Friday, July 29, 2011

Catch-up post: Ohori Park Japanese Garden

Justin and I posted about Ohori Koen (Ohori Park) before, but we tend to go there frequently. It's a nice bike ride when the weather is good, and there are always plenty of people walking adorable dogs. Dog-spotting is the Justin and Nana version of "what would you do for a Klondike bar?" and the answer is "Just about anything."

Ohori Koen is free, but it also has a traditional Japanese garden with a small (~$2.50) entrance fee. Judging by Justin's impeccable file-naming habits, we seem to have visited this garden last March.

According to this web site, "Water as a design element in the garden is crucial. ... Water's importance is not as a substance but as a symbol and expression of the sea. Even the quantity of water present is unimportant. If space is a problem, one is supposed to be able to enjoy the tranquility of the sea in contemplation of a bucketful of water contained in a stone water basin." Fortunately, Ohori Koen's budget seemed to have room for more than a bucketful:

The central pond is surrounded by many small islands, a design apparently intended to symbolize a Japanese landscape in miniature, or even the island chain of Japan itself. Minimalism is a hallmark of Japanese design - think about how simple a piece of sushi is compared with the bright colors of a Chinese stir-fry, or how a brown-and-white Japanese Buddhist temple contrasts with its explosively colorful Korean or Taiwanese cousins. A Japanese garden is the same way. Anything artificial, like lights or bridges, is made as inconspicuous as possible. Only natural colors are used, as with the brown bridge above. Here, look how the patio shade behind Justin has been tucked against a hillside behind a curve so it doesn't dominate the landscape:

The bridge I'm sitting on is carefully designed to blend in with the paths. Having recently lived in the UK, I'm reasonably sure they would ban it on the grounds that it is a safety hazard. Note stealth lamp lurking in the bushes behind me.

People even seem to prefer natural-colored wardrobes. Our students commented on it when we took them to Seoul for the Model UN conference. I don't know if that's a Japanese thing or a Fukuoka thing. I just noticed looking at these two pictures that Justin and my wardrobes are probably the only things about us that blend in.

It's okay for koi to be brightly colored. They can't help themselves.

Here's a larger version of the feature we know in the US as a "Zen garden," mostly because they make the little desk versions where you can rake sand around rocks and presumably attain inner peace without the bother of leaving the office.

We came a bit early in the season for hanami, or cherry-blossom viewing, which usually peaks in the late March/early April time period, depending on temperature and rainfall. Plum trees, however, bloom earlier, and there was one straggler still in bloom at the Ohori Japanese Garden:

(Notice how the lamp is placed low to the ground beside a taller tree to avoid calling attention to itself).

Plum, or ume, is the fruit used to make the super-sweet plum wine available at many US Japanese restaurants. When I studied Chinese in college, my teacher chose the character "plum" for my surname: 梅, pronounced "mei" in Chinese. It was a treasured annual tradition for me to forget how to write it over the summer, culminating in one year when I had my sister photograph the binder from last year which I'd left at home and email me the picture of my name on an old homework. Here, Justin stops to smell the ume:

and I, inspired by the simple/balanced aesthetic of the Japanese Garden, attempted to take a poetic picture:

You're moved, admit it.