a landscape lover's blog

garden tales from a Brit at home and abroad

What makes a garden Japanese?

Today I’m delighted to be a guest contributor on the splendid American blog Gardening Gone Wild. My post describes two beautiful places in Paris, and ponders on their common designation as “Japanese gardens.” Do go and have a look.

Jardin Albert Kahn


6 comments on “What makes a garden Japanese?

  1. maggie
    June 9, 2011

    I’m partial to that comment that if it’s not in Japan, it’s not a Japanese garden. Your guest blog made me think.
    Do we use a hyphen followed by Japanese to describe a designed garden in Paris, or here in San Francisco?
    If the designer has a deep understanding of the philosophy behind a design language, as well as the culture that developed it, wouldn’t the result be authentic even as it shows the hand of the designer?
    Time to go think on it some more.
    Thanks for another engaging post!

    • landscapelover
      June 9, 2011

      Maggie, thanks for the comment. My post was inspired by a recent symposium I attended (called Foreign Trends on American Soil), where we discussed how garden styles from abroad were adapted to the US. So-called Japanese gardens were one of the most interesting examples, and it made me realise how unthinkingly most of us describe a certain style of garden in the west as Japanese.
      If you want to read more, there’s a Fall 2008 edition of Site Lines (the journal of the Foundation for Landscape Studies – available on line) that discusses the notion of the Japanese garden in the west, including a fascinating piece by Kendall Brown about the use of Japanese gardens as government propaganda.

      • maggie
        June 9, 2011

        I downloaded Site Lines just now and look forward to reading it. Thank you for the suggestion.

  2. Jill, As usual, your article raises a lot of interesting points. I have to say that neither of these gardens looks or feels like the gardens I have seen photos of that are actually in Japan. They are too colorful, showy, and (sorry) trite. I have virtually visited the Japanese gardens with Denise at the blog DeniseNoNiwa: http://denisenoniwa.weebly.com/blog–125021252512464.html. If you haven’t, you should read some of her Japanese posts, current (she’s there now) and in the archives–excellent photography. Carolyn

    • landscapelover
      June 9, 2011

      Carolyn, thanks for the link. It’s a great demonstration of the wonders of the internet that from Paris I can read a blog recommended by an American about Japanese gardens, written in Dutch!
      Your comment about the Paris gardens looking trite is interesting. The Albert Kahn one to me feels rather Disney-esque in its bright shiny interpretation of Japanese style, but it is enormously popular, and brings people to a museum dedicated to early and significant photographs of Asia and elsewhere. The Noguchi garden is very different, and has a real sense of calm while you are there, although as I said in my post it has been condemned as too showy and Western by some visitors. But both gardens were designed by people with strong links to Japan, so it is difficult for me as a Westerner to pronounce that they have it wrong.

  3. Maybe trite is not the right word, but at any rate I should have qualified it by saying “in comparison to photos of the real thing in Japan (now I sound like the designer in your article)”. To me the difference is including the proper elements of a Japanese garden and actually being a Japanese garden. And yes, maybe the garden does have to be in Japan.

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This entry was posted on June 8, 2011 by in Gardens, Ile de France, Paris and tagged , .

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