Category Archives: japanese trees & plants

Koto Jazz 73: Kubota Gardens

Spring into Summer has sprung and it’s time to visit your favorite outdoor places! The Kubota family created a stunning beautiful Japanese garden with mountainous waterfall landscapes, serene koi ponds, and a Zen garden in South Seattle. It is a gardens where many of my musical pieces were first inspired (Kubota Birds Water Dance and Raindrops Fall from Trees, for example). To me, the legacy leaves us much more. Fujitaro and family, including Tak and Tom, were interned at the Minidoka camp in Idaho during World War II, and came home to Seattle to say “I forgive” by presenting the City of Seattle with one of the premiere Japanese gardens in the Northwest. It is the former home of the Kubota family and their landscape business. Kubota Gardens may be the largest Japanese garden in North America and offers 22 acres of rolling hills, natural springs, and hiking/ walking trails, and of course, beautiful landscaped gardens. More information is available at http://www.kubotagarden.org/.

Advertisements

Koto Jazz 72: Koi (carp) & Nishikigoi (colored carp)

Here is a mini garden with a good mix of color combinations, land and sea image to create a balanced look and feel.

The highlight of this garden of course is the flowing carp swimming in the foreground.

The word ‘koi’ literally means carp, but also describes wild varieties of the common carp fish. Carp are a very hardy species and can withstand long travel. Around 1000 years ago, the carp made it’s way into Japan via China. Keeping koi was most popular with Japanese farmers who kept them as a source of food.

Sometime in the 1800s koi were kept in a closed breeding area to create colorful variations by the mutations over time. Out of personal interest, these new colored varieties were bred further and maintained as a hobby rather than as the traditional food source. These new ‘colored’ koi were called Nishikigoi.

The creation of these beautiful color variations in the early 1900s, brought about an explosion of koi caring as a hobby in Japan, and then worldwide. The Japanese turned the artistic form into a science. Japan is recognized today as the best koi breeders, today boasting as many as 13 color varieties!

You may source the koi symbol from Chinese legend about a carp that successfully swam to the top of a large waterfall on Yellow River became a dragon. Thus, koi symbolizes power and bravery, and overcoming adversity. The koi and Samurai have been a symbols of bravery for similar reasons. Like the Samurai facing death by the sword, the koi likewise, lies still beneath the knife.

KotoJazz 71: Mini Garden 3- Tree Base Mounds

There are creative ways to beautify city tree base mounds and their small spaces.

Here’s a simple yet gorgeous arrangement with two orange tea hucheras on each side of the space. It also features a few mini – ferns as well as ground cover types. The tree mound has a meandering black creek rock dry creek on one side of the tree mound. Large rocks are placed around the mini- garden to give a natural look and feel image.

This offers an attractive alternative to the rather unattractive look of most tree base mounds you see around town; another good example maximizing limited space. This one is located on 15th in Capitol Hill, Seattle.

KotoJazz 70: Water Features in Mini Garden

There are two water features in this mini garden my brother designed which bring his garden to life — a natural looking wood plug-in mini waterfall and the black pebble dry creek and pond.

With the water feature in the background and the black pebble pond in the foreground, he’s created a paradise in his small back yard with three Japanese maples – one purple lace maple to the right, a taller green Japanese maple providing shade to shade plants and flowers below such as hostas and Japanese irises, and a feathery lighter lace maple behind the water feature in the back corner of his space.

The garden also uses a wide variety of ground covers, including one flowering mound of pink in the foreground next to the deck along with blue flowering groundcovers, giving rise to natural imagery. This Japanese mini garden works in this small space because all the plants chosen complement each other, and everything is proportionately sized correctly, including white mini lantern on the side.

KotoJazz 69: Yellow Ornamental Grasses

Probably due to their unique and resplendent colors, I would say there are two top Japanese ornamental grasses that rival each other in popularity – the Japanese red blood grass and Japanese yellow forestgrass.

Of the two, only one is indispensable to a complete Japanese garden image – the forestgrass. In addition to its bright yellow hue, the Japanese forestgrass displays as a flowing cascading ornament unmatched in the world of grasses.

Varieties of yellow hairgrass and sedgegrass are more hardy versions. They can be used to accent a garden or garden area with a simple placement in the foreground of any garden area as pictured above.

Koto Jazz 68: Mini Garden

Simplicity is my theme here in this basic mini- garden in Boulder, Colorado. A total of only $10 was spent on this serene mini scene. While space is not as much a premium in the vast expand of this globally trend-setting Rocky Mountain city, I still brought my creative miniaturization impulses with me from the Pacific Northwest city life. This mini garden replaced a common area lawn that had completely died away.

I seek to capture the surrounding area using local assets such a variation of rock and stones, elegant spacing, mini flowering bulbs such as dwarf tulips and mini- daffodils, along with naturally growing ground covers such as violets and forget-me-nots. Being in this semi-arid region that boasts 320-plus days of sunshine a year, it also helps to add a few desertous (new word) plants as accents to the mini garden image. These include a bonsai-style and shaped juniper in the background, and an ornamental grass off to the left.

I used pinkish- white marble rocks to outline the plants and stones in this mini-garden. I also created a mini dry creek that meanders from one end of the mini-garden to the other to give it a natural flow. Finally, I made a pretty rough but natural lantern out of local stones and a brick. The beauty of mini-gardens is that they fit into spaces of just about any size. 🙂

KotoJazz 67: Spacing in Gardens

Probably the most well known concept around spacing in gardens is Mel Bartholomew’s “Square Foot Gardening”. This first and foremost applies to vegetable gardens, but can be applicable to spacing in ornamental gardens as well. Here is an exploration of spacing for garden designs.

All plants ornamental or otherwise, need space to grow, and a minimum of twelve inches apart is generally a good growing space principal. Open spaces are critical, especially in dry Zen gardens where open spaces represent the open sea. In Japanese gardens, open spaces are often the center piece of Japanese gardens, while plants and stones provide the backdrop or outline.

Koto Jazz 66: Gong Hay Fat Choy! Happy Chinese New Year! (belated)

Come join a celebration at the end of the Chinese New Year on March 6th, 6-8pm, Friday, Dragonfly Holistic Healing across from the Fremont bridge is having a “Chinese New Year” celebration open house, featuring koto jazz piano by Chris Kenji at Dragonfly Holistic Healing, 760 N. 34th Street, Seattle, WA 98103; Fremont neighborhood. Website: DragonflyHolisticHealing.com. Come join us for a Free Admission party. Gang Xi Fat Cai!

Koto Jazz 64: Balance in Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens seek to bring out the balance of the natural world. A key intent of Japanese gardens today is to replicate the natural world in smaller spaces; re-creating miniaturized versions of serene natural landscapes. In that re-creation, there are a few principles that bring across that image of balance, such as boundaries and regions that reflect the natural world.

Boundaries include regions divided by grass areas, or dry gravel areas. These can be divided by pathways, borders, or water. These borders can be rounded or straight edged, but remain consistently one or the other within the same region. These also include water borders, such as waterfalls, dry creek beds, flowing streams, ponds, and lakes.

A common number to create balance in the garden is the use of threes- three stones or three clumps of grasses. As a general rule, taller trees and plants are placed in the background, while shorter plants such as ornamental grasses and flowering plants are placed in the foreground.

So long as the plants create a natural flowing space, the garden can be minimalist with very little foliage, or it can be lush with carefully placed grasses and flowering plants and shrubs. Both can be accented with lanterns in the foreground, or off to the side.

A taller Japanese maple tree is always a good background for either approach, as are tall pogodas.

Koto Jazz 59: Stones & Rock Gardens

The Way of Zen and Zen values of simplicity (kanso), naturalness (shizo), and refined elegance are similar values expressed in the Japanese garden, and defines Japanese rock gardens. Stones and rocks derive from the natural banks of rivers and creeks. They provide accents for distinctive garden areas, including walkways, waterfall bases, creek borders, ponds and lakes, and garden sections. Rocks and pebbles of rock gardens are raked into patterns of flowing streams, undulating waves, and accents around larger stone island or bonsai trees, and other features. Other patterns can be checkered or angled or alternating lines.

Large feature stones are grouped by themselves or they are grouped in threes with a taller boulder standing regally behind two shorter boulders, presenting balance. All three stones are generally vertical, with the taller stone in the center representing The Buddha (one who has become enlightened), and the two other stones on each side representing two Bodhisattvas (one who is “bound for enlightenment; the two stones are called sanson). They are placed next to water, a body of water or water feature, as images of water features, natural hills and/or mountain scenes.

Bodies of water are represented in the Japanese garden by a pond or lake. In the case of dry Zen rock gardens where sand and gravel represent the sea or ocean, the stones would be placed next to or in the sand/ pebble garden. The scene of ocean and sea occupying the majority of the garden space (“chisen”) originates from China, as does the garden aesthetic and spirituality of Zen Buddhism. Groups of rocks on one or more sides of the body of water in the garden may represent the seashore.

Koto Jazz 58: Song Stories- Raindrops Fall from Trees (Ki Kara Amei No Shizuku)

This “Raindrops Fall from Trees” song is special as it originated with a fun music exchange with my daughter as we traded turns playing my keyboard one rainy spring day. She came up with a basic melody which is the basis of this song. The song conjures up the likeness of gentle raindrops falling on leaves and tree branches, then coalescing to slide off leaves and land on the moist earth below. It is like the gentle hands of the sky extending its reach to the earth to give us peace in solitude.

While I added to it, the original melody remains, on of the relaxing meditative tunes. It is a beautiful spontaneous expression my daughter came up with and she just as quickly and easily named it. “Why its raindrops falling from trees of course.” Yes, of course.

KotoJazz 54: Song Stories – Kubota Birds Rain Dance

Kubota Gardens sits on 20+ acres of Seattle City Park space in South Seattle, and has a range of walking, light hiking trails, including Japanese gardens landscape designed by Tom Kubota and family. (See Kubota Gardens history.)

Of the dozens of Japanese gardens all over the Asia Pacific and the U.S. that I’ve seen, Kubota Gardens is among the most nicely diverse Japanese gardens in the world, featuring traditional tea garden designs, bonsai pine pavilion, and even a Zen garden. While it’s intended to support a large volume of visitors it distinctly features both natural water springs and gorgeous waterfalls cascading into numerous ponds and inlets.

Though written just a week ago, my Kubota Water Dance tunes (to be recorded shortly) was inspired in this special space during the early spring season of 2014 underneath a lace Japanese maple with exposed leaf-free, winding, twisting green moss- clothed branches. Chickadees were frivolously doing a water dance — chirping and dancing under the maple tree on a drizzly cool day, and occasionally stopping for a droplet on the green moss or branches.

Koto Jazz 50: Japanese Cedar

A particular japanese cedar tree, sugi, is the national tree of Japan. Cryptomeria, also known as Japanese Cedar, was originally more function than form, but certain varieties have come to attract gardeners for its ornamental beauty. Though not related to cedars, it is in fact a bald cypress, they had been similarly exploited as a timber / lumber tree in Japan. However, their true lasting value may be in that they possess a wide variety of sizes, shapes, habitats, and textures. There are over 100 varieties, ranging from 6-80 feet in height.

As a timber source, the wood is a stunning pinkish to red in color, is a hard wood and is particularly resistant to decay. It is also used in bonsai as well as standard Japanese gardens for its draping, almost cascading needle branches, accenting a nicely designed garden (see image below).

The famous Jomon Sugi located on Yaku shima Island, Japan, is one of the world’s oldest living plants. It is estimated to be nearly 2,200 to 7,000 years old.

Reverse of many things Japanese, it is believed due to the age and varieties and other sources, that the Japanese cedar does in fact originate from Japan, though there are many species of the Japanese cedar populated across China and other parts of Asia.

KotoJazz 48: Japanese Ornamental Grasses

Though there are dozens of varieties of grasses that originate from Japan, there are three primary types of Japanese ornamental grasses. These are – Hakone grasses (also known as Golden forest grass), Silver grasses, and blood grasses.

Hakone Grass:
The golden forest grass can be a bright clump of cascading yellow grasses, or it might be a more light green shade if less exposed to the sun. These are ideal foreground accents for your garden as they remain fairly low to the ground.

Silver Grass:
Silver grasses are more appropriate for mid- to back- ground locations in your garden. They likewise grow in clumps, but much taller to 3-4 feet in height. Their stalks flower feathery seeds ranging in color from pinkish red to light cream or silver.

Blood Grass:
The popular Japanese blood grass gets its name from spiky red tips of these rare ornamental grasses, creating the image of grass on fire. These don’t grow in clumps like the others, but can spread to cover fairly large areas.

StiltGrass:
A fourth grass type worth noting that is not part of the above three primary grass groups, is the stiltgrass. Japanese stiltgrass, has the appearance of mini bamboo, green and growing low to the ground as a ground cover. Like bamboo, it can be invasive.

There are a number of other grass types commonly used in Japanese gardens that fall between the grass and moss categories that are commonly used as nice area ground covers.

Koto Jazz 41: Duality

Everything in life can have its duality.

Personally, it’s engrained in my blood and DNA. I am bi-racial, bi-cultural, once bilingual (not currently), and definitely bi-spiritual, among others.

In addition to “bi-“, there’s a duality in general, a duality of perspectives, a duality of existence. There is a duality in the political arena, a duality in social arenas too.  You walk down the street and some people are more interested in suburban convenience and others are more interested in access to the entertainment, arts and culture that the big city provides. There is a duality of east and west. There is a duality in science- one that believes in a supreme order and the other believes that all sources of life derive from chaos and chaos theory.

For me,  the great experience of life is its collision of the unknown into a synthesis of something more, which in its social form could be the defining characteristic we call “the great American experiment”. It doesn’t offer answers to the unknown, but it does offer freedom from needing to have answers. It is in the “process” of life that we achieve complete immersion in the present moment; that we achieve “understanding” which is quite different from “knowing”. Knowing has definition and finality; understanding neither seeks nor achieves either.

In gardening, the minimalist Zen garden contrasts with what we can call “maximalist” English garden. The maximalist English garden style offers a plethora of colors and floral varieties; mostly perennials. I love low maintenance, constantly flowering perennials (see the above photo)! At the same time, too much variety and color can be overwhelming.

On the other end of the gardening spectrum is the minimalist Zen garden. Again, a minimalist Japanese Zen influence can be settling with the scene of open space, simplicity and elegance. It offers room for the eye to appreciate the simple elegance of a single stone, a purple iris, or bonsai tree. It offers the opportunity for the mind to experience space, and fill the gaps with one’s own creative options conjured up in their own minds; and yes, even freedom from the need to fill in the space and find the beauty in open, uncluttered, undefined space.

In music, Koto jazz is in itself a bi-cultural duality. It proposes a piano synthesis of eastern influences sounds, melodies, and themes with western style jazz embellishments, rhythm and beat. Traditional Japanese nationals and westerners may be offended by their perceived in-authenticity of koto jazz as it takes from the purity of traditional music and modernizes it with new sounds, rhythm, and embellishments. In these cases, koto jazz music is not a fit for them. For those interested in exploring this duality in music and collision of two cultures and musical styles, koto jazz is an ideal genre for you.