This is the bimonthly information program of Murin-an Garden.
It provides information on Japanese gardens, invitations to events that help foster the garden and seasonal highlights.
The name of this bimonthly is Sara-Sara News.
What does “sara-sara” mean? In Japanese, this word is used to evoke a gentle rustle or murmuring sound in nature. We have adopted it from a passage in a poem by Yamagata Aritomo, Murin-an’s original owner. It reads
At the end of a water stream/That murmurs gently as it travels hidden beneath the shade of trees/I see a fish leap
We chose this publication’s title to reflect our hope that, like the ceaseless flow of the murmuring brook flowing around Murin-an, the encounters here will produce a current toward nurturing Japanese gardens for the future.
On winter mornings that freeze even one’s breath over, we begin cleaning Murin-an’s garden at 7:00 AM. White frost falls upon the lawn at the garden’s center and gleams brightly under the sunrise. Once the frost falls, the moss may no longer be stepped upon.
The frozen moss has formed a glass-like layer that can crumble irreparably. We perform the work that we can as we patiently wait for the frost to melt. One important job during the winter is fertilizing the trees, known in Japanese as kangoe, or winter fertilizing. We do this work in the hope that the garden’s trees will be able to withstand the hot summer to come.
Underneath the light wheat color of a desolate winter lawn, the buds of the coming spring are beginning to stir. The days grow longer and the frozen over wash basin finally starts to melt. Now is the time to begin cleaning the moss once again.
The beautiful autumn leaves have brought us a much-awaited fall season. This is the time when gardens viewed from inside a room take on a whole new charm. As a matter of fact, when gardeners tend to their gardens, they also consider the view from the inside of rooms. Because garden trees nearby buildings especially stand out, gardeners strive as much as possible to prune them naturally to keep them from looking like they have been trimmed, while also preventing them from looking heavy and shaggy by gently tidying their branches just enough so that the scenery behind them remains visible. Conversely, they also prune the trees along the garden’s outer circumference, which is the most distant scenery seen from inside a building, so that it forms a skyline and also screens out the buildings outside the garden. This autumn, take your time in enjoying the branches of the maple trees as well as their fall colors.
The Daimonji Festival: A Kyoto Summer Tradition
It is customary in Kyoto to tie up ashes produced by this festival in a decorative mizuhiki cord and place them inside a house’s foyer area. As you can see from the picture above, after the festival’s fire on August 16, we also hang a mizuhiki cord in the foyer space of Murin-an’s main building. This cord acts as a protective charm against disease and disaster in the year to come. There are even people who climb to the top of Mt. Daimonji as early as 4:00 AM the next morning to get some of the extinguished ash from this festival. Today, people come from all over Japan for the Daimonji Festival, but it is also a festival that has deep roots in the everyday lives of the people of Kyoto.
Summer has arrived and our quince fruits are ripening. These quince fruits are located right by the garden path on the Murin-an lawn area. In April, the quince tree had red flowers on it, but with the passing of spring, it began to bear fruit. The flavor of the fruits is so sour that they cannot be eaten by themselves. They taste best when dipped in something sweet like honey. Murin-an’s owner Yamagata Aritomo used his own original view of gardens to incorporate trees such as quinces and firs that were filled with a rustic beauty, but had hardly ever been used as garden trees before. Because this quince tree also makes up part of the scenery seen from the main building, for which the Higashiyama mountains are the center point, we blend it in by pruning it as low as possible while still maintaining its natural appearance.
Murin-an now has its own garden café.
Until now, our visitors had been able to enjoy matcha tea in the main building, but as of this year we now have a full menu featuring coffee, roasted green tea, and Murin-an’s original brand of “dorayaki” red-bean pancakes. Enjoy spending some slow time just as you please in a space with a view of a Japanese garden masterpiece maintained in superior condition.
Our garden café is open all year round. Please come anytime to enjoy the changing seasons of the garden.
Click here for more information about the café.
The garden in summer is filled with stilly lingering shadows that give it a beautiful look, but the living things inside the garden are as busy as ever. For this season, cleaning the stream is one of the most characteristic forms of care that we invest in the garden.
The stream that flows into Murin-an from the Lake Biwa Canal easily breeds algae, and is therefore cleaned around twice a week. This process is actually very important to producing the garden’s beauty. When you look at a Japanese garden, what strikes about the beauty of its water? In the case of the gardens of Japan’s Meiji period (1868-1912), the look of the stones at the bottom of the stream is what gives it its refreshingly cool look. Nothing could be more different from a pond whose bottom cannot be seen because it has become clouded over by algae and mud! Because cleaning the stream muddies the water that travels to the next garden, we are always sure to contact the neighboring restaurant Hyotei first. It’s a kind of interaction you only see in Kyoto.
The man who built Murin-an, Yamagata Aritomo, once waxed poetically that “its flowers whose names I do not even know, that grow amid the lush green moss, are also a delight.” We can also tell from the words on the garden’s memorial stone how much Yamagata cherished these wildflowers, which others might simply refer to as weeds, and left them in their natural state rather than picking them. Based on this knowledge, at Murin-an, we foster approximately fifty varieties of wildflowers, mainly on the garden’s central lawn where they can be fully appreciated. From the dead of winter through March, our gardeners pick apart one by one the buds that should be preserved from those that should not. It is a grueling task, but come Golden Week (Japan’s week-long holiday during the first week of May), a picturesque landscape appears. In this very early period of spring, you can see the gardeners silently working on the lawn as they dream about the wildflowers in full bloom.
Water streams are a major characteristic of gardens from the Meiji period (1868-1912). Not only do they serve a symbolic function, but they also have a rich warble resembling that of a brook in nature. At Murin-an, you can hear the pleasant sound of water ringing out from wherever you are in the garden. The sounds also have many different expressions. The sounds you hear from inside Murin-an’s main house are entirely different from those heard in the garden. Each of these different sounds is produced through the technique of consciously placing cascade stones. Now that’s sound design. Birds and fish flock to streams like this one. This is a season where even cleaning the pond floor becomes a pleasure.
Once again this year, we’ve prepared an “uprooted pine” (nebiki-matsu), a Kyoto New Year’s pastime. Decorative pine trees (kadomatsu) for the New Year’s holiday are seen all over Japan, but in Kyoto gates and foyer areas are decorated with a pine sapling with its root still intact. Our uprooted pine is wrapped in a decorative cord made from twisted paper called mizuhiki and decorates the main house’s foyer area to the side of the ticket counter. The fact that it has its root attached is meant, among other things, as a prayer for continued healthy growth in the new year. It is also thought to be an object that a divine spirit can enter in order to bring happiness.
The evergreen pine tree is also used in gardens as a symbol of eternity. One theory even holds that the origin of the word for pine tree in Japanese, matsu, comes from the word tatematsuru, meaning to make an offering to the gods. As one learns about the view of plants that has been nurtured by human activities, gardens become increasingly enjoyable. Come enjoy a leisurely New Year’s holiday at Murin-an, where even in winter there are still so many things to see.
We also offer free ten-minute tours. Come and enjoy the new winter season here.
Why not renew your spirit with a New Year’s tea ceremony? Enjoy a tea ceremony experience in a tearoom that is right in the middle of the garden. Murin-an’s tearoom sits right by the water stream. From inside the tearoom, the stream is not visible, but it is always audible, an effect that brings a quiet tranquility to tea ceremony time. As you enter the garden that unfolds outside, you should be able to appreciate it even more deeply.
At Murin-an, a modern Japanese garden masterpiece, we have been getting ready amid the cold winter air for a spirit-renewing New Year’s holiday with an uprooted pine (featured on the cover) and other preparations.
During the New Year’s season, Murin-an’s gardeners use young bamboo to replace the bamboo fences and barriers. Young bamboo is also used in the world of tea to express a “just for you” level of reception when entertaining an important guest. We are now getting ready so that we can welcome the coming of a new spring to the garden together with all of you. Experience how good it feels to have refreshingly young bamboo inside the garden.