Flat Garden (Hira Niwa) Edo Period, c. 17th and 18th centuries

the flat garden was a mostly secular residential garden type which also appeared adjacent to some temple residence halls. It was first mentioned in the Tsukiyama Teizoden, a garden treatise compiled in 1735 in which the flat garden, or hira niwa, was described in contrast with the hill garden (tsukiyama niwa), another type of residential garden. Although both terms were meant as classifications of gardens of the mid-Edo Period contemporary with the Tsukiyama Teizoden, some later historians of Japanese garden design began using them to categorize historical gardens as well.

Typically flat gardens consciously combined features of the late rock garden with others adopted from the tea garden. Even at temples flat gardens were without the rigorous spiritual connotations of the Zen dry landscape, but were designed in a pleasing, decorative manner with the introduction of many more plants. A flat area of gravel, typically adjacent to the residence from which it was viewed, was bordered on the far side by shrubs, trees and suggestive rock arrangements. Other features might have included garden ornaments such as pagodas (tahoto), water basins, wells, lanterns, and stepping stones used as accents and focal points. Such ornaments, particularly garden lanterns, water basins and stepping stones were innovations introduced to Japanese garden design in the landscaping of rustic huts (soan) intended for the practice of the tea ceremony. They did not appear in Japanese gardens prior to the late 16th century.

AT THE MORIKAMI, the designer has made the distant view of The Morikami Museum the focus of the hira niwa here. Glimpsed between hillocks and shrubbery which define the actual physical limits of the garden site, the tile-roofed museum building is drawn in from afar to become the backdrop of the immediate landscaped area. The technique, called shakkei, or ‘borrowed scenery’, is common to flat gardens which offer views beyond their enclosures. While the usual element of scenery may be a glimpse of a distant mountain peak, man-made structures are not unknown.