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Japanese Gardens and Aesthetics

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Portraying a Japanese Buddhist Monk in the SCA

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Japanese Aesthetics and the Garden

Historic Outline

300 bce - 300ce - Yayoi Period

260 bce - Shrine at Ise established. The first, and single most important sacred space in Japan. This Shinto Shrine demonstrates the most ancient Japanese architectural style and spiritual connection to nature.

300 - 552 - Kofun Period

552 - 710 - Asuka Period

710 - 794 - Nara Period

Imperial Court begins importing philosophy, art, political thought and aesthetics from T’ang Dynasty China.

794 - 1185 - Heian Period

794 - Founding of Heiankyo (later called Kyoto) by Emperor Kammu. The classical period of Japanese court culture begins soon after; generally called “Heian”. At first, this culture is heavily influenced by Chinese Imperial culture, but later progresses independently and peaks in the 11th century. Garden and villa design is refined into what will be considered the classic style as courtiers try to out-do each other in the construction of their homes.

1050(?) - Tachibana no Toshitsuna writes the Sakuteiki, a practical manual on garden design. It includes extensive suggestions for geomantic placement of objects as well as aesthetic advice.

1185 - 1333 - Kamakura Period

1191 - Buddhist priest Eisai introduces the tea ceremony to Japan.

1256/1344 - Muso Soseki designs the garden at Tenryu-ji in Kyoto. Muso is considered one of the greatest zen garden designers of all time.

1333 - 1568 - Muromachi Period

1397 - Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu builds Kinkaku-ji (the “Golden Pavilion”) as his retirement villa outside of Kyoto.

1423 - 1502 - Shuko Murata. A noted zen monk and tea master, Murata begins the movement of wabi-cha which will become cha-do; “the way of tea”.

1568 - 1600 - Momoyama Period

1520 - 1591 - Sen no Rikyu. Rikyu becomes tea master to the regent Toyotomi Hidiyoshi and popularizes wabi-cha.

1600 - 1868 Edo Period

1700 (approx.) Garden designer Kobori Enshu is the first to use a low window (about 2-3 feet tall starting at the floor) for viewing a tsubo garden. One of the many Edo era developments that can be considered “modern” in feeling, even in the 20th century.