Tag Archives: Japanese garden design

Koto Jazz 25: Pogodas & The 5 Elements

Every true traditional Japanese garden has a pogoda. The pogoda is distinguished from the lantern by its multiple layers of roofs. The temple pogoda, like the famous Nara Temple or the temple at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden (pictured above), is a thin tower with 5-13 floors, each of which has its own roof. Usually made of granite or basalt, it originates from Buddhist Asia, and can be found in Japan, China, Thailand, Korea, Vietnam and Nepal, according to My Oriental Garden. Unique in the Japanese garden, the pogoda is the primary ornamental focal point of the garden that is recognizably made in the image of man versus God; man-made. Perhaps, this symbolizes its religious origins, Buddhism and Taoism, as the enlightened person being in harmony with the natural world.

Functionally, the pogoda and lantern are clearly distinguishable in a Japanese garden. The lantern originates from Buddhist temples to light the pathway to the temple (see more information at Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns. The pogoda on the other hand, symbolizes the temple itself.

When a pogoda features five roofs and floors, it reflects back to the five elements of Buddhism, or “godai” (“gogy” in Chinese), also referenced to describe lanterns (see above link) – Wind (kaze), Water (sui or mizu), Earth (chi or tsuchi), Fire (ho, ka or hi) and Void or Spirit (ku). Sometimes a sixth element is included, Consciousness (shiki).

Note the (Confucian) “yin” and “yang” type of qualities of the five elements. The Wind (kaze) represents inward breathing and open mindedness. In Buddhist philosophy it can also mean evasiveness on the one hand, or compassion and wisdom on the other. Water (sui or mizu) adapts to the environment and changes with the seasons. It can also be associated with defensiveness on the one hand, and adaptability and flexibility on the other. The Earth (chi) (including plants), stable and solid as a stone and confident (ideals particularly in western cultures), can also mean stubbornness and resistance to change. Fire (ka) represents human drive and passion (ideals particularly in western cultures), but also unrestrained desire. Void or Spirit (ku) represents creative energy, spontaneity, and inventiveness.

I recently wrote a piece called Alpine Wind Storm representing the complete opposite and not at all consistent with Buddhist meaning of Wind ;-/, which is featured live here; other koto songs below are more symbolic of the Buddhist intended symbolism of the Wind and the other four elements:

  • Kozan No Kaze [or Alpine Wind (Storm)] (the 1st song in this medley),
    – Koto Jazz medley live at the Brass Tacks, Seattle (July 5th). Kozan no Kaze is inspired by world renowned jazz piano player, Li Pui Ming’s style of jazz which I call “chaos jazz” (my piece is also more “chaos jazz” than koto jazz). I will also feature this piece when I play at the Royal Room, Seattle in September (see events section)
  • 1) The Wind:

  • Koto Jazz 17: Miyazaki’s “The Wind Rises”.
  • Koto Jazz 8: The Wind and the Spirit.

  • 2) Water:

  • Koto Jazz 24: Waterfalls
  • Koto Jazz 7: Water, Water, Everywhere

  • 3) Earth (including plants):

  • Koto Jazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 20: Flowers in Japanese Gardens
  • Koto Jazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees
  • Koto Jazz 16: Bonsai
  • Koto Jazz 9: Islands of Japanese Gardens

  • 4) Fire:

  • Koto Jazz 12: Japanese Lanterns (& Lighting)

  • 4) Void or Spirit:

  • Koto Jazz 13: Koto Jazz & the Shinto Source
  • Reflections on Service & Spirituality
  • Advertisements

    Koto Jazz 23: Torii & Gateways

    Torii translated to mean “where birds dwell”, is symbolic of the entrance to Shinto Shrines, and the doorway to a sacred place. It also means the transition from the physical world to the spiritual world. The kasagi, or top beam of the torii, is often curved, suggesting the image of “wings”, as showing in the above photo of Tacoma’s Point Defiance Pogoda and Japanese Garden. The second beam, or shimagi, appears to be a support beam, located directly under the kasagi, and is slanted inward. A third and final cross beam, the nuki, is separate from the two upper beams, but not too far below them. The hashira are the two supporting pillars which hold up the torii. They are often rounded like poles, but can be square shaped as well. There might also be a small gakuzuka support post that connects the nuki and shimagi at the center.

    The significance to me of the spirit behind Shinto is it’s lack of a building structure such as a church, synogagogue, or mosque. The torii and the jinja (where the kami dwell) come closest to the spiritual place of worship of these western structures.

    Kami and nature are virtually the same. The way of the kami, or kannagara no michi, we become filled with the energizing spirit of nature, and positive and negative ions. Each kami possess positive and negative energy, good and evil. Musubi is the energy force that connects humans and nature and the world to each other as we strive to unite with our higher spiritual power. You may find more information at the Tsubaki Grand Shrine of North America , at http://www.tsubakishrine.org/.

    KotoJazz 22: 3 Key Elements to Japanese Gardens & Koto Jazz

    The Portland Japanese Garden (the Garden) website outlines the fundamentals of the Japanese garden succinctly. So many elements seem to come in threes – Shinto, Buddhist, Taoist – and then the three essential elements – stone, water, and plants (see Portland Japanese Garden, at http://japanesegarden.com/learn-more/gardens/). According to Wikipedia, “traditional Japanese gardens can be categorized into three types: tsukiyama (hill gardens), karesansui (dry gardens) and chaniwa gardens (tea gardens).” (see Wikipedia, Japanese gardens).

    Likewise in Koto Jazz, three fundamental elements are present in the music and sound that makes it unique – Japanese Koto, western influence (rhythm and jazz), and reverence to Nature. To continue this analogy, The Garden begins with the “bones” of the garden, stones. I would parallel this with the traditional Japanese koto musical roots of koto jazz. Though they may vary from one musical piece to another, traditional koto tunes with its spiritual roots provide the base of the “musical garden” of koto jazz. The Garden’s second element is water described as the “life-giving force” of the garden. Likewise in koto jazz, western influences of rhythm and jazz weave within and through koto jazz as its “life-giving force”. Finally, the Garden describes plants as the gardens’ tapestry of the four seasons. This is the embellishment and coloring of the garden landscape, just as inspiration from Nature provides the embellishment and coloring of koto jazz music.

    Other physical elements such as pagodas, stone lanterns, water basins, arbors, maples, and bridges, are provided by this kotojazz.com blog. Feel free to scroll down for information about these elements of the Japanese garden. The above image is a scene in the Portland Japanese Garden showing varieties of colored Japanese maples and a bridge.

    On July 5th at 9pm, you have the opportunity to see some of this koto jazz music on display at the Brass Tacks, Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle. It’s an exciting opportunity to first hand experience the creative energy and spiritual presence of koto jazz. For more information, see “events section” of this website. I hope to see you there!

    KotoJazz 21: Moss in Japanese Gardens

    In Japanese Zen gardens, “each element in the Zen garden is symbolic; stones represent mountains, sand represents water, and moss represents islands” (source: see Moss Acres link below). Each element plays a role in a miniature natural scene of great beauty.

    My favorite, the fern moss, is a spitting image of larger ferns with broader frays narrowing toward pointed ends. The fern moss is ideal for shaded areas and needs minimal sunlight. The fern moss, which are relatively flat, can be complemented by other moss. The tree moss, or Hair Cap moss, has the appearance of a miniature tree. Each unit grows taller and in clumps, which more effectively represents the look of an island. Likewise, the Cushion moss, grows in distinctive rounded clumps. This gives the appearance of islands a midst the bear earth or sand, which may represent the water or sea. The moss featured in the photo above of the famous Ryoan-ji Zen Garden in Kyoto, appears to be tree moss. This particular rock has always reminded me of the famous Haystack Rock in Cannon Beach, Oregon.

    Mosses in Japanese rock gardens provide a very clean design and manicured appearance. Unlike grass, most all mosses are highly resilient and adaptable, and less vulnerable to extreme weather conditions of heat or cold. They simply go dormant. The moss’ unique biological structure enables it to grow places where most plants cannot, as it prefers nutrient-poor soil. Moss is able to absorb pollutants such as nitrates and ammonia, as well as humidity and nutrients directly from the air. This is why you find mosses growing virtually anywhere and on anything!

    A useful tool for our daily lives, is a simple ritual the monks of Saiho-ji (near Kyoto) established for their visitors. Reminiscent of my own childhood calligraphy lessons in Tokyo, visitors to this famous moss garden and temple sit and write or trace the characters of a Buddhist scripture (sutra) while the monks chant in worshipful trans-formative music. Looking back at my calligraphy lessons at Japanese public school, this ritual is related to the calligraphy art form, which emphasizes a spiritual connection by the calligrapher with the peaceful flow and natural order of each Kanji character.

    From here, visitors walk the paths of the temple and gardens, and perhaps meditate at the most famous dry Zen garden, Ryoan-ji. “Moss is the grounding element, an island of green around many of the 15 iconic rocks edged in raked white gravel,” as elegantly described by Susan Heeger of Garden Design Magazine (see link below).

    Here are a few informative websites about moss:

  • Ryoan-ji Zen Garden (rock and moss garden)
  • Moss Acres
  • Real Japanese Gardens
  • Garden Design Magazine
  • Photos: Ryoan-ji Temple moss garden
  • KotoJazz 20: Flowers of Japanese Gardens

    Ikebana
    Like bonsai, the art of Japanese flower arrangement, or Ikebana, derives from Zen aesthetics and design. Carefully placed flowers are arranged elegantly with a combination of grasses and flowers. Some of these flowers are described below.

    Japanese Irises
    Irises are a classic – like cherry blossom and chrysanthemum, you’ll often see them in Japanese crests. Irises are used in water gardens, around the edge of a pond – or in dry gardens (rock, moss or gravel symbolizing a pond). Irises planted around the edges expand on the image of a pond or dry gardens as the sea or ocean. Unlike the western bearded irises, Japanese irises are commonly smaller, thinner, more delicate, and not bearded.

    Chrysanthemum
    Chrysanthemums, the national flower of Japan are symbolic of long life and health. The flower also symbolizes the autumn season. Native to China and Japan, chrysanthemums are hardy flowers, able to subsist in zones 5-9. Flowers include red, orange, yellow, white and lavender.

    Lotus
    Japan holds the lotus to be sacred, which comes from Hinduism and Buddhism. The lotus flower is likewise represented as sacred in Buddhism, symbolizing the progress of the mind toward Enlightenment. It grows from muddy depths through the waters of experience and “blooms in the sunshine of enlightenment,” according to Religion Facts. Lotus can be white, pink, red or blue. Some lotus can be perennials; survive cold winter months.

    Azaleas & “Rhodies”
    Part of the same evergreen family, azaleas and rhododendrons have similar leaves and blooms. However, azaleas, like the ones pictured above lining the garden stone steps, are much smaller in size. These are popular shrubs used in Japanese gardens. White flowering azaleas and rhododendron are used the most. Both of these flowering shrubs can be white, pink, red, orange and purple in color.

    “Hana ni arashi” (literally translated means “a storm over blossoms”), is a shortened version of, “Tsuki ni muragumo, hana ni arashi”. ” These popular Japanese proverbs mean “Life often brings misfortune at a time of great happiness” or “Nothing is certain in this world”. It is reminiscent of the popular phrase “shikataganai”, meaning “it can’t be helped”. This is the fatalistic nature of the Japanese people; fatalistic, maybe not from a western perspective of the meaning, but a general acceptance of the inevitability of things to come.

    KotoJazz 19: Japanese Maple Trees

    The two English translations of the Japanese maple, or “momiji”, are “baby’s hands” and “becomes crimson leaves”. The first meaning has some Japanese cultural significance. It is believed that passing a newborn baby through the branches of a Japanese maple encourages a long, healthy and prosperous life for the child. The second meaning is best described by a popular Japanese expression, “Yama ga moeru” which means “burning mountain in autumn”. You may have the opportunity to see an entire mountainside of wild Japanese maples turn a fiery red in the autumn season.

    Here are koto music about trees, leaves, and related themes:

  • Japanese Garden
  • Through The Leaves
  • Hidden Inside The Leaves
  • Red Koto
  • Sounds for the Soul: Koto & Nature
  • Japanese & Chinese Koto Harp & Shakuhachi Flute
  • My Sakura, Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Raindrops from Trees (Ki Kara no Ame no Shizuku), Koto Jazz by Kenji
  • Black Pine Bonsai, Koto Jazz by Kenji

    The most popular of Japanese maples are the red and green variations, but there are countless (over 1,000) variations of colors, sizes and shapes of both the leaves and trees. The Japanese red maple has been cultivated for over 300 years. The Iroha- momiji, or green leaf Japanese maple is native to the Korean Peninsula, China, and Japan. The wild Japanese maple has green leaves in the spring and summer that turn yellow, orange, bright red, pink, or purple in the fall. Younger trees take on the shape of a large challis or bowl, while more mature trees are layered and have a dome-shaped image. Somewhat unique to the Japanese maple is that a parent Japanese maple tree may produce seedlings that have completely different shapes, colors, sizes and structures than its parent (a message here for our own parenthood?).

    The flowers come in spherical clusters and have five purple or red sepals and five white petals. They give the bare branches an attractive red glow in early spring.

    It is customary for Japanese people to take an annual autumn trek to the mountains of Japan, known as momiji-gari (“Maple tree hunting/ viewing”). This is similar to Canadians and Americans who take annual treks to the mountains for viewing the yellowing of aspen in the western Rocky Mountains; or the east- and midwesterners viewing the coloring of maple trees. However, momiji-gari has a spiritual significance. For most Japanese, this annual trek is also a Shinto spiritual trip to commune with the spirits who dwell in the trees, the mountains, and elsewhere in the Natural world.

  • KotoJazz 18: Japanese Garden Bridges

    Japanese garden design is strongly connected to spirituality. Shinto, Buddhism and Taoism are often the source in the creation of different garden styles. They are intended to be places of peace for meditation and spiritual contemplation and prayer.

    While bridges have become path ways linking garden visitors from one part of the garden to another, bridges do have spiritual meaning in Japanese gardens. Some bridges symbolize the path to paradise and immortality. The famous Kyoto garden bridge, Byōdō-in, connects the Phoenix pavilion with a small island of stones, representing the Mount Penglai or Mount Horai, the island home of the Eight Immortals of Daoist teaching.

    Other special islands in the Zen Buddhist tradition, such as the crane and tortoise islands, are sacred and not accessible by bridge. If one sees a bridge to an island in this type of garden pond, these are ordinary islands called nakajima (since they are accessible to the public). See KotoJazz 9: Island of Japanese Gardens for more information.

    Bridges can also simply serve as functional links between different eco-regions or sections of the Japanese garden. Stone bridges are called ishibashi. Wooden bridges are dobashi. Arched bridges are known as soribashi and flat bridges are hirabashi. While most bridges are not colored, the red painted temple bridges come from China.

    Here are some interesting links to information about Japanese garden and bridges:

  • Origins of The Japanese Garden
  • Hoi An Bridge, VietNam(a famous Japanese garden bridge)
  • Elements of the Japanese Garden Bridge, Bowdoin College
  • Yuugiri Japanese Garden Bridge
  • Monet’s famous images of Japanese Garden Bridge Painting
  • How to Build a Miniature Japanese Garden
  • Where To Buy Garden Bridges, GardenBridges.com
  • Where to Buy Garden Bridges, Hay Needle