Above all else, Ichikawa Jozan was a poet. Perhaps it was his ability to manipulate words into phrases of great meaning that made his creation of Shisendo Temple and Garden in Tokyo possible. The very skills needed to coax words into their necessary order are similar to those used by a gardener when training a branch or a vine to grow a certain way. Both skill sets require a vision of the finished product before they are even begun.

Ichikawa Jozan (1583-1672) first became a samurai and after retirement in 1615 he turned his attention to the arts. He was a devotee of the Chinese classics and after half a lifetime of studying and creating poetry and artwork, in 1641, at the age of 59 Jozan created Shisendo. The gardens sit in what is now northeast Kyoto and are tended by a Zen Buddhist sect, the Sotos.

Shisendo, like its creator, is a blend of poetry and artistic vision. Almost like Jozan guided the eyes of readers down a page of his poetry, he guides visitors to his garden with delectable phrases that hint at what is coming next. One can enter the “Grotto of Small Possessions” and then follow a pathway that leads to the “Ancient Plum Barrier.” The humour is evident in such labels as the “Wasp’s Waist” describing a series of steps that leads to the “Hall of the Poetry Immortals.”

Another clever turn of phrase is the “Pursuit of Art Nest” name given to a tiny room that offers a panoramic view of the garden. Jozan’s humour surfaces again at his naming of a deer-chaser “Archbishop.” A deer-chaser is a piece of bamboo that fills with water and then tips making a clicking noise, which scares grazing deer. In Japanese it is known as a “shikaol.”

Jozan shows his romantic side in the garden as well. His affection and respect for the moon are reflected in garden areas named “Pavilion of the Lingering Moon” and the “Tower of Intoning Poetry at the Moon.” And of course there are the azaleas, pink and white and a complement to the white sand of the upper garden, kept perfectly groomed to resemble a sheet of white paper, ready for the poet and his pen.

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