Friday, January 15, 2010

Sankien Gardens, Part One

I am very disappointed in myself. After almost three years of living in Japan, I had never visited one of its top gardens, Sankien, near Tokyo, a mere 30 minute drive from the base, until my friend Keikosan invited me to go last week.

We couldn't have custom ordered a more magnificent day--cold, clear, delft blue skies--a perfect day for skiing...or strolling around a quiet, still Japanese garden.

When I first arrived in Japan, my romantic, minds-eye vision of this country was shattered. Tokyo lies in the Kanto Plain, a wide, flat expanse of wall-to-wall humanity, packed into sturdy, earthquake-proof concrete blocks. Every bit of available space is used residentially or commerically. Green spaces suffer as a result.

Sankien is nestled between two, wooded hills. It tricks its visitors in a most kindly way, as a parent might carefully mislead a child about Santa Claus, into believing that this Old Japan still exists. Guests can walk a large expanse of trails which lead over the central pond via crimson bridges and into ancient houses, barns and pagoda. Plucked from their original resting places in Kyoto, they have been painstakingly reconstructed in the park for modern urbanites to delight in.

I thought that I might be disappointed by the lack of flowers. Sankien is renowned for its seasonal floral displays and not much is blooming this time of year. In less than a month, the plum blossoms will pop out and dazzle the crowds but right now the garden is resting.

Without the leaves, I found instead that I could really admire the park's bones. The branches, stark and bare, display their normally hidden inner character. You can see how the unnecessary twigs have been eliminated over time and how only the most promising limbs were patiently pruned in purposeful but unexpected directions...quite stunning in their own right.

I hope that I can enjoy as long a life as these trees. I wonder though, at its end, when all my green ornaments have fallen away, if I'll be fortunate to see the surprising ways my life has formed and the purpose inherent in it?

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