All posts by Moni

A gathering place in the land of Aloha!

The Big Island of Hawaii is probably best know for the sun washed mega resorts of the Kona Coast, its strong, rich, delectable coffee beans and of course nature’s light shows at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. But there is a hidden treasure on the island’s more laid back eastern coast.

The islands largest town, Hilo, is home to the Lili’uokalani Gardens, the largest ornamental Japanese park outside of Japan.  Named for Hawaii’s last Queen and dedicated to Japanese immigrants who worked on the sugar plantations, this thirty acre sea level park is well loved by the locals and admired by visitors who are lucky enough to find it.

This is very much a people’s park. The park is open daily and there are no gates so entry can be made from any direction. The gardens frame the shores of Hilo Bay, facing the east and are perfect for watching the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean.  Locals and visitors from the hotels on Banyan drive often head to the park in the early hours to walk or jog as the sun comes up.  Just before dawn, local fishermen will toss their nets in the ocean on the bay side of the park, or even in some of the native Hawaiian style fish ponds that have been incorporated into the garden’s design.

As the day progresses, families come out to picnic on the wide expanse of lawns.  Fathers and sons play catch, tourists sunbathe and bamboo fishing poles cast their lines into those same gently curved fish ponds.  Some of these ponds are open to the open ocean so at high tide paths leading to them tend to be water soaked.  Not a problem, just wear some “rubbah slippahs” or better yet, go barefoot.

A Japanese rock garden in the dry Karesausui style is a recent addition. Half moon bridges, small pagodas, gazebos and Tori gates greet visitors as they follow the meandering pathways. Stone lanterns and bonsai trees share space with native palms, banyan and banana trees along with fragrant hibiscus and ginger blossoms.  Ocean birds visit the ponds for a quick snack, mongoose play hide and seed among the rocks and trees and the mynah birds are very vocal in letting you know they are out and about.

The Big Island of Hawaii shares Sister Island Status with Oshima, Japan and the reverence for that culture is evident. Tea ceremonies are held in a traditional Japanese Tea House named Shoroan.  It was donated by the Fifteenth Grand Tea Master of Urasenke and may be booked for special events.  The gardens also include a sumo platform and a shelter for Okinawan style canoes. Special Okinawan race days are held at the ocean side of the park fronting Hilo Bay.

Hilo is very much a sleepy island town that rolls up its sidewalks in the early evening. Most people that visit Hilo drop by on the way to or from the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. A few stay a night or two and discover the warmth of this charming area.  The very lucky ones put on their slippahs and find their way to the Queen Lili’uokalani Gardens at sunrise. Perhaps they might even go local and cast their own fishing line in a garden pond as they watch the waters of Hilo Bay shimmer with the colors of morning.

Orchids and Japanese Gardening

orchid_gardenCombining the Traditional Japanese Garden with Tropical Plants creates a beautiful retreat. Japanese gardens are elegant, deceivingly simplistic and aesthetically pleasing. The subtle shifts in colour and form tend to calm the spirit, taking us away from the busy pace of the modern world. This can even be at a subliminal level. Your mind’s eye may know the garden has placed a gossamer veil of peace around your psyche, but your body may take a while to catch on.

But it will. Spend time among the carefully placed rocks covered with velvety textured mosses, quiet ponds filled with koi fish or even next to an imaginary river made of seemingly flowing pebbles and yes, your body will eventually get the message.

It is not surprising that those who have the skill, patience and creativity to create a Japanese garden would use those same skills to nurture delicately scented orchids. Nor is it a surprise that the fragrant orchid and Japanese garden design elements can be elegantly wed.

Morikami Park, in Palm Beach County, Florida, is home to a Japanese garden with a tropical twist. Named after George Sukeji Morikami, who immigrated to the United States in 1906, the 200 acre property has expanded from a small, traditional Japanese garden and pavilion to a garden setting with almost a mile of pathways.

It has the traditional bamboo stands and tiny islands connected by zigzag bridges, as well as a “Contemplation Pavilion” that urges guests to just relax and enjoy their surroundings. The twist in this garden is that some of the traditional plants have been replaced by tropical ones, including orchids.

Instead of Japanese maples, which won’t grow in Florida, black olive trees were pruned and shaped to mimic this garden staple. Strawberry guava trees and slash pine were also trimmed to show off their elegantly shaped trunks and limbs. Fig trees form a wall, blocking out the sounds and sights of neighbouring homes.

The creator of this marriage of Florida plants and classic Japanese design is Hoichi Kurisu. Ever mindful of long held traditions, he has created a bolder, brighter colour palette that is more in sync with its tropic locale.

Adjacent to Morikami Park is a recently purchased parcel with a large greenhouse maintained by the American Orchid Society. Inside is a 15 foot high waterfall, its tiered layers covered with orchids of every colour and shape. Outside is a three and a half acre formal garden that is home to over 3,000 orchids that are growing in trees, among perennials and shrubs that line the pathways and alongside tranquil ponds.

In the wild, orchids attach themselves to tree branches in the forest canopy. They are epiphytes, getting their nutrients from the air. In this garden, orchids have been attached to the trees using wire and liquid nails. This means that you not only have beauty at your feet, but are greeted with an array of colour and hints of fragrance from above.

Karesansui Gardens

In romantic love and even Bonsai love, we seek to find the hidden magic behind the power of physical love. In a Karesansui Japanese garden, we are asked to imagine water that is not there and islands that exist only as a stone placed within a bed of sand. In seeking both visions, we are asked to see beyond what our eyes tell us. We are being asked to seek from within.

The Karesansui style of Japanese garden first appeared in the Muromachi period (1392 to 1568). Influenced by Zen Buddhism, and much favoured as a meditation retreat, this garden style creates entire landscapes by using sand, moss, rocks, smaller stones and small plants. Sand is raked to simulate water movement. Rocks are placed in the middle of the sand pond to represent islands. Moss covered rocks surrounding the pond become gently rolling hills, and the tiny trees create miniature forests. Not a drop of water in sight, yet we delight in the search for it.

The Karesansui garden is an abstract which can have many interpretations. That is the intent. Just as no two people experience love in the same way, no two people will meditate at a Karesansui garden and come away with the same impression. What looks like a mountain in a tranquil lake to some may look like a ragged cliff with wind driven ocean waves to another. Love to one person might feel like a gentle breeze, to another like a raging storm.

The Tsukiyama style of Japanese garden that gained favour in the Edo period (1603 to 1867), takes a slightly different approach. Rather than a search for meaning in an abstract form, a Tsukiyama style garden presents an accurate representation of the natural world. Real water flows in streams crossed by curved bridges or cascades from waterfalls into quiet ponds. Koi fish brighten the ponds with their gold and calico colours. In larger gardens pathways lead you from one display feature to another. In smaller affairs, a vantage point has been created so the garden can be viewed from the best angle.

The Karesansui garden encourages us to search for our spiritual interpretation of love. Just as the sand ponds never change unless we take the rake and alter the waves, this intangible part of love does not change unless it is of our doing. The Tsukiyama garden lets us reflect on the beauty of love that can be touched. This is the tangible part of love, affected by the passage of time, just as the gardens change with the passing of the seasons.

the heart takes notice
of inner beauty enhanced
by timeless wisdom

M. Rose 2010

The Haiku and the Japanese Garden

misho journeyPrecise in structure yet allowing artistic creativity, the haiku is a form of Japanese poetry that can well be compared to the meticulously designed gardens that prove inspirational to those who craft using the power of the pen. This poetic art form goes back to 17th century Japan and the trick is to convey meaning within seventeen syllables in a precise five-seven-five format. Traditionally, haiku was used to express views and impressions of the natural world.

Matsuo Basho, whose birth name was Matsuo Kinsaku (1644 to 1694) one of the most recognized poets of Japan’s Edo period, is credited with fine tuning the “hokku” format. A hokku was an opening verse that introduced the “haikai no renga”, a form of collaborative poetry popular at the time. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, long after Basho’s death, that the word hokku was changed to haiku and the format became a standardized, stand alone art form.

Just as the haiku uses discipline for creating beauty, so does the Japanese garden. The Karesansui, or dry landscape style of garden is perhaps the best comparison. These gardens were influenced by followers of Zen Buddhism, who found the simplistic design conducive to meditation. One well known example of this garden style is in the Daisen-in sub-temple, part of the Daitoku-ji grounds in Kyoto, Japan. It was completed in 1513.

Much like a haiku, where the words on paper need to be studied to get the full meaning, these dry landscape gardens must be studied to interpret what the designer intended. In a Karesansui garden you must use your imagination to see that carefully raked gravel or sand as a tranquil pond. You must imagine that those rocks strategically placed in that pond are islands. The beauty of the garden and the haiku is this is that no two people will have the same vision, the same interpretation.

In Basho’s poem “Temple Bells Die Out” shown below, the poet describes dusk experienced by someone relaxing in a Japanese garden. The chiming of the bells is man made. The fragrance of the flowers is nature personified. The contrast, much as that found between carefully constructed pathways and the timeless sound of water cascading into a pond, both features of Japanese gardens, make for “a perfect evening.”

words upon a page
pathways through tended gardens
lead to inner peace

M. Rose 2010

temple bells die out
the fragrant blossoms remain
a perfect evening

Matsuo Basho (written between 1686 and 1691)

The Chinese Venice of Suzhou

chinese-templesSuzhou is one of the most beautiful cities of China. Its the motherland of silk and one of the oldest traditional forms of Chinese opera – Kunqu, listed as one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity (UNESCO).

The city is located in the south of the province of Jiangsu and enjoys mild climate and beautiful nature. Marco Polo called Suzhou, this city of canals and gardens 85 km west of Shanghai, the “eastern Venice”. One Chinese proverb even says “There is heaven in the sky, and Suzhou on earth”. Its gardens appeared 2500 years ago and are still the best place to come to and enjoy the world as it is seen by Chinese poets, artists and men of wisdom. But for this they have to arrive there in advance, before crowds of people deprive the gardens of their calm charm. The city had about 250 gardens during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Nowadays there are about a hudred of them left, and only a few are opened for visitors.

Far from a distance the city impresses with its magnificent walls and gates, its ancient pagoda produces a fantastic impression as well. In the old times Suzhou was renowned as “the land of fish and rice”, and this patriarchal appearance is still characteristic for the city. The hubbub and laugh produced by local people is a typical Chinese “song”. There are several attractions not to be missed while staying in Suzhou.

Blue Wave Pavilion (Canglang Ting) is the only garden part of which is not fenced. Moreover, this is the oldest garden in Suzhou. It is filled with the atmosphere of wilderness, decorated with stone hillocks, artificial mounds and bamboo groves. The name of the garden derives from the name of the pavilion built here in 1044.

Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) is one of the largest and the most beautiful Chinese gardens. Its a magnificent ensemble, with water as its focus: the areas next to its ponds are covered with ornaments of summerhouses and pavilions, the ponds themselves are covered with islets, which can be reached by refined bridges and narrow stone dykes.

Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan) is dominated with a high rock, pavilions are rather big, and its main landmarks are the Yuanyang (mandarin duck) Hall and the luxurious Wufengxian Hall. The garden’s attractions are connected with a corridor 700 meters long. Hundreds of windows with patterned guards are overlooking the rocks, plants and water.

Master of the Nets Garden (Wang Shi Yuan) is Suzhou’s smallest garden. However, its small size is compensated with its elegant layout, which set a good example for other Chinese gardens. Names like the Hall of Captured Grace will help you get inspired with the atmosphere of calm contemplation which former owners created here. In summertime the garden is opened till late. It is illuminated with lanterns while musicians and dancers entertain visitors.

The nine-storied North Temple Pagoda (Beisi) was built in the end of the X century, then reconstructed several times. Visit the pagoda for unforgettable views over the city suburbs. Another city landmark – the leaning Yunyan Pagoda – can be found on the Tiger Hill (Huqiu). It is in fact taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Xuanmiao Guan, or the “Temple of Mystery” is thought to be one of the best local Taoist temples. Built in 276 AD, it was later demolished and rebuilt again. And, finally, a spot not to be missed is the Suzhou Market street, covered with restaurants, shops, stalls, theatres, snack bars, silk stores and confectioner’s.

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Japanese Gardens, Poetry in Motion

The Japanese people have always been in tune with nature and accepting of the concepts of change and the passage of time. This harmony is expressed through many artistic mediums, but none so evident, nor so pleasing, as the Japanese Garden. Just as Japan’s delicately crafted poetry demands structure, Japanese Gardens have their own Aesthetic Markers, as steeped in tradition as the 17 syllable haiku.

Delicate branches
Roots caress a simple pot
White blossoms shimmer
The essence of all forests
Lives here in one small tree.
– Mastuyama Mokurai

One of the most cherished aspects of any Japanese Garden is the preservation of “shizen” or naturalness.  An bonsai forme du lettréexample would be in the use of cement or brick; they look more pleasing in their natural tones rather than painted. Another example is by complementing the natural surroundings with the selection of simple objects such as a single bonsai on the edge of a quiet pond.

Natural asymmetry or “fukensei” is preserved by placing elements in compositions using odd numbers, one, three or five. A solitary object can create a bigger impact on the senses than small groupings. An imaginary drawing of a triangle between the trained branches of a tree or the placement of stones also insures that the element of “fukensei” has been met.

The Japanese concept of “kanso” or simplicity is most evident in gardens of the Zen tradition.  Just as the haiku creates powerful images by its element of simplicity, a solitary stone may represent an entire mountain or island by its simple yet precise placement.

The concept of “ma” or space used in a Japanese garden is a direct reflection of how the Japanese have viewed life through the generations. The concept that all objects interact within a given space and that nothing exists alone plays a big part in all aspects of Japanese culture. Even that single stone island is surrounded by water, real or imagined and the point at which they meet is the transition from the liquid to the solid; neither can exist without the other.

The Japanese love of things miniature and their capacity for patience is fully expressed in the art of bonsai. Whether the trees are trained to represent the oldest form of bonsai, the “informal upright” or more modern versions such as the “sharimiki”  (resembles dry wood with live branches) these tiny creations are believed to represent all of nature “in one small tree”.

That does not mean that the Japanese were and are not without a sense of humor. In Nijo Castle in Kyoto, which was the center of military power in the ancient capital, the shoguns had their own way of enjoying their gardens. They would mix their love of poetry and saki by holding a poetry writing contest in the midst of the formal display garden.  Poets of note would sit on large rocks at the edges of garden streams.  Their task was to compose a poem before cups of saki, set afloat upstream, reached their particular rock. If the poem was not complete before the saki reached the poet, the poet must drink the saki before the contest could continue. In that vein:

vision of beauty
nature encapsulated
within your branches

Now, where’s the saki?

Bonsai and the Chinese Penjing

bonsai-gardenWhile many are aware of the art of Japanese bonsai, very few realize that bonsai originated in China where it was called penjing. Penjing has three different forms. One of these forms is tree penjing, and this is where bonsai began. Another form is landscape penjing, which uses rocks instead of trees. Water and land penjing blends the other two into a third form, styling miniature trees in beautiful, natural-looking landscapes.

It is said that penjing originated in the 1st century AD. Taoist mystics would recreate areas thought to be high in energy to concentrate the focus of that energy. Very little proof, however, exists to conclusively prove these stories. Verified written descriptions of penjing have only been found dating back to the Tang Dynasty (618 – 907 AD). These writings describe the craft in such detail that it is apparent penjing was developed much early, but the exact time and place is unknown.

The art of penjing was adopted by Chan Buddhists. Just as bonsai originated from penjing, the Japanese Zen Buddhism originated from Chan. The first penjing trees were twisted and knotted, not of use for any other purpose. Over the years, the Chan Buddhists found new wild specimens, naturally dwarfed, that were further styled through horticultural techniques.

The earliest known miniature landscape in Japan was from 1309, although evidence suggests that Japanese Buddhist students brought penjing souvenirs back home with them from China as far back as the 6th century. By the year 1309, Zen Buddhists had already developed penjing with Japanese-inspired landscapes. This was the beginning of bonsai.

Westerners were also introduced to penjing much earlier than bonsai. The first examples of penjing to reach Western eyes were in 1637. It would not be until much later when penjing became more rigidly classified and popularized as a hobby for common people. In fact, modern penjing was very rare in the United States until Qingquan “Brook” Zhou published his book Penjing: Worlds of Wonderment in the 1970s. Zhao’s penjing was inspired by the famous gardens of Yangzhou, where Zhou was born. Since, then, thousands of students have learned the art of penjing from Zhou’s teachings.

Qingquan “Brook” Zhou:

Born and raised in Yangzhou, China’s ancient center of learning and the arts situated at the confluence of the Grand Canal and the Yangtze River, Qingquan Zhao grew up in an environment where the penjing tradition was very much alive. At a young age, Zhao became intrigued by the miniature trees and landscapes in his father’s and grandfather’s collections. He is a third-generation bonsai and penjing artist.

A Bonsai Journey – Beginners view

Remember “Gulliver’s Travels?” Do you ever wonder what it felt like to tower over your surroundings? Ok, forget about the little men with their arrows and ropes and uppity attitudes. Let’s just concentrate on the trees. Wander down the pathways of a Japanese garden and sooner or later you will come across tiny trees known as bonsai. Delicately sculptured, elegantly poised, they are perfect replicas of their larger cousins and yes, you do tower over them rather than the reverse.

Take advantage of the situation. This is your opportunity to see a tree the way a bird sees it, from the top down. We humans normally study the branches of a tree from ground level, or perhaps for the more daring or agile among us, from a perch within those branches that we’ve managed to climb to without breaking a limb of our own. But a bonsai tree lets us look down and study the symmetry of branches in a whole new fashion.

Though bonsai is normally associated with Japan, it is actually the Chinese that created this living art form. Thought to have come about in the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) there are, as in many things Chinese, legends that surround the beginning of bonsai. A favourite is the tale of the emperor that created his entire empire in miniature inside of his courtyard so that he could gaze upon it at will.

Eventually Buddhist monks brought bonsai to Japan during the Heian period (794 to 1191). At first the art form was only practiced by the rich but the invasion of Japan by the Chinese in the 14th century changed all that. All classes began to take up the art of tending the tiny trees and plants and the art was refined and perfected into the bonsai tradition of today.

What makes a great bonsai? Many types of trees have been used to create bonsai. Two popular favourites are the Japanese Red Maple and the Chinese Elm. Both are fairly easy to care for and train. The Japanese Red Maple is known for its vibrant reds and greens, both in the leaves and the trunk and branches. The Chinese Elm adapts well to growing indoors. Its leaves decrease in size year after year which helps them keep in proportion to the trimmed branches. A full grown Chinese Elm bonsai is usually less than ten inches tall, perfect for taking an appreciative look from Gulliver’s point of view.