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Botanical Buzz - Japanese aesthetics and Shoyoen

Friday, January 09, 2015

Shoyoen (the Japanese Garden) soothes and revitalises the spirit of all who enter through its beautiful sukiyamon (gate). Breathing becomes deeper, hearts beat slower and worries become less troubling.

However, the visitors who are most richly rewarded are those who are inspired by this living gift from our Sister City Minokamo, to seek further knowledge and understanding.

Shoyoen, and every element within it, provides valuable insight into Japanese aesthetics.

Outside of the Japanese Tea House is a tsukubai; a composition of stones and a water laver sheltered by a Japanese maple. The purpose of the tsukubai is to provide an opportunity for visitors to ‘purify’ their hands and mouth before entering the Tea House.

The tsukubai is a work of art embodying ancient Japanese aesthetics including wabi (transient and stark beauty), sabi (the beauty of natural patina and aging) and yƫgen (profound grace and subtlety).

Art and aesthetics are integrated into all aspects of Japanese daily life. Shoyoen is an outstanding example of this cultural philosophy. The traditional western perspective, on the other hand, separates art from daily life and views it as an expression of individuality.

Like all of the architectural elements within Shoyoen, the tsukubai unifies beauty with function. This is typical of Japanese art. In western art, unnecessary ornament and novelty often undermine the function of an object.

Exclusive use of natural materials in the construction of the tsukubai reaffirms the Japanese relationship with nature. Stones and water are fundamental elements of a Japanese garden and are accorded a higher level of importance than the plants. Their significance can be traced back to prehistoric Japanese religious practices.

The Japanese philosophies which underpin the design of Shoyoen and its architectural elements challenge western notions of art, beauty and taste. Critical examination of these differences provides a valuable opportunity for greater cultural awareness, self-awareness and personal growth.

                                                                                                                              By Ian McAlister & Karen Hagan