japanese garden


Ritsurin Koen


The history of creation

In 1587 the daimyo (feudal lord) Ikoma Tikamasa built in Takamatsu City a house with a small garden. He named this place as "Ritsurin villa". Ritsurin means a chestnut wood. Legend says that the garden was so named because the whole neighborhood had been covered with chestnut woods before the garden was built. The property fell into the hands of Matsudaira Yorishige, who was appointed daimyo of the area in 1642 by the Tokugawa shogunate. After receiving the property Matsudaira Yorishige, set about the enlargement of his estate. He expanded the South Pond and made first steps towards the creation of the garden. Yorishige initiated flood control measures that included changing the course of the nearby Katogawa River. The old riverbed was an ideal location for expanding the existing garden to the north. Yorishige built a villa in the garden for himself and his daughter.

During the rule of the second Matsudaira daimyo, Yoritsune, the area was in dire shape because of a drought. To improve the situation, new owner hired local people to continue developing the garden. They were paid with money or rice not only for their labor but for bringing interesting rocks or rare wood.

The South garden was comleted during the rule of the third daimyo, who lived in the garden villa rather than the nearby castle. The garden was used as a villa for eleven successive Matsudaira family lords, ending with the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when the feudal system of government was replaced by a western style democracy. In 1872, the garden was transferred to Takamatsu Prefecture (Kagawa Prefecture), and after four years it was opened to the public. That time the name changed from Ritsurino to Ritsurin Koen.

Thus, the development of the Ritsurin Koen lasted almost one hundred years.

Garden Style

Ritsurin Koen in Takamatsu City on the island of Shikoku is one of the best examples of a large daimyo stroll garden, or kaiyushiki (excursion garden). This style appeared because of the political situation at that time. To maintain peaceful rule the Tokugawa shoguns adopted a policy of isolationism towards the outside world. At that time was passed the Sankin kotai, law of alternate attendance. According to this law the feudal lords were obliged to spend one half of the year in the capital, Edo (Tokyo), and then leave for the remaining six months of their estates, leaving the family hostage. The rest six months they could stay in their own domains. But for this time daimyo had to leave their families in Edo as hostages in the event of political intrigue. This system weakened the daimyo nobles both politically and financially. Twice in the year they had to travel to and from Edo. Besides, a lot of money were spent on maintenance of one or several additional residences in the capital. The daimyo just had no time and resources for revolts or intrigues.

Because of this system, feudal lords created gardens not only in their own domains, but in residences in Edo as well. As a rule, gardens were protected by a high fence. Behind the fence were planted bamboo groves. Various defensive structures were built, and the estate was guarded by warriors. These measures were aimed at not only defending against attacks, but also at overcome some limitations of the Government, such as a ban on the construction of new castles and the need to obtain permission for the reconstruction of the old ones.

The stroll gardens are organized along the same principle: a path around the garden takes the visitor past a succession of changing landscapes, so he could see re-creations of famous natural sights. These may be actual geographical features of Japan or other countries, faithfully recreated on a smaller scale; or they may be imaginary places sung about in poetry or mythology. Kaiyushiki offers a new synthesis of garden elements from each of its three predecessors. Its ingredients include the ponds, islands, winding streams and waterfalls of Heian boating gardens, the fixed indoor vantage points of Muromachi gardens as well as elements of the Momoyama tea garden. However, all these components are now becoming another value, almost losing their original meaning. They lose their religious or philosophical orientation and serve as decorative and aesthetic purposes.

The composition of the garden

Ritsurin Koen, Sanuki Mingei-kan (folkcraft) houseRitsurin Koen has been landscaped around six ponds and thirteen artificial hills. Near the East Gate there is the Sanuki Mingei-kan (folkcraft) house. The museum there exhibits pottery, domestic utensils, textile and furniture from the days of the Matsudairas. The adjoining Government Exhibition Hall contains a souvenir shop offering contemporary folk craft products.

Ritsurin Koen is divided into South and North gardens. North Garden originally was used for duck hunting. Today, it is a botanical garden that grows replacement plants for the South Garden. Separating North and South gardens is a long row of kuromatsu (black pine), referred to as box pines because the closely planted trees are trimmed into a tall square hedge.

An exquisite refinement of the landscape garden art is exhibited in the design of the South Park. There are numerous paths in South Garden that meander around hills and ponds connected by streams. This detail is typical of a new era. Only about half of the paths through the garden now follows the waters edge. The others lead the visitor through the woods and hills. Artificial hills tsuki-yama emerged as a common feature of large gardens for strolling of the Edo era. One explanation for the increase in their numbers and size may be that the daimyo nobles, on their half-yearly travels to and from Edo, fell in love with the beautiful mountain scenery along the route. This they subsequently sought to reproduce on a smaller scale in their palace gardens.

Ritsurin Koen, paths through the hillsRitsurin Koen, paths through the hills

Ritsurin KoenArtificial ponds were equally popular. The rock-piled banks of the sunken ponds of the Momoyama era have disappeared; ponds are now shallower and often ringed by a single string of rocks. The three largest ponds are North Lake, South Lake and West Lake. They are all connected by streams.

The focal point of South Pond is a group of five rocks representing horai islands, where the immortals live. This kind of island is a typical element of the gardens of the Heian period, which is rarely used by designers of the Edo era. In the South Pond there are three islets: Kaede-jima (Maple Isle), Tennyo-jima (Angel Isle), and Token-jima (Cuckoo Isle). Kaede-jima is at its finest in autumn when the maples are aglow with seasonal hues. Tennyo-jima features small shrubs trimmed in the shape of boxes (style hakozukuri) or box-making. A rock composition and a stone pagoda add further embellishments to this islet. Token-jima suffered the removal of its original trees and stones during the early years of the Meiji era; although trees have been replanted its former beauty is left to one's imagination.

Ritsurin Koen, Horai islandRitsurin Koen, Tennyo-jima (Angel Isle)

Ritsurin Koen, Moon-scooping PavilionVilla Kikugetsu-ty (Moon-scooping Pavilion) has historical value. During the days of the Matsudairas it was the venue for aesthetic recreations such as the Tea Ceremony, moon viewing, and poetry composition by members of the cultured samurai class. The front room of the villa faces east on to the lake. It was the place for the moon viewing parties. The name of the teahouse villa was inspired by a line in a famous Chinese poem Scooping the water, the reflection of the moon is in my hands. Indeed, it offers a magnificent view of the lake and at night the moon's reflection in the water is so perfect that it seems that you can touch it by hand.

Kikudestu-tei is an example of a new type of teahouse. Tea arbours built in so-an style, namely as rustic tea huts, are usually tucked away in smaller rustic tea gardens of their own. Shoin-style tea arbours, in the other hand, tend to be found at the edges of ponds or winding garden streams in order to provide a rectangular frame for the view. Just like Kikudestu-tei Pavilion in Ritsurin Park, which stands above the water on stilts. Tea House is no longer a place of spiritual introspection and philosophical reflection but it is a room for secular entertainments and for enjoying the beauty of nature.

Ritsurin Koen, Engetsu bridgeNorth Lake, built in the days of the second daimyo, is bordered on the east by an artificial hill, Fuyoho, which provides a view of two islands in the lake, as well as an arched wooden bridge called Engetsu-kyo (Full Moon Bridge) that spans a stream connecting North Lake and West Lake. It was another place for recreation of the samurai in the South Park concerned a poetry and drinking game. On a shore near the southeast corner of the pond people would gather and drink sake. The emptied cup would then be floated on the pond and the owner would attempt to compose a waka, a poem of thirty-one syllables, before his cup sank from striking a reed or ripple of the water.

Ritsurin Koen, stone "a looking back lion"North Lake is especially famous for the beautifully trained black and red pine trees that line its shores. Along the path from North Lake to South Lake are several renowned rock formations, including Mikaeri-shishi (stone "a looking back lion") an Botan-ishi (peony rock). The stones for these formations were probably brought from island in the Indian Sea. There was a legend of a monk Oe-no-Sadamoto. He had to cross the bridge. There was a Pure Land beyond this bridge. On the other side was a lion, messenger of the bodhisattva, and he played with flower of peony.

The far shore of West Lake rises steeply into the foothills of Mount Shiun. Cascading down the slope in a artificial waterfall. In feudal times, barrels of water were carried up the slope and hidden in the trees, and whenever the lord walked by, the barrels were emptied to create the falls.

Located on the east shore of West Lake is a grass-hut style teahouse, constructed by the second Matsudaira daimyo. A larger Shoin style teahouse, constructed in 1898, is located nearby.

Ritsurin Koen, West Lake, Mt. ShiunRitsurin Koen, West Lake, Mt. ShiunRitsurin Koen, the road to the teahouse

Ritsurin Koen, trees trimmed into box shapesRitsurin Koen has many interesting plants. Clipped shrubs were used as early as Muromachi Period to complement the raked sand patterns of dry landscape Zen gardens. In the Momoyama and Edo periods, shrubs were trained to form hedges that were clipped into flowing forms that becomes the central focus of the garden. It has been speculated that Western influence may, in fact, have been introduced to Japanese gardens design by Christian missionaries.

Ritsurin Park contains trees trimmed into box shapes, in a fashion called hako-zukuri, literally meaning box-making. The growth of some trees has been fashioned so that their branches leap and coil, suggesting the undulating, animated play of dragons. But not all trees were artificially trimmed: venerable pines and small, natural woods were equally popular elements of the garden landscape. In some portions of the park, shrubs are trimmed into cubic shapes to provide both a transition and a contrast between highly manicured and more natural areas.

Ritsurin Koen, trees like dragonsRitsurin Koen, trees like dragons

Ritsurin Koen is full of bright colors. When Japanese iris begins blooming in late spring, it's difficult not to stop and admire its beauty. White, pink, purple, magenta and even yellow flowers create an atmosphere of joy and lightness. Then the azaleas start blooming. Especially beautiful is one of the islands where azaleas are formed as hearts. Just Married couples love to be photographed there.

Photo of the irises garden in Ritsurin Koen

This garden expresses an ideal universe within a defined area. Man's design is evident, but his handiwork remains unobtrusive: the thoughtful arrangements of ponds and rocks, forests of miniature pines, clumps of bamboos and various ornamental trees and shrubs. All appear to have found their locations by natural processes. Where man's work is obvious, in small pavilions, tea houses, pathways and bridges, the forms subtly harmonize with nature and appear almost as organic extensions of the environment.

Ritsurin KoenRitsurin KoenRitsurin Koen, Mt. Shiun

Ritsurin KoenRitsurin KoenRitsurin KoenRitsurin Koen

Photo - Chiaki Fujita

Text - Irina Andrianova


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