For three days after New Year’s, our garden experts held special explanations describing in easily understood language the garden’s highlights, history and how to appreciate it. There were even some moments where participants showed great interest in how Murin-an’s original owner, Duke Yamagata Aritomo, rang in the new year. On each day, we prepared “scent gardens” to allow people to viscerally experience the garden’s spatial composition. They listened to the discussion while relaxing at a Japanese garden.
The rabbit-ear irises that thrill us with their indigo colors in May are now in their dormant period. Since their leaves have now lost their color too, we removed them. All that remains now is their stumps, which have grown larger underwater; the preparation to sprout new yellow-green buds for spring has begun. Until that time comes, they look almost as though they are listening to the light rhythm of the cascade while fast asleep.
To greet the new year, we changed Murin-an’s bamboo, which had turned a light brown. We bound the bamboo used for Murin-an’s concave screens (known as “inuyarai”) and its well cover and barrier fences with hemp-palm rope (or “shuro nawa”). Almost of all of this rope was handmade by Murin-an’s head gardener. Its green pipes and notches are now readily visible and bring a fresh new feeling of green to the garden.
On December 27 and 28 (Fri. and Sat.), we held our final tea ceremony lessons for the year. Just like last week, we finished off with lessons in the tea ceremony seated at a table (ryurei-dana). Here are some pictures of students reviewing right down to the details under the direction of their instructor, while also sometimes enjoying the convivial atmosphere.
As these still and quiet days continue, there are now eastern spot-billed ducks that fly to Murin-an as a rest stop. They’re usually here in the early morning, but today they were also here lazily taking their time in the afternoon. They always moved in pairs and you could sometimes see them looking for food too. These ducks’ characteristics are their yellow beak tips that stick out on both males and females. Since female ducks often look alike, this is one way of telling an eastern spot-billed duck apart.
Needle pruning for the Japanese black pines (kuromatsu) in front of the reception window has now finished. As part of their training, our gardeners worked under the instruction of Murin-an’s head gardener while completing a day’s work of disposing of old needles, clipping slender branches and plucking needles by hand, working two gardeners to a pine tree. “It’s tough to pluck while also considering overall balance so things don’t look artificial,” they said, and accordingly, they faced their pine trees and worked with looks of concentration in their eyes. The plucked needles brought a brighter feeling to the front entrance of Murin-an’s main house.
The gardenias that bloomed white flowers in June now bear fruits that have turned scarlet. These distinctive fruits are used for their naturally yellow pigmentation. In Japan, there is a dessert called Kuri Kinton made of candied chestnuts and sweet potatoes that is turned yellow by boiling yellow pigment from gardenias and dissolving it in broth. By fermenting their protein degradation, gardenia fruits are sometimes used as a natural blue pigment too. Green and yellow-green dyes can also be created by mixing together the yellow and blue colors and even red pigments can be extracted from these fruits. Hence, they are commonly used to create many natural dyes.
On December 18 (Wed.), we held our last kimono class for the month. After a lesson on how to wear the kimonos, our instructor taught students many things they need to know for the New Year’s season, including how to sit in seats, move their legs while moving up and down the stairs, and how to handle the hanging straps on trains. We shall continue holding these kimono wearing lessons covering things like basic kimono movements next year too.
We pruned the black pine (kuromatsu) in front of our reception window. Gardeners pluck pine needles by relying on the sensations in their fingertips. As they approach the tree’s canopy, there are many side shoots coming out of it, so they strike a balance by choosing the healthy-looking branches. To reduce the burden on the tree, they quickly pluck the needles that they can reach with their hands while keeping their feet on the ground and then repeat the work as they adjust their body positions to different places. In areas where the tree’s side shoots overlap in complex ways, they sometimes pluck needles while staying in very difficult positions. They continue this process as they move downward from the tree’s canopy.
On December 14 and 15 (Sat./Sun.), we held weekend guided garden tours at Murin-an. Our participants were interested in the garden’s ambience and the details of its creation, so we made these into our tour content as we strolled around the early winter garden. These guests not only took an interest in the garden they saw with their eyes, but also the one they heard with their ears, and were particularly fascinated by Murin-an’s moss.