Tag Archives: meditation

New Orleans Japanese Haven

City Park in New Orleans has nestled in its midst the New Orleans Japanese Gardens, known formally as Yakumo Nihon Teien. Yakumo is the assumed Japanese name of the prominent New Orleans writer, Lafcadio Hearn. Lafcadio was deeply stirred and inspired by the Japanese culture in his visits to Japan, and brought much of what he saw and learned back to Louisiana through his prose and poetry. Nihon Teien translates to Japanese Garden. For beauty and the opportunity to enjoy quiet meditation in a natural setting, this is a place to visit when in New Orleans.

Japanese gardens date as far back as 500 A.D. when they were designed to replicate mountainous landscapes of China. Around 700 A.D. they began to be used as places for ceremonies and meditation. Tea houses were introduced to the gardens around the 1500’s. Tea houses are used as a place to teach the culture of Japanese and Confucian virtues.

The garden design acknowledges the importance of stones in Japanese gardens. Robin Tanner, a landscape architectural expert, and Vaughn Banting, a bonsai and horticultural expert, drove to Crossville, Tennessee to personally select stones for this garden, loaded them on their own truck and delivered them. They installed them in the garden where they became a permanent and central part of the landscape design. The garden was conceptualized in 1985 and realized in 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina. Many plants suffered or were lost completely in the flood, but the core landscape of the garden survived. In its restoration a tea house was added.

Upon entering the garden, the attention is drawn to the bamboo fence surrounding it. The garden design uses trees, bushes, and flowers native to Louisiana and incorporates them into the Garden with Asian plants, stone lanterns, and bamboo. The use of Stone lanterns in the Japanese garden dates back to the 1600’s when they were first used to light the pathways in Buddhist tea gardens.

The garden lends itself as a natural setting for bonsai, ikebana, and sado. Bonsai is the ancient art of growing miniature trees in trays and pots. Ikebana is a high art form of floral arrangement involving shape, line, and form and incorporating leaf and stem into the arrangement. It uses a technique called minimalism, which is the minimal use of blooms dispersed among the leaves and stalks of the arrangement. Sado is Japanese tea ceremony.

Words and pictures will never describe accurately the beauty of the garden. It simply must be experienced personally. The quiet time for meditation is a much needed commodity in any city, large or small, and the New Orleans Japanese Garden offers residents and visitors just such a place.

Thinking of Spring!

When it comes time to plan a spring garden, there are many designs from which to choose. One of the serenest and most enjoyable garden designs is a Japanese garden design. A Japanese garden is a simple garden design that creates a space that fosters calm and is perfect for meditation. The following is a guide to the elementary principles to understand to make your Japanese garden a reality.

One idea that is hard to understand at first is that everything in this style of garden needs to emulate nature to the best of its ability. That means no sharp angles can be used. You cannot use things that wouldn’t exist in nature, like a fountain for instance. Another idea essential to the design of a Japanese meditation garden is a sense of balance. These gardens are essentially efforts to recreate a natural landscape in a small space. Therefore, everything is magnified. Rocks, for instance, take on the role of mountains. Therefore, you need to take care in the size of the elements that become a part of your garden design. Perhaps the hardest element for the Western mind to grasp when designing Japanese gardens is the emptiness that they require. This empty space is known as ma. Ma defines all of the elements that surround it, and is defined by all of the things around it. Ma is one of the most important elements in this kind of Zen garden, and it is one of the most important elements to include in your design in order to create a space that encourages meditation.

A final key to the design of this style of garden is to create a sense of enclosure. This garden is meant to be a separate space that is an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the modern world. Therefore, it is necessary to surround it with something that shelters it. This is often a bamboo fence, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be surrounded by pine trees or other natural elements that will give it a feeling of enclosure. The most important elements to include in a Japanese garden design are rocks, sand, and water. The plants are secondary. Remember, you want this space to be minimalist with harmony and balance. Decide where to place your rocks first, and then layout the sand and water around them. This is the best way to create the most harmonious space. Everything else is secondary.

Edo, Japanese Garden Transformation

The strategically situated castle town of Edo, destined to become modern day Tokyo, was the seat of power for the Tokugawa Shogunate from 1603 to 1868.  Following nearly a century and a half of war known as the Sengoku period, the Edo period welcomed a much needed period of social harmony.

This change in mental attitude also signified change in the purpose of the many castles that dotted the Japanese landscape.  Rather than having a primary purpose of defence, these elaborately built structures became luxurious homes for the daimyo, or feudal lords and more attention could be paid to aesthetics. Elaborate Japanese gardens became a must have for residents of these lavishly furnished homes that became symbols of power and wealth.

Gardens constructed in the Edo period often centered around the Japanese tea ceremony which became an important part of local culture during this era.  Known as Chianwa gardens, they usually consisted of a water feature, either a stream or pond, crossed by small bridges or stepping stones that would lead to a simply constructed tea house.  Stone basins would be provided for guests to purify themselves before participating in the ceremony.  Gardens would also be constructed in the waterless Karesausui style, of Zen Buddhist origins and the Tsukiyami garden style which creates, with great accuracy, depictions of actual landscapes found throughout Japan and China.

zen © marilyn barbone

One of the surviving Tokyo gardens from this period is the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens, created in 1629 by Yorifusa Mita, the Daimyo of the Mito Tokugawa family of that time period.  Meticulously tended and expanded over the years, the current garden consists of wandering pathways through gates, across stone and wooded bridges and around a central pond studded with islands.  The Cultural Properties Protection Law of Japan has listed the garden as a Special Historic Site.

Though the capital of Edo was the center of this societal evolution, the influence of the Edo period expanded beyond its borders. The city of Kyoto is home to Manshu-in, a Tendai temple in the north eastern sector of the city.  The temple’s main hall dates from the early Edo period and features a Waterfall Room decorated with slides by Kano Tanyu (1602-1674).   The same artist also created a Mont Fuji Room, a Snowy Scenes Room, a tea room and a Twilight Room, complete with royal throne.  All are decorated with an assortment of screens, prints and paintings. The garden is done in the Karesausui, or waterless style and features an island bound 400 year old Japanese white pine.

Another Kyoto treasure is the Shisen-do Buddhist temple.  The temple was established in 1641 by Ishikawa Jozan (1583-1672) and is also registered as a historic site of Japan. The main temple has a room displaying portraits of thirty six Chinese poets, painted by Kano Tanyu. This room is part of the original structure.

The gardens reflect the Tsukiyami style.  It makes use of an ingenious water feature known as a sozu, designed to scare off wild animals.  Using a simple bamboo tube, the device gradually fills with water and then tips when the liquid reaches a preset level.  The water is discharged and the tube pivots upright to strike a strategically placed rock that makes a loud clapping noise.  Such creativity is a reflection of the Japan’s cultural growth that has its beginnings in the post war, relatively peaceful Edo period of this country’s rich and varied history.

Origami, a meditative art

origami-flowerOrigami come from the root ori, meaning folding and kami, meaning paper. It is a 1700 Japanese folk art of folding a traditional square piece of origami paper into an intricate sculpture. The most popular and well-known form is the crane. Customarily the paper cannot be cut or glued for it to be considered true origami.

There is not much evidence to trace origami back to early China, Germany or Spain because paper decomposes quickly but it is speculated that origami may have begun as early in those countries as it did in Japan. There is evidence that origami may have started in Europe as early as 1440 with small pieces here and there. By the 1600’s origami was being used in Shinto weddings and as a gift exchange between Samurai warriors. Origami has become a more widely spread and popular form of art now and has gained popularity in the recent 1900’s.

There are many different types of origami practices now. Action, Modular, Wet-folding, Pureland and Origami Tessellations. Action origami is origami that moves when it is completed. This is allowed to be the result of inflation, kinetic energy, or perhaps a limp that moves when another part is pressed upon. Modular is a result of putting many identical pieces together to create an ending shape of some sort. Wet-folding is used when making curves rather than sharp folds and angles. Pureland has restrictions such as only one fold at a time and no complex folds are allowed. This helps with inexperienced folders. Last is Origami Tessellations. Tessellations can be made from anything that holds a crease including fabric such as silk.

Meditation is a vital part of many cultures now and origami has made it’s way into the meditative practices. It’s common-knowledge that effective meditation is good for blood pressure, longevity and depression. It can restore energy and ability to cope with everyday difficulties and stresses. Self-awareness can help a person become more at peace as well as offering an escape to the stresses of life. Origami is a way to express yourself in becoming one with the hills and valleys that are created when making folds. It takes focus on the folds rather than on outside stress. It is a very methodical art and requires great precision as fold after fold is made to become something else. Practice will allow your muscles to move without conscious thought as the quiet and the peace seep in. The end product is a beautiful sculpted masterpiece that may very well symbolize yourself when completed.

Origami Bonsai.

Origami Bonsai, is a book created by the Origami artist, Benjamin John Coleman. It is a selection of projects to enable people with the skills to create little wonders of art.

Bonsai, a balance with nature

Bonsai ZenThe Japanese regard bonsai as a union of very old beliefs and Eastern philosophies regarding harmony between man, his soul and nature.

Much focus and patience is required to carefully prune the roots and branches to prevent unwanted growth. The best bonsai specimens portray nature accurately in miniature form.

It’s important to remember that the goal of bonsai is not to duplicate nature, but instead to communicate its spirit and essence.

Monks began using bonsai for meditative purposes as they tried to join the elements of earth, water and sky. Making bonsai is therefore a Zen Buddhist practice which helps the gardener become closer with nature and more importantly with one’s self. The process is never-ending as the tree requires constant attention in order to flow harmoniously and naturally. With the appropriate love, a well-cared for bonsai can live for hundreds of years.

So what are the main styles for growing bonsai that resemble that balance with nature?

1) Formal upright – this form looks like a human standing upright. It is grown straight with balancing symmetry.

2) Informal upright – this technique is meant to resemble windswept trees that remain upright despite their conditions.

3) Slanting – this shape is similar to dense forest trees that lean toward the light over streams.

4) Cascading – this style reminds the viewer of waterfalls as nature pulls the water down.

5) Semi-cascading – this final method evokes a picture of plants and other vegetation that grow on cliff faces, yet stretch toward the sun.

As you can see, this ancient horticultural art form allows the gardener to become like the creative forces of nature. Through much contemplation and meditation one can produce the mysteries of nature in a living thing which then embodies these quintessential qualities.