Friday, April 10, 2015

Shirotori Garden as a treasure box of history and culture

Let me tell you about Shirotori Garden.
This location was originally a lumber yard dating back to the Edo period in the 17th century.It had been used as a lumber yard for many years until the Ise Bay Typhoon hit and destroyed this entire area 70 years ago.

 In 1989 when the city of Nagoya hosted the World Design Exposition, the city decided to build a Japanese garden at this site to commemorate the Exposition. 
 So this Japanese garden is relatively young and new when you compare it with the famous ancient Japanese gardens in many other areas. But I personally believe that there is another good reason that Shirotori Garden is located in this place. And that is closely related to our history of the samurai world.
Let me go back to the story that this site was originally a lumber yard 400 years ago.It was a significant period in our history when the outstanding samurai, Tokugawa Ieyasu who was a native of this region won an important battle that finally unified the Japanese society in peace.He opened the government in Edo, the present Tokyo in the east of Japan. 
In order to rule the society and hand down his power to the next generations for many years, he made three of his sons the rulers over important regions in Japan. One of these regions was Owari, the present Nagoya area. Tokugawa Ieyasu put a great importance on the Owari region to protect Edo from a possible attack by samurai warriors. They were against his power and mostly stayed in the west since they lost the war with Ieyasu. Nagoya was a perfect location for a fortress to ward off his enemies. Thus, he ordered to build Nagoya Castle as a symbol of his absolute power.

He handed down the national property of the huge Kiso mountain area to the first landlord of Nagoya Castle, who was his 9th son, Yohinao.  Kiso was rich and famous for its good quality lumbers and this caused a local economy to flourish.  That way the Owari Tokugawa family became  the largest and influential power out of three branches of the Tokugawa family.
When the second lord of Nagoya Castle, Mitsutomo retired, he left the castle and lived on a vast property where he enjoyed a large scale Japanese garden. As the society became more stable, top samurai called daimyo enjoyed an abundant life rich in culture. Building a garden at their huge properties was one of the examples.
Speaking of Japanese gardens, they are roughly divided into three types
1) strolling garden
2) dry garden
3) tea garden
A daimyo garden is a strolling garden.
They very much loved this type of garden because it was a show of their influence. The gardeners showed great craftsmanship through replicating natural landscapes. The feudal lords spent a huge amount of money and time to complete these vast gardens. Take one of the daimyo gardens the Owari Tokugawa family owned for example, it could compare in size to about 15 baseball stadiums.
I believe it is, for one thing, for their family legacy and for another showing their dignity over other daimyo. They made these gardens not only for their own pleasure but for entertaining other important daimyo. Such events consisted of seasonal viewing, tea ceremonies and traditional dance performances. They occasionally exchanged political talks in the gardens. Having the Shogun at the garden was their greatest honor.
A daimyo garden has distinct elements such as ponds, rocks and stones, mountains, rivers and streams, bridges, arbors, plants, flowers and trees. And at Shirotori Garden, the Kiso mountain area which was exclusively given to Owari Tokugawa family by Ieyasu is faithfully depicted so as to symbolize their strong relationship.
There are many unspoken messages held within the garden. It will be very challenging and exciting for me  to explain the stories behind some interesting spots in Shirotori Garden.
I think a daimyo garden is just like a huge wonderland of those days.
Especially Shirotori Garden will send us various messages  such as the Owari Tokugawa family history,  the history of Nagoya, the charms of Japanese gardens and our tradition and culture.
Although Shirotori Garden does not have a long history but it was designed so carefully and faithfully to show us every features and elements of a traditional Japanese garden.

What is lucky for us in Shirotori Garden is that we are able to enjoy all three types of gardens as well.
So let's enjoy strolling around Shirotori Garden and feel the nature just like daimyo and their families and guests once did many centuries ago.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

The inner gate and garden moss at Shiratori Garden


The gate is usually called “chumon”, which means “inner gate" in Japanese, but it also has another name, “baiken-mon”, which means “plum blossom viewing gate".
The chumon gate’s message to visitors is that they should leave worldly affairs behind, come into the world of the tea ceremony and be prepared to enjoy it.
With that message in mind, you can take your time enjoying the peaceful spots in the garden, which is called “roji”, until it is time for the tea ceremony inside the tea house.

In order to protect the moss from the winter frost and snow, the gardeners cover it with dried pine needles. The carpet of pine needles in the winter is another treat for your eyes so that you appreciate the different views of each season.

Every time I visit a beautifully cared-for garden, I feel somewhat guilty for not taking good care of my own traditional garden at home.

A gardener in Kenninji Temple in Kyoto once gave me some advice about caring for moss in a Japanese garden. He said that I should gently rake the surface of the moss every day, making it stand straight. That exposes it to more fresh air and sunlight.
He recommended I water the moss, especially in the height of summer, twice a day, in the morning and in the evening.

I think a garden requires constant care in order to be a delightful space to look at and stroll around.
For the entire Shirotori Garden, there are a total of only six gardeners, getting their hands dirty every day, which must be very challenging.

It is also enlightening for me to know that these six gardeners work on one section each day before they move on to the next, and they repeat this until they cover the entire Shirotori garden throughout the year.

If you have a chance to come over to Shirotori Garden in Nagoya, please enjoy several other elements of the inner garden and please feel how carefully the gardeners have taken care of it for you, guests so that you sense the nature in this little garden.

Shirotori Garden

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Time to replace Japanese paper "washi"

Just a few days ago  I was wondering all day that day whether or not I should have replaced the washi paper on our front doors.

The front doors are sliding doors of lattice frames applied with Japanese paper.  I like a type of our traditional house but as the front doors, how I wished if they would have not been too classic. I make it a rule to replace paper  every year since white color looks quite faded out by the end of the year. Or it simply gets damaged or gets holes by then.

The weather really counts for this annual chore because I have to take off the front doors and to apply washi papers in an open air.  I don't want to do it on a chilly day.

You might wonder why I do this at this time of the season in cold weather.  It's because we celebrate the arrival of the new year  in a clean house, clean rooms and clean kitchen. We also  change old items into new ones, such as some underwear, towels, family chopsticks and even toothbrushes.  We are busy finishing all these  in time for the new year.

Applying new paper is not an exception.   I wait to replace paper on our front doors until it gets close enough to the last day of the year.

Yesterday  it was not so windy and not that cold.  I should not have waited for another chance.
So I got started just as some images below.

And finally I completed it. So happy and contented with the result.

One of the things I like about  Japanese paper "washi" on siding doors is that it gives the warm and soft sunlight filtered through  paper. The charm of  sliding doors applied with Japanese paper is outstanding when we sit and see the light coming across the screens indoors rather than outdoors.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Summer Sweets

Good friends of my late mother-in-law's kindly visited us to give a prayer before our Buddhist family altar for remembering her on her first death anniversary. 

I served Japanese tea for them and I put some Japanese sweets on a glass plate. Although this summer heat was exceptionally weird, we still keep the nice way to appreciate the season that traditional Japanese confectioners depict using refined sugar and beans.

We really had a good time together sharing nice memories of my mother- in- law.
I believed she smiled on us.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

It's Magic!

I have a very nice story to tell you.

It was on the way back to the cable car to get down from the top of the mountain where Gifu Castle stood when I realized that my hat was gone.

Where did I lose it?

Then I remembered I took it off and put it in a coat pocket, perhaps, on an open-door observatory floor. It was very windy. I might have dropped it there. My friends, Marta and Junko suggested that we should go back and get it.  But I was not sure where I dropped it and I didn't want to walk a bumpy and steep path to the castle tower again only to find nothing there.

It's time to say good-bye to my hat -----this must be destiny for my lovely hat to leave me and be replaced with a new one.  I almost gave up on my hat before I identified a very familiar item sitting on a bench ahead.

OMG! My Hat! 

See, I was wrong. Now I learned I must have dropped it before we reached the castle tower.
Marta and Junko were so excited with this. My hat showed up in front of us the moment we discussed its loss. Someone was kind enough to pick it up and leave it here on a bench..... in front of a small shrine along the path.

Everything is at the mercy of gods.

We were overjoyed with this and laughed a lot.
Welcome back, hat. Happy to see you again. I will keep you company until you get worn out.

So I gave a little prayer of gratitude in front of the small shrine with my hat on.
Isn’t it a nice story?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Snow in March

Spring is not really with us yet. It had been cold since that morning.
When the meeting was over around noon, the temperature hadn't come up much, although it was the middle of the day. The sky was covered with thick, gray clouds. What's more, it was quite windy.

By the time I got on the train, the sky was threatening.
On the train, I was busy checking my iPhone and not paying any attention to the sight out the window. Finally, when I looked up, I saw there was heavy snow falling.
It seemed that a strong wind had come with the snow.

It was an exciting view to see through the window, while snug inside a warm train.
My eyes were glued on the scene -- the wind and the snow flying chaotically in all directions.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Today March 3rd 2014

Today it's Dolls Day Festival !

These chicks dressed like a pair of "Hina" dolls are puddings
from a popular confectionery right in the Nagoya station building. 
Enjoy the Hina Dolls Festival with your families and friends !

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Checking the requested route on foot

Ahead of the tour for a group of 40 businessmen from India on February 24th, I walked the new route to another subway station from the front gate Nagoya Castle to find out how long it will take me to complete it.  We have to make the itinerary for that tour.

I set my iPhone stopwatch and started walking the new route. It took approximately 16 minutes to get to the subway ticket gate downstairs. Also I found some interesting spots on the way which the guests might get interested in.

A lot of preparation are necessary.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Happy Valetine's day from snow-covered Japan

It's snow again. This time it has been snowing at a wide area in Japan through the Pacific coast of eastern to the western Japan.  In Tokyo it's snowing much heavier than here in Nagoya.
The thing is that once it snows in big cities where snow rarely falls, the transportation gets paralyzed and people have to be patient for the inconvenience.

Staying home is the best choice on such a day------but not quite true for me.  I have to clear snow from the walkway before it gets dark in the evening. 
What a nice way to celebrate a Valentine's Day!

"Happy Valentine's day to everyone.
Greetings from snow-covered Nagoya, Japan!"

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Nagoya Hideyoshi Kiyomasa Memorial Museum

Today I visited Nakamura ward in Nagoya, the homeland of two outstanding samurai in our history, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and his younger relative, Kato Kiyomasa.
 I take a great pride that Hideyoshi and Kiyomasa came from this area of poor farmers in those days.

We have a small but very good museum in honor of these two important warriors from Nakamura ward, who lived almost 400 years ago.
Of all the items here, such as hanging scrolls of paintings, letters, armours, helmets and many other important belongings, especially I got interested int two “helmets.”  A helmet is “kabuto” in Japanese.

Hideyoshi’s “kabuto" is so elegant and decorative. It is made of many plates of steel. They say that long sword-like plates depict leaves of iris flowers.

Another “kabuto”  belonged to Kato Kiyomasa. Its shape is unusually long compared with what we know as “kabuto” in general. 
The length is not practical when considering that “kabuto” should protect a warrior from arrows, spears, swords and guns.
On Kiyomasa’ “kabuto”, pieces of lacquered paper are attached in layers. The family crests are designed with leaves of gold. When complete, it didn’t weigh much.

 Why then did he put on an unpractical “kabuto”?  

 It is said that Kiyomasa liked the idea that the eye-catching "kabuto" of a successful warrior ensured that his fighting with an enemy soldier was noticed in battle.

That way a warrior could get a reward from his master such as his title or his own territory.

 For a top warlord such as Hideyoshi, the showy “kabuto” along with a suit of armour added more significance for dignity and power to his followers. 
Even foot soldiers in the troop could tell where their master was in a battlefield and could crowd around him in case of danger.

Later, when the whole society got more peaceful in Edo period, the samurai class preferred to maintain their military armour as their family symbols.

Due to skillful craftsmanship of those days, Japanese “kabuto” and armour have become art objects not only for Japanese but also many collectors from abroad.