- The Journal
Stephen Mansfield reviews three recent books on the gardens of Kyoto Kyoto Gardens: Masterworks of the Japanese Gardener’s Art by Judith Clancy. Photographs by Ben Simmons. Tuttle Publishing, 144 pp., $22.95. Shigemori Mirei’s Artistic Garden Design by Mizuno Katsuhiko. Mitsumura Suiko Shoin. 128 pp., ¥4,104. View, Kyoto: On Japanese Gardens and Templesby Jacqueline Hassink, Germany: Hatje Cantz, 204 pp., €68.00.Where Western gardens engage and delight the senses, the Japanese garden, at least the more accomplished ones, provide the secondary and tertiary effects of being both thought provoking and aids to restoring our faith in nature. Kyoto, described by photographer Ben Simmons in Kyoto Gardens as, “a unique treasure of concentrated beauty and spirit found nowhere else,” is a good place to start an exploration of the Japanese garden. Breaking away from the customary practice among garden photographers of excluding people from images, he shows us instead all the clumsy inelegance of visitors, with their cameras, handbags, personal effects, and at the Shisen-do villa garden, a woman in rubber boots carrying a plastic tub up the steps. Such images lend human touches, moments of interaction between formal landscape and onlooker, order and disorder. Author Judith Clancy’s has lived in Kyoto for over 40 years; her credentials are unimpeachable. She divides Kyoto Gardens into four main chapters based on geographical divisions, a task made easy in a city where geomancy and town planning were synonymous. The book features many of the best known Kyoto gardens, such as Ryoan-ji and Kinkaku-ji, but includes one or two surprises, like the Mimuroto-ji paradise garden in the southern reaches of the city, and the often overlooked Toji-in. In the process of previewing Kyoto gardens we also learn about the history of the city, its religious sects and denominations, the text reminding us that it is not possible to fully appreciate many of these gardens without a basic knowledge of Buddhist principles.