Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens: Design principles and aesthetic values
Slawson, David A
The Japanese Garden Database is intended as a repository
of information on the historical and contemporary gardens of Japan as well as the
gardens located outside Japan that have been inspired by the culture. It is a non-profit,
educational web site that seeks to provide information on a selection of
outstanding examples of garden art found in Japan while juxtaposing a diversity
of media related to them. This juxtaposition is intended to bring about fresh
insight to a body of discourse that can often be mired in romanticized and
exoticized notions of Asia and the cultures therein.
For further information about the site, please refer to the following pages:
How to support JGarden
Linking to JGarden
What you see on the screen is now the fifth iteration
of the site. In some ways it is the closest to what I had originally conceived.
What began simply as a proof-of-concept for a more
comprehensive multimedia reference work on the gardens of Japan, this
web site has since taken on a life of its own. Many of the changes have
also come about due to changing technology. For the past several years the
World Wide Web has transformed itself about every twelve months and to both
push myself and to keep the site fresh, I have done my best to keep up.
Since Josiah Condor's Landscape Gardening in Japan (1912) and particularly in the
post-World War II era, the gardens of Japan have received a great deal of attention in
both popular and professional design literature. A small number of gardens have become
almost iconic. The karesansui
garden of Ryoanji, the shrine at Ise and the Katsura
and Shugakuin imperial villas are ubiquitous in
writings from Walter Gropius to John Cage.
However, with a few exceptions, discussion of the gardens of Japan has tended to be
generic and superficial, often grouping them into an amorphous category called 'Japanese
gardens' devoid of the social, historical and cultural context within which they were
constructed. The language barrier coupled with a persistent romanticization of the
'mysterious, enigmatic Orient' often encouraged by the Japanese themselves, has
contributed to this situation.
In recent years important contributions have been made by David Slawson, Marc Treib,
Norris Brock Johnson, Loraine Kuck, Mitchell Bring, Josse Wayembergh, Gunter Nitschke
and others to ameliorate this condition. To this list must be added translations of
the work of Itoh Teiji, Yoshikawa Isao and Mori Osamu as well as the educational efforts
of the late Nakane Kinsaku toward the training of young, Western landscape architects in
the design principles behind the gardens of Japan.
This site was originally proposed as an interactive, multimedia reference work on
the gardens of Japan that would support these other efforts, providing comprehensive
visual and textual information on the history, construction, materiality, people,
language, patterns and processes by which these gardens were constructed. The database
was to be organized in a hypertext-based, non-linear fashion that would be both flexible and
open-ended. It was to be directed at professionals in the field of landscape architecture
and garden history but was also to be made available to the general public through the
I have changed some of my ideas since then. It's still based on hypertext, but I am
no longer attempting to be comprehensive or exhaustive. Nor will I attempt to define
what I mean by the gardens of Japan. It is also not my intention to simply present
digital versions of the plans, sections and verbal descriptions given by others.
Rather I hope to provide a few examples of a few gardens and bring a diversity of
media into juxtaposition. Removing the material from the printed book, arranging it
non-linearly and disseminating it to a wider audience has value in itself; but this
project is intended to go beyond this; I want to draw on other kinds of information
including literature, paintings, images and mappings in an accretive process that
brings about a thickening of the cultural imagination vis a vis the gardens.
The objective of the project is to include text and still images of the selected
gardens constructed prior to the 20th century. The information is arranged as 'pages'
or 'documents' that are organized and cross-referenced through in-line hyperlinks.
The information is be loosely arranged in bodies of data including: gardens, plants,
poetry and literature, and reference materials such as glossaries, bibliographies, and
media galleries. The material is retrievable through clickable maps, time lines, and
alphabetical lists. The organization is deliberately designed to allow multiple entrees
to any given page. I hope this approach will resist closure of a given inquiry. The
user creates her own path through the information.
What began as a proof-of-concept for a more comprehensive multimedia reference work,
this site has been transformed multiple times since its inception in 1996 but it remains
committed to its purpose as a non-profit, educational project aimed at raising awareness
of Japanese gardens.