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Japanese Gardens in South Florida


In Japan, where only about 15 percent of the land can be used for farming, people have become adept at creating quiet places of peace and tranquility.

Due to Japan’s rugged mountain terrain and minimal flat land, 80 percent of the population lives on three percent of the land. In larger cities, such as Tokyo, massive amounts of concrete skyscrapers give way to tranquil retreats in these small, aesthetic gardens.

Because of their unique ability to make small amounts of land work well for them, the Japanese people have mastered the art of creating spiritual harmony and pristine beauty in almost every conceivable spot.  Inspiration for some Japanese gardening techniques came from classic Chinese style, which incorporates religious and philosophical beliefs.

In South Florida, The Morikami Museum allows visitors to experience the essence of Japanese garden styles without travelling to Japan. There are six gardens inspired from “history as well as from more local recent culture and climate to create one unique garden, a whole containing many ‘ancient rhythms’ and compelling contemporary insight.”

The gardens encompasses 16 acres, including the seven-acre Morikami Lake, and includes a collection of gardens emblematic of six distinct periods of Japanese garden design:

        Shinden Gardens (8th – 10th century) – Japanese aristocrats copied Chinese gardens that featured lakes and islands for pleasure and often viewed them from a boat.

        Paradise Garden (13th – 14th century) – Influenced by increasingly popular Buddhist teachings, these were intended as garden utopias. Instead of viewing this type of garden from a pleasure boat, visitors experience Paradise gardens while strolling.   

        Early Rock Garden (14th century) – Expressing nature in a more abstract manner by eliminating the use of water, theses gardens represent water bodies with dry waterfalls or dry creek beds.

        Late Rock Gardens (15th century) – Complete abstract in nature is composed principally of rack arrangements and coarse raked gravel. These gardens draw upon a spiritual dimension far different from earlier gardens.

        Flat Gardens (16th to 17th century) – Flat garden technique presents the viewer with open space intended to stir the imagination. 

        Modern Romantic Garden (19th – 20th century) – With the end of Japan’s Edo period, gardens began to reflect Western ideas and influence. Modern gardens tend to combine elements from the various historical styles in gardens.

Oriental gardens, long revered as some of the most beautiful in the world, have held great fascination for many of us.  Tea gardens and Koi ponds delicately mastered and surrounded by large drifts of azalea, ajuga and bamboo plants, have become role models for amateur and professional gardeners alike.

The Morikami’s visitors will witness and be surprised at every turn with the vistas created by Master Garden Designer Hoichi Kurisu. 

Kurisu has created a seamless transition from the Yamato-kan’s wood-footed veranda to the gardens around it, which offers it’s visitors to marvel at the truest essence of Japanese Gardens.

Japanese gardens have long been an inspiration to the world but to understand the composite entirely, one must understand the making of centuries of tradition.  True understanding comes from knowledge of not only design principles but the importance placed on viewpoints and perspectives; the techniques applied to miniatures and the composition of both balance and harmony and unique applications to water and rock.

Kurisu conveys the underlying foundation for a Japanese Garden. The essential belief and cultural understanding that man and nature are one.  This philosophy is based on Zen Buddhism.  In Zen, everything in the world is governed by the same cosmic source in the universe.

The garden path, or ‘roji,’ is not merely the entry to a garden, but a philosophical path that delivers it’s occupant, step-by-step, from his chaotic day to a world that is untouched by complication and strife.

The philosophy of the garden is to inspire a psychological and emotional response within the viewer, creating a scene in the mind. While some places make you feel tense or drained others will bring you a feeling of relaxation or energy. That’s because our physical surroundings have a little known but powerful influence upon us. Our environment (where we live, work and sleep) effects our health, our finances and our interactions with others.

Centuries ago ‘the Book of Garden’ codified all the elements of Japanese landscaping. Natural elements were, and still are today, the crucial pieces in structure and organization of the garden; the sky, sun, moon, stars, landform, water, stones and plants.

Form, texture, color and fragrance enter into the relationship.  The garden is considered to be a total experience.  Everything is taken into consideration, even sound and space and is meant to bring enlightenment to the viewer’s sensory, intellectual and imaginary experience.

To the Japanese gardens are vital lifelines to mental refreshment.  By avoiding the obvious and relating to the subtleties of nature, an atmosphere is created to give those who venture there a feeling of oneness with the universe.

Fountains, with their gentle, melodic flow of water are a common element found in Japanese gardens.  Sounds of nature inspire a soothing feeling in one’s spirit, a refuge from a busy day. 

There are a variety of ways to incorporate water, too. Kurisu created water trickles in front of the Yamato-kan veranda from a kakebi, a section of hollow bamboo, into a tranquil water basin scooped out from the earth and planted with delicately leafed specimens, in contrast with a massive gumbo limbo tree that shades the garden.

A Dry Creek curves around a corner of the Yamato-kan. It resembles, in miniature, a landscape of a riverbed rushing through mountains and is planted with a variety of dainty-branched plants, pruned to create a feeling of sensitivity and mirror the vulnerability of living things in a stark environment. Throughout Kurisu has attempted to create “a space as a respite from this precipitous exterior world…a space providing a counterweight to balance against a world of high technology…inner space between people’s inner lives and the high-tech, plastic busy world…Najimi – a unifying balance.”

A Haiku poem to ponder before visiting The Morikami Museum’s Japanese Gardens.

I hope to have gathered

To repay your kindness

The willow leaves

Scattered in the garden

~Matsuo Basho



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