Japan and Italy-The Sense of Beauty-Poetry-Japanese Poems by an American Woman-A Poem on a Kimono- Garden Ornaments-Garden Parties and Gifts-The Four Periods of Landscape Gardening-The Volcanic Principle in GardensIT IS interesting to observe that the two races in which highly specialized artisitic feeling is almost universal have, despite their antipodal positions on the globe, many common problems and one common blessing. Both Japan and Italy are poor and overpopulated, both are handicapped by a shortage of arable land and natural resources, both lack an adequate supply of food and raw materials for manufacturing, both are mountainous, both are afflicted by earthquakes; but both are endowed with the peculiar, passionate beauty of landscape which is nature's compensation to volcanic countries-a beauty suggesting that of some vivid and ungoverned woman, brilliant, erratic, fascinating dangerous.
Where Nature shows herself a great temperamental artist, her children are likely to be artists, too. As almost all Italians have a highly developed sense of melody, so almost all Japanese possess in a remarkable degree the artist's sense of form.
One day in Tokio I fell to discussing these matters with a venerable art collector, wearing silks and sandals.
"What," he asked me, "are the most striking examples of artistic feeling that you have noticed in Japan?"
I told him of two things that I had seen, each in itself unimportant. One was a well-wheel. The well was in a yard beside a lovely little farmhouse, one story high, with walls of clay and timber, and with a thick thatched roof, upon the ridge of which a row of purple iris grew. There was a dainty bamboo fence around the farmyard, with flowering shrubs behind it, and a cherry tree in blossom. The wellhouse was thatched, and the pulley-wheel beneath the thatch seemed to focus the entire composition. With us such a wheel would have been a thing of rough cast-iron, merely something for a rope to run over; but this wheel had been fondly imagined before it was created. Its spokes were not straight and ugly, but branched near the rim, curving gracefully into it in such a way as to form the outlines of a cherry-blossom. It was a work of art.
My other item was a little copper kettle. I saw it in a penitentiary. It belonged to a prisoner, and every prisoner in that portion of the institution had one like it. The striking thing about it was that it was an extremely graceful little kettle, embellished in relief with a beautiful design. It, too, was a work of art, and there was to me something pathetic in the evidence it gave that even in this grim place the claims of beauty were not entirely ignored.
These trifling observations seemed to please my friend, the art collector.
"But," said he, "I think our national love of the beautiful is perhaps most strongly exhibited in our feeling for outdoor beauty-our pilgrimages to spots famous for their scenery, our delight in the cherry-blossom season, the wistaria season, the chrysanthemum season, and by no means least in our gardens."
Undoubtedly he was right. The feeling for nature among his countrymen is general, mystical, poetic. Almost all Japanese write poetry. The poems of many emperors, empresses, and statesmen are widely known; and among the most celebrated Japanese poems those to Nature in her various aspects are by far the most numerous.
Let me here digress briefly to mention the interesting custom of O Uta Hajime, or Opening of Imperial Poems, a court function dating from the ninth century.
Each December the Imperial. Household announces subjects for poems which may be submitted anonymously to the Imperial Bureau of Poems, in connection with the celebration of the New Year. The poems are examined by the bureau's experts, who select the best to be read to the Imperial Family.
The choice for the year 1921 was made from seventeen thousand poems sent from all parts of the Empire, and when announcement was made of the names of those whose poems were read at the Court, it was discovered that, among them was an American lady, Frances Hawkes Burnett, wife of Col. Charles Burnett, military attaché of the American Embassy at Tokyo. Mrs. Burnett thus attains the unique distinction of being the only foreign woman ever to have won Imperial approval with a poem in the Japanese language.
It is interesting, in this connection, to remark that the lady is a grand-niece of the late Dr. Francis Lister Hawkes, of New York, who accompanied Commodore Perry to Japan, and was Perry's collaborator in the writing of the official record of the voyage, published under the title, "The Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron."
But to return to my friend the art collector. "Speaking of poetry and the love of Nature," said he, "have you noticed the kimono of our host's daughter?"
(We were strolling in a lovely private garden as we talked.)
I had noticed it. It was a beautiful costume of soft black silk, the hem, in front, adorned with a design of cherry-blossoms and an inscription in the always decorative Chinese character.
"Do you know what the inscription is? "he asked. I did not.
"It is a poem of her own," he explained; and presently, when in our stroll we caught up with the young lady, he made me a literal translation, which might be done over into English verse as follows:
Farewell, O Capital! I grieve Thy lovely cherry-blooms to leave. But now to Kioto must I fare To view the cherry-blossoms there.We fell to talking of Japanese gardens.
"You must see some of our fine gardens," he said, "before you leave Japan."
I mentioned some I had already seen-the gardens of the Crown Prince, the Prime Minister, Marquis Okuma, Viscount Shibusawa, Baron Furukawa, and others.
"But do you understand our theory of the garden?"
I told him what little I then knew: that flowers are not essential to a garden in Japan; that, where used, they are generally set apart in beds, and removed when they have ceased to bloom; that because of the skill of the Japanese in transplanting large trees a garden of ancient appearance may be made in few years; that boundaries are artfully planted out, so that some houses, standing on a few acres of ground in great cities, appear to be surrounded by forests; that small garden lakes are sometimes so arranged as to suggest that they are only arms of large bodies of water concealed from view by wooded headlands; and that optical illusions are often employed to make gardens seem much larger than they are, this being accomplished by a cunning scaling down in the size of the more remote hillocks, trees, and shrubs, increasing the perspective.
Also, I had seen examples of the kare sensui school of landscape gardening-waterless lakes and streams, their beds delineated in sand, gravel, and selected pebbles, and their banks set off by great waterworn stones brought from elsewhere, and by trees and shrubs carefully trained to droop toward the imaginary water-water the more completely suggested by stepping-stones and arched bridges reaching out to little islands, with stone lanterns standing among dwarf pines.
I knew, too, of the fondness of the Japanese for minor buildings in their gardens. Thus in the garden of Viscount Shibusawa, there is an ancient Korean teahouse of very striking architecture; in that of Dr. Takuma Dan, General Manager of the vast Mitsui interests, a farmhouse several centuries old; in that of Baron Okura, a famous museum of Chinese and Japanese antiquities and art works; and in the gardens of Baron Furukawa and Baron Sumitomo, smaller private museums. Tucked away in the corner of one garden near Kobe I had even seen a little factory in which the finest wireless cloisonné was being made, the owner of that garden having a deep interest in this art and using the productions of his artist-workmen to give as presents to his friends. And of course in many gardens I had seen houses built especially for the cha-no-yu, or Tea Ceremony.
Moreover, I had been to garden parties at some of which luncheons were served under marquees of bamboo and striped canvas, while at others were offered entertainments consisting of geishadancing and juggling. At such parties souvenirs are always given-fans and kakemono painted by artists on the premises, or bits of pottery which, after being painted, are glazed and fired, and still warm from the kiln, presented to the guests.
"Yes, yes," said my venerable friend, "you have seen a good deal; but as to the history and theory of our gardens, what do you know?"
"Very little," I admitted, and asked him to enlighten me.
Japanese landscape gardening began twelve hundred years ago, when the Emperor Shomu, in residence at Nara, sent for a Chinese monk who was famed for his artistry and ordered him to beautify the ancient capital. This the monk accomplished chiefly by cutting out avenues among the lofty trees which to this day make Nara not only a place of supreme loveliness, but one rich in the aroma of antiquity. Thus came the first period of landscape gardening in Nippon, the Tempyo period.
Five and a half centuries ago the second period began when, in the terrain surrounding the Kinkakuji Temple at Kyoto, gardens containing lakes, rocks, and gold-pavilioned islands were constructed in resemblance to the natural scenery near the mouth of the Yangtse River in China.
The third period is best represented by the gardens of the arsenal in Tokyo. These were made three hundred years ago by a Chinese master named Shunsui, who was brought to Japan for the purpose by the Lord of Mito, brother of the shogun who at that time ruled Japan. In order to get water for this park a canal thirty miles long was constructed, and this same canal later supplied water to the city of Yedo, as Tokyo was then called.
The current period is the fourth, and it is the aim of the present-day masters to combine in their work all the fine points of the preceding periods. This development is largely due to the ease of modern transportation, which has enabled the landscape gardeners of our time to travel widely and become familiar with the best work of their distinguished predecessors and the finest natural scenery. For instance, the Shiobara region, in northern Japan, a district famous for its lovely little corners, has been the inspiration for many modern gardens.
"And now," said my learned friend as we paused in a little shelter of bamboo and thatch, overlooking the corner of a lake bordered with curiously formed rocks and flowering shrubs, "I will tell you the great secret of this art; for of course you understand that with us landscape gardening is definitely placed as one of the fine arts." He paused for a moment, then continued: "The one sound principle for making a garden wherever water is used is what may be called the volcanic principle. That is to say, the artist in landscape gardening should go for his themes to places of volcanic origin; for in such places the greatest natural beauty is found.
"And why? First of all, you have hills of interesting contours, made by eruptions. Then you have mountain lakes which form in the beds of extinct volcanoes. Our famous Lake Chuzenji, above Nikko, for example. From these lakes the water overflows, making splendid falls, like those of Kegon, which empty out of Lake Chuzenji. Below the falls you have a torrent rushing down a rocky valley, like the River Daiya, which flows from the Kegon Falls past Nikko, where it is spanned by the famous red-lacquered bridge. There is the basis for your entire garden composition.
"But you must also remember that volcanic outpourings make rich soil. This soil, thrown into the air by volcanic explosions, settles in the crevices of rocks. Pines take root in it. But in some places the pocket of soil is small; wherefore the roots of the pine cannot spread, and the tree becomes a dwarf, gnarled and picturesque. Again, on the hillsides the rich soil makes great trees grow, with rich shrubbery and verdure beneath them. The torrent completes the landscape effect by sculpturing the rocks into fascinating forms. In that combination you have every element required. Reproduce it in miniature, and your garden is made."