Rocks Reveal Japanese Master

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 11, 2007 | Go to article overview

Rocks Reveal Japanese Master


Byline: Gabriella Boston, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall serves up a piece of Japan in the middle of Washington with its newly installed exhibit "The Spirit of Japanese Gardens," which includes a real rock garden, complete with thousands of pieces of stone and gravel, a water feature and a living pine tree.

"It's a beautiful space, just calming a place for quiet reflection," says Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum.

The roughly 15-foot-long and 7.5-foot-wide garden and 54 accompanying large color photographs of various garden settings in Japan can be enjoyed through April 29 which means the exhibit will coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 31 through April 15.

Some of the photographs are close to 100 years old and include portrayals of young girls in plain kimonos enjoying a picnic in the park; others are still lifes, showing red maple leaves on still water surrounded by deep green moss.

Enjoying the stillness and beauty of Japanese gardens is one aspect of the exhibit. The other is learning about their origin and meaning, Ms. Norton says.

It was during medieval times when the warrior class (samurai), with its simple aesthetic, rose in power that smaller, relatively unadorned gardens became more commonplace, according to the exhibit.

It also was during that time when Zen Buddhism, with its emphasis on meditation and stillness of mind, became increasingly popular. The Buddhist temple gardens were meant to inspire meditation and contemplation. They were not meant to be tread upon or touched.

Yotaro Ono, the landscape architect (and martial artist) behind the National Geographic garden, says he calls this plot the Samurai Warrior's Garden because it is an expression of the mind and body of Miyamoto Musashi, an influential 17th-century samurai, writer and philosopher.

Musashi's body is represented by the unmoving rocks; his intent is represented by the constantly flowing water; and his mind is represented by the polished, refined moon, says Mr. Ono, a big fan of Musashi's teachings.

The moon in this case is a round Japanese roof tile lodged among the gravel, which looks to form a wave or ripple in a river. A few inches away from the moon tile sits a gold-plated rock, which is supposed to show the moon's reflection in the water.

"This garden will evoke different things in different people," Mr. Ono says through an interpreter. "That's fine. I just want it to be a place for your heart and soul to relax."

The way the various stones which have different shades of gray and parts of Japanese roof tiles are laid out, they look like either a river flowing from the small water feature or the tail feathers of a giant bird (a rising phoenix?

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