Saturday, 27 December 2014

Ogawa Jihei, Japanese Garden Genius

Ogawa Jihei (1860-1933)

小川治兵衛

Born in Kyoto in 1860 with the name Gennosuke, Ogawa Jihei married into the family of landscape gardeners in 1877, Ogawa was to become became one of the finest garden craftsman Japan has ever produced. His distinctive style of garden design bridges an era of great change in Japan. The Meiji Restoration, when Japan began to look westwards, began when he was eight years old, and with it came the rush toward modernism.

Kaiuso, Kyoto
During the 1890's the temple of Nanzen-ji sold parcels of land on its estate, the land was bought up by wealthy individuals who set about building new estates in the area. The Ogawa family had been long established in the area as gardeners, and much of the work of garden building on these estates came the way of Ogawa Jihei. A key factor in the development of the area came with the completion of the project to bring a canal through the Higashiyama mountains which was completed in 1890. The canal was to provide fresh water to the city from Lake Biwa to the east, which also had the effect of providing a plentiful source of water for gardens.

Ichida Tairyu, Kyoto
One of the first gardens created by Ogawa was for the family friend Namikawa Yasuyuki, this small garden at the residence and studio of the cloisonné artist still exists much as Jihei created it. The main building sits over a pond with an island, and has an beautifully composed balance.  A small waterfall provides just the right amount of sound, and the planting of the garden gives it a refined and naturalistic atmosphere. The stepping stone path between the studio and main house is composed of mainly large stones with a relaxed feel.


Namikawa residence, Kyoto

At Murin-an, Ogawa followed closely the directions of his patron, Yamagata Aritomo (one of the most prominent politicians of the day). Completed by 1897 the garden remains one of Ogawa’s masterpieces. It is a garden that is firmly rooted in the tradition of naturalism and yet was to also look forward to a new era in Japan’s history. A feature of the garden is the large open space in the central portion of the garden that features a lawn. This and the introduction of fir trees were novel features in their day, and showed that Ogawa was willing to extend the vocabulary of the garden. Nestled into the top corner of the garden is a signature three-stage waterfall that feeds a broad, shallow pool, before winding on through the garden as a lively stream. Ogawa was a magician with water, and went on to create some of Kyoto’s greatest water features. It is a characteristic of Ogawa’s gardens that all the senses are engaged, his gardens are above all bold and immersive, and not simply contemplative.

Murin-an, Kyoto

 Following on from this project other commissions in the area were to firmly establish 'Ueji' (his professional name) as a master garden creator. Gardens at the Nomura and Sumitomo villas, the Kaiuso villa of the Omiya family, the I-en garden for the Hosokawa family, the Hisada mansion, were all Ogawa's projects.


Perhaps the best known today is his garden at Heian Jingu shrine. The gardens were begun as part of the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto, and the column raising ceremony was held in 1894.The West and Middle gardens were created first and the East gardens were added between 1911 and 1916. A feature of the Middle garden is the Garyū-kyõ bridge which incorporates round stone pads of the old Sanjõ and Gõjõ bridges.



His gardens are set firmly within the ideal of a naturalistic representation of nature, though Ogawa was bold enough to use plants from outside of the normal palette, and he incorporated lawn areas, and also used stone features from ancient gardens as focal points within the schemes. His gardens impress because they are an extension of traditional ways of creating gardens, yet manage to possess a powerful sense of confidence in their own  being. Ogawa knew well his own ability, in speaking of his working method he said,” First I pass my eye over the land. I have years of experience so it only takes a minute to form a general plan for how to create a garden on the site: what stones to place, what trees to plant, where to group things, where to spread them out, where to cut a stream and where to dig a pond. Then I check where the moon rises, where it is in autumn, where the sun shines in warm seasons and in the cold seasons. Finally I estimate how much it will cost. By the way, each garden has its own ambience, so I stick to no definite form, because it depends on the geographic features of the land.” [1]


Today Ogawa’s gardens have matured, merged into the landscapes in which they were created. They are a part of the natural scenery of the place where they were born, indistinguishable from it. To stroll through his garden legacy is to become part of nature itself, its sounds, its scents, its ambience. Many of his Kyoto gardens borrow part of the natural scenery of the Higashiyama hills as an element of their composition; the transition from one to the other and back is a seamless journey





[1] Quoted in ‘Ueji, The Genius of Water and Stone’. Kyoto Tsushinsha Press, 2008