on 24 October 2012
Stephen Mansfield is an accomplished writer and photographer whose previous books include one on Japanese stone gardens. In this book he focuses on 25 master gardens from around Japan and has produced a lovely work which manages to be very informative while at the same time full of beautiful colour photos taken by the author. This makes it a book to be read for its knowledge but also as an artefact (much more than just a coffee table book) which serves as a wonderful reference guide to go back to and enjoy.
The gardens are divided into five chapters each prefaced with a general introduction to a theme. These themes are: A Sense of Nature, The Modular Garden, Landscape Gardens, Requisitioning Space, and Healing Gardens. Five examples of master gardens are then presented in each of the chapters with their concise background details and history alongside several high quality pictures presenting individual aspects of each garden.
At the end of the book is a useful glossary of Japanese terms and also a bibliography. The generally good organisation of this book makes it reader-friendly and suitable for old hands as well as for those completely new to Japanese gardens. One of the major differences between Japanese and Western gardens is in their conception and the Japanese garden is frequently planned along lines to do with the representation of nature in miniature or for some other symbolic purpose or allusion which is seldom found in Western gardens. The author explains these and other underlying concepts with great clarity.
Of particular interest to me as an example of a stone or `dry landscape' garden is Sekijo-ji in Hyogo prefecture which is featured in the Modular Garden chapter. The garden was built as recently as 1972 and is divided into four distinct quarters each with colour-coded rocks representing the four deities that guard the heavenly directions. As someone who has lived in mainland Japan and now lives in Okinawa, I was also very interested in the inclusion of Shikina-en, an Okinawan garden commissioned by the Ryukyu royal family in the late 18th century. Okinawan gardens are usually quite different from those in mainland Japan because of the subtropical climate and the stronger influences from China. But all Japanese gardens are different and this book is the perfect introduction to the subject.
on 15 October 2012
Japan's Master Gardens is a superb book. For anyone, like me, with little prior understanding of the aesthetic principles of the Japanese garden, reading it will be a veritable education. In addition to the detailed descriptions and individual historical accounts of twenty-five gardens, the book provides a broader insight into the range and variation among Japanese gardens. From a personal perspective, Japan's Master Gardens has given me a much clearer appreciation of how the gardens I've been used to visiting in the UK differ from those found in Japan.
I think the appeal of this book goes way beyond the dyed-in-the-wool garden aficionado. It should certainly whet the appetite of any Japan-bound tourist, not least since many of the featured gardens are located in and around the much-visited destinations of Tokyo or Kyoto. Irrespective of whether one is planning a visit to Japan, the book's striking photos make it an ideal coffee-table volume, to be browsed through for pleasure.