Late Rock (Sekitei) Muromachi Period, c. 15th century
IN JAPAN, flat expanses of raked gravel, with little more than a few well chosen rocks carefully placed here and there, were the legacy of the early Zen rock garden which represented a tumbling waterfall. Laid out beside residence halls at Zen temples, these later rock gardens called ‘dry landscapes’ (karesansui) took abstraction of nature to an extreme never before seen in garden design. Almost devoid of plants, such gardens challenge our Western notions of what gardens should be, while their uniqueness as landscape designs have made them the most widely recognized of all Japanese garden types.
Such rock gardens were for viewing from vantage points within the adjacent temple buildings; the gardens themselves were not intended to be entered. They were conceived as an aid to meditation, the principle spiritual exercise of Zen in which a practitioner looks within himself for the way to salvation. Created as a means toward Zen self-examination and spiritual refinement, dry landscapes were meant to be the antithesis of gardens designed for pleasure or the gratification of the senses. Instead, the spare, austere arrangements of rocks were expected to help clear the mind of worldly attachments that would otherwise impede the attainment of enlightenment by this introspective means.
AT THE MORIKAMI, too, the designer has planned a dry landscape garden which dispenses with the superfluous in order to reveal only the essential qualities of nature. With a minimum of form and material, the garden at The Morikami seeks to reduce and distill nature to its most elemental, capturing the whole of a cosmic world in a small and finite space.