a useful timeline that places Japanese and world gardens in a historical world context, as well as a glossary of relevant Japanese terms.

Japanese Garden Design offers a breadth and depth of understanding that will help readers (whether tourists, professional or amateur gardeners) to begin to comprehend the 'awareness of nature and sensitivity to detail' and the symbolic meaning that underlies the surface beauty of Japanese gardens.

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