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.