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.
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.
Murin-an is a representative work among Japan’s modern gardens and has been designated as one of Japan’s Places of Scenic Beauty. In 1896, elder statesman Yamagata Aritomo constructed by communicating to Ogawa Jihei VII his idea for a garden incorporating water from the recently completed Lake Biwa Canal and using the Higashiyama Mountains as its center point. This same Murin-an garden is now being restored according to preservation policies that stay faithful to Yamagata’s original design intention. In this issue, we shall introduce the restoration efforts being made for the garden path.
Deep inside the Murin-an garden, where the scenery changes with each step, there is a small pathway that extends from the maple forest grove to the pond. Until now, this path had been closed, but thanks to the recent restoration, visitors can now walk along it down to the pond shore. If you walk to the end of the garden path, you can see many important elements of the garden. For this season of autumn colors, we have brought another new maple-surrounded scene back to life.
A way to look at autumn leaves that only gardeners know about.
Wouldn’t knowing this be sure to make autumn more fun?
On the garden path stretching from the main house of Murin-an to the lawn area, there is a small path just beyond the water-crossing stones that heads a little off to the side. Try walking to the end of it as you pass by. As you gaze upon the waterfall at the end of the garden, a scene with an incredible feeling of depth unfolds before your eyes. The secret behind this depth is the several layers of autumn leaves stretching out in front of the waterfall. Not only do you get the feeling of spatial depth, but you can even feel the depth of time as you contemplate the many autumn seasons that have come and gone here. Such scenery is produced only by properly considering the role played by each and every branch in the overall scene. Now this is the technique of a true gardener. As you continue noticing other things, you will see a number of spatial compositions that produce a feeling of depth by positioning the autumn foliage branches in front. This is an important technique seen not only at Murin-an, but commonly used for garden trees in Japanese gardens.
Try focusing a little on things like these on an autumn day stroll. It will add another thing to enjoy during your visit to the garden.
Why not forget the Kyoto summer heat at a garden so still and quiet it feels like your own private space?
This is Kusakawa-cho, Nanzen-ji. As you pass through a gate that has been sprinkled with cool water, you are greeted by Murin-an, a modern Japanese garden masterpiece. Here at the garden villa of Yamagata Aritomo, one of the elder statesmen of Japan’s Meiji period, time passes slowly, just as it did when he lived there. At this painstakingly maintained Japanese garden, our smiling staff greets you with a friendly “welcome back.” The beautifully unfolding garden slowly changes into a small and quiet pathway with lush moss all around it and an expansive view of the deep mountain scenery that lies beyond the waterfall.
As you gaze upon the garden while taking a break in the main house, the Higashiyama Mountains, still bathing in late summer sunlight, carries the autumn breeze right to you. As you close your eyes to savor the warble of the brook that flows before your feet, you can feel a cool sensation cleanse your psyche.
Why not visit a garden where you can relax to the fullest and create some memories of the end of summer?
Gardeners visit Murin-an everyday in order to tend to its needs. When a sudden glance causes us to notice an expanding scenery that is cleaner and has a more sharply defined look than yesterday, it is then that we feel the responsibility that comes with this work of being entrusted with scenery.
In this issue, we will introduce the work of replacing the supports for pine trees. You may have already seen pine trees that are supported by a log to keep their beautifully outstretched branches from breaking. At Murin-an, we also have a pine tree that is supported by such a post. Even when it comes to a “supporting role” like this, it is in a gardener’s nature to want to use material that blends into the garden. The other day we replaced this support with natural wood. This means working with a natural design, so work begins by searching for material of the right length and thickness to support the pine tree. The log’s length is then measured so that it fits properly under the tree. As expected, when the work was finished, the scenery took on a far greater feeling of unity and presence. Please visit Murin-an to savor this painstaking commitment to detail for yourself.
Looking Forward to a Program to Gather People to the Garden through Cooperation between Kyoto’s Young Cultural Leaders and Murin-an
Anika (Public Relations) What are the characteristics of the Murin-an Partners Seminar?
Ota (Murin-an Management Office Director) Gardens originally were cultural intersection points where the worlds of tea, incense and literature all interacted with one another. Our hope is to rise to the challenge of utilizing Murin-an, a designated Place of Scenic Beauty, while also preserving it as a cultural property.
Yamada (Murin-an Program Director) Another characteristic is that Murin-an thinks together with instructors about what doing a program at Murin-an means so that programs are planned to be oriented toward Murin-an from the start. What I found especially interesting when speaking to Tyas in preparation for this seminar series was that he conceives of Japanese tea and the tea ceremony, traditional things whose style is in a sense already established, entirely from his own perspective as “Tyas from Europe who has mastered the tea ceremony.” Even when he talks about Japanese tea, he doesn’t have any manual for what he says, but has always confirmed things with his own body. His basic technique is solid, but beyond that, he has acquired new knowledge on his own through a perspective that has a mold-breaking freedom to it. I felt that if we could communicate Tyas’s perspective to visitors at Murin-an, a garden which is an open cultural intersection point, it could lead to an exciting society that revolves around Japanese culture.
Tyas (Murin-an Partner Instructor) Sure. I first became interested in Japan through Japanese novels during my high school days in Belgium. In college, I used to lay down a tatami mat in my room and study with a Japanese writing desk on top of it (laughter). I learned at that time about sencha (green tea made from whole tea leaves). Lacking any sort of knowledge in the beginning, I brewed the tea by boiling tea leaves in an iron kettle, but I still thought that Japanese tea was delicious. And when I studied abroad at a Japanese university, I was introduced to my present teacher and learned the Buke style (samurai family-style) of tea ceremony.
Anika How does Murin-an differ from other places you have taught so far?
Tyas There’s no other place that has this open feeling of space. Inside a tearoom, everything is closed off so that you almost forget that you are inside a garden, but the second floor of the main building has such an extensive view and only Murin-an has that feeling of seeming to be outside even though you’re inside. There are also times when I hold tea ceremonies entirely outside along the Kamo River, but that’s different, after all, from holding a tea ceremony in a garden.
Yamada We are very committed to the idea of there being a meaning behind doings things at Murin-an, and we’ve also asked a lot of you in terms of doing something that is more than just a demonstration, but I wonder how you felt about that.
Tyas I don’t feel as though you’ve asked that much of me and I think, to the contrary, that that’s how it should be. Whenever you do anything, I think that unless you do it not just any old way, but with a proper idea in mind and some hope for how you want it to go, it’s pointless. This is a designated cultural property of Kyoto and so I think you must have an attitude that reflects that because you are doing things in a place that has a long history.
Anika I can really feel that your policies and Murin-an’s policies match each other well. What is the content and atmosphere of the seminar like?
Tyas The main theme is the human activities that we can see in Japanese tea, which was created through the particular climate and lifestyle of Japan. The taste, of course, is also important. At every session, we relax and learn together. We use conversation to move the tea ceremony forward and do things together in a convivial atmosphere like that of visiting a friend’s house.
Anika So an open space leads to an open gathering.
Yamada There is also a meaning behind the fact that it doesn’t end with just one session. Our goal is to produce exchange among people who come here repeatedly and to have that result in a new society. We want to get participants who have gotten to know each other to also talk outside Murin-an about how wonderful it is to gather together in Japanese gardens. Another goal is that we hope that people respond to these events by becoming Murin-an members. That’s difficult to achieve on an individual basis, but if we already have a space made up of people who know each other by face, I think that they will have affection for that space. I think that the connections between these people will become a force toward fostering gardens for the future.
Anika So it’s not just a pretty place, but a meeting place.
Yamada Yes. Having memories of “that thing that happened here that one time” entirely changes the way the garden looks and makes it into a living place, doesn’t it? In Japan, there are many cultural institutions that are run like rental spaces. However, German theaters, for example, are actively involved in their performance programs. By clearly indicating to a certain degree what the stance of the institution is in terms of what should be done and for what purpose, we believe a dialogue that transcends position can be produced out of which we can expect a greater diversity to evolve.
Ota That’s right. At Murin-an, the basis of our approach is that we want to make it a space where people can experience the “everyday life cherished by Yamagata Aritomo.” Therefore, when we send out our programs, we also want to send out something that has the fun feeling of daily life, but is still substantial. We hope that Murin-an will become a place where more people can enjoy Japanese gardens in a livelier way.