Yoshitaka Oishi , Research Project, Shinshu University Research Project
Japanese Gardens are a haven for moss diversity. Mosses are known to be highly sensitive to changes in their environment and are therefore often used as an indicator for the effect of pollution, climate change or human activity on ecosystems. Studying moss in the Japanese Garden, and understanding the conditions that facilitate this haven for moss may give insight towards design, maintenance and management methods of healthy ecosystems.
This study offers insight for designers towards the potential of beautiful, manicured and constructed landscapes in sustainability practice. The cultural significance of the Japanese Garden in Japan also provides a framework for considering ways in which culture participates in and is supported by sustainable design and landscape design.
The method of designing Japanese Gardens by mimicking vast landscapes, creating miniature landscapes with small hills, ponds and waterfalls, provides a variety of surfaces and light conditions that support a diversity of habitat for moss. This design method increases the opportunity for biodiversity in a small garden setting.
Japanese Gardens are designed with meaning embedded and are culturally significant.They therefore offer opportunity for reconsidering the role of the garden in cultural and social sustainability. The notion of transferring knowledge through landscape may be useful in considering ways of sustaining cultural diversity.
Cultural Meaning: in Japan, moss symbolises eternity. By comparison to the cherry blossom, which lasts for a short time, moss stays green through the seasons.
Historical Narratives: a warlord in the age of provincial wards left a death poem referring to moss. These narratives are attributed to moss in a Japanese Garden, transferring historical narratives through the landscape.
Historical Cultural Conditions: Japanese Gardens were designed in relation to narratives of the universe, the moon and the stars at the time in history that the garden was designed. These landscapes therefore form a reminder of past generations and past cultural narratives of the human condition.
Japanese Gardens have clear social and cultural program, as a place of Chado ‘the way of the tea’, as a place of contemplation of past narratives, and as a place of meditation on being, exsitance and a sense of place. These activities have practical, cultural significance and are part of historic and contemporary Japanese culture. The Japanese Garden is part of the preservation of these cultural activities. Maintainence of the Japanese Garden is included in this ongoing narrative and experience of culture.1
Design & Symbolism: Wabi-sabi
Japanese Garden design has strong tradition, symbolism & poetic allusion called Wabi-sabi: ‘If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi.’2
‘[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.’3
Japanese garden design is strongly linked to observation. Moss is utilised for its colouration, exhibiting both a translucency of its leaves while also offering an evergreen underlay colour to the garden. These shades of green - translucent and solid green - are said to contribute to this feeling of Wabi-Sabi.
Moss benefits from the management and careful tending of japanese gardens. Watering is controlled, and the gardens are carefully weeded and raked. Fallen leaf matter is removed, and areas are designated off limits to pedestrian foot traffic. The activity of careful garden maintenance is part of the culture of the garden.
Challenges and Opportunities
Some of the opportunities and challenges will occur through the translation of a Japanese Garden into an Australian setting with indigenous Australian vegetation.How might stories important to our history be played out through garden landscapes - narratives of both aboriginal and colonial histories? Who carefully maintains the garden? Are there opportunities for paid work or physical activity for retired persons? How is water addressed in an Australian Garden?
How are manicured/ well managed landscapes translated to natural environments? How does the vastness and scale of the Australian landscape translate?
1. Japanese Garden supporting biodiversty. Video Still from The world seen from low and small places, UNU Channel, Video 9:29min, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xaKoca31RO0&feature=player_embedded, August 2011.
2. Japanese Garden, mountain rise. Rocky surfaces and pathways. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
3. Japanese Garden, the river. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
4. Japanese Garden, scale. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
5. Japanese Garden, maintenance and garden tending. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
6. Japanese Garden, maintenance and garden tending. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
7. Japanese Garden, pathways for human traffic. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
8. Japanese Garden, keeping pedestrian traffic from trampling. Video Still, UNU Channel, 2011.
1. Bourne, Mark. Doubt - Learning to see the Japanese Garden. http://japanesegardening.org/reference/apprentice.html
2. Juniper, Andrew (2003). Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence.
Tuttle Publishing. ISBN 0-8048-3482-2. Wikipedia
3. Powell, Richard R. (2004). Wabi Sabi Simple. Adams Media. Wikipedia
1. Yoshitaka Oishi, Our World 2.0, United Nations University, Published May 25, 2011.
http://ourworld.unu.edu/en/japanese-gardens-a-haven-for-moss-diversity/, August 2011.