Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Nitobe Garden and Civilisation Exclusivity

Our class took an optional field-trip to the Nitobe Garden at UBC, a memorial garden for Dr. Inazo Nitobe (1862-1933) who was a Japanese scholar, eductaor, and diplomat. For me, it was an experience that disproves the civilisation exclusivity argument because of the garden's innate multiculturalism, as a hybrid of the cultural aesthetics of both BC and Japan. It was designed by a professor from a university in Japan in honour of Dr. Nitobe, but it is set in BC. It has trees and plants native to BC, but is pruned and arranged in the Japanese style “to accentuate the delicate structures of trunks and branches.” Acknowledging these various aspects, let me describe some of the Japanese concepts that I identified while enjoying the gardens in my own backyard (so-to-speak). Please visit the garden's website for the source of the quotations used in this posting, as well as maps, pictures, and other information regarding Dr. Nitobe.

“The garden realizes Dr. Nitobe’s dream of ‘becoming a bridge across the Pacific’ to foster intercultural understanding.”

The whole garden exhibits the Japanese aesthetic shichi go san, which is the interrelated concept representing formal, informal, and semiformal or true, moving, and grasslike styles of design. Its geometric shapes, and neatly trimmed foliage and trees also evoke wabi-sabi with their simplicity and distinctiveness.

All lanterns or pagodas in the garden represent ten shi jin, or heaven, earth, and man: they reach up to the sky, or heaven; they are objects created by man and stand up-right like man; and they are made out of stone from the earth and rise up from the earth.

This image (left) is the 7 storey pagoda, which is also an example of shichi go san, or 3,5,7 because it has seven levels in the middle and 5 aspects of the whole (base, bottom stone, middle, upper stone, and top).

This image (left) is the Nitobe Father Lantern - the first lantern you see when you walk into the garden. There is also

a maiden lantern, a marriage lantern, and a Nitobe family crest lantern.

In the Nitobe Garden, there is also a waterfall surrounded by seven stepping stones. Waterfalls are a common example of jo ha kyu, an aesthetic that describes gathering, break, and urgent action (the water gathers, the top is the break, and the result is the ugent action of the water falling). The Nitobe garden's website explains the waterfall in another way:

“Illustrating the male and female traits of nature in the Shinto religion, the strength and masculinity of the waterfall contrasts with the calm, feminine energy”

The waterfall is thus another hybrid in the garden that fuses together two different energies, just as the garden as a whole fuses together Japanese and Canadian natures.

Overall, I consider our field-trip to the Nitobe Gardens a personal experience engaging our civilisation exclusivity question. While I felt the Japanese aesthetics, I was also aware that we were still at UBC and that the trees and greens are native to BC and not Japan. I looked at the waterfall and thought of fountains in many Western-style gardens... I looked at the lanterns and thought of statues or modern sculptures. I don't wish to trivialise this experience or even make parallels to these Western designs, but to explain how the gardens made me reflect upon my own culture in contrast to or in combination with others.



skram said...

I like the conclusion of this post Mel. I think it is important to recognize the way that that the gardens are skewed by their location on this side of the Pacific. I do not think that this is has to be a negative thing, as it demonstrates how cultural forms can adapt and become something completely new, but equally beautiful and inspiring.


skram said...

Good point, Angela. I found that the visit to Nitobe Gardens made me more aware of the elements of Japanese gardening that are found in other styles of gardens. I hadn't been able to appreciate all the Japanese influence on our own SFU campus until I had seen a more pure form of Japanese architecture.


skram said...

That's the thing: the Nitobe Garden is more "pure" Japanese architecture or garden design (which is a popular Japanese pass-time and exemplifies Japanese aesthetics) but it is not "pure" at the same time. I remember talking to someone in our class who had recently been to Japan and spent time in traditional gardens there. He said that while Japan has moist forests like we do here, their greenery is still different and so emits a different feel.

I can only imagine that I would still feel mujo-kan or sense the transience of things in a Japanese garden in Japan... but would I recognize it as a sensing-impermanence if I didn't have this class to teach me about the concept? I'm thinking specifically about the gardens, forests, and/or countryside in our class texts, such as the forest in Norwegian Wood, or the country in The Remains of the Day. Aside from the class setting, would I recognize mujo-kan or appreciate the garden aesthetic if I hadn't visited the Nitobe Garden to introduce me to it first hand - sort of easing my Western consciousness into a Japanese wa (or harmonious)mentality? These questions help me to figure out whether or not I agree with civilisation exclusivity or, perhaps more importantly, am I knowledgable enough to make a decision?


skram said...
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skram said...

I also find it really interesting how some of the central Japanese aesthetic concepts such as jo ha kyu and sichi go san come into play throughout the garden as a whole. Wherever you look in the garden it seems that everything is meticulously placed and organized with great purpose and intent. I feel this also relates back to what it means to be Japanese. For to be Japanese means to place aesthetics above all other forms of rationality or experience.