Paradise Garden (Jodo Teien) Kamakura & early Muromachi Periods

the paradise garden developed from about the 12th century out of a newly acquired faith in Amida Nyorai, the Buddha who presides over a heaven-like realm beyond the western horizon called the Pure Land (Jodo). The breakdown of civil order, which threatened the security of life among the Heian court nobility, and a preoccupation with mappo, the pre-ordained collapse of Buddhist law, fostered widespread belief in the salvation promised by this compassionate deity.

Paradise gardens were created at temples of the new faith as a means of visualizing Amida’s western paradise, the Pure Land, here on earth. Such gardens took many forms, some very similar in appearance to the secular shinden gardens which preceded them, although they were laid out adjacent to temple buildings housing images of Amida rather than aristocratic residences. The shared notion guiding the design of all such gardens was that they were to provide solace and hope for people jeopardized by uncertainty in their everyday lives.

AT THE MORIKAMI, the designer draws inspiration from a type of paradise garden which for the first time featured paths for strolling the perimeter of the garden lake or pond. Paths led from vantage point to vantage point from which changing scenery could be viewed. Such gardens were not built for the lifestyle of the Heian nobility but for the men and women of the newly arisen samurai class whose manner of attire allowed them greater freedom out-of-doors. Garden paths typically led to a pavilion overlooking the pond in which guests would gather to enjoy the recently imported fashion of drinking tea.

As in the earlier shinden landscaping, plantings in paradise gardens usually were not trained or trimmed to specific shapes but were allowed to grow naturally. Similarly, the use of garden accents such as stone lanterns and stepping stones were not yet a part of garden design, although the ponds of such gardens were sometimes laid out in the shape of the written character “kokoro” (‘heart’ or ‘soul’), perhaps an allusion to Amida’s all-encompassing compassion. This precedent is followed at The Morikami.