A Quiet Legacy: The Juki Iida Scroll

 The little-known scroll that Juki Iida created during his stay in Seattle in 1959 and 1960 depicts imagery that inspired the garden he designed. The final signature says: "Drawn by Juki". Photo: University of Washington.

The little-known scroll that Juki Iida created during his stay in Seattle in 1959 and 1960 depicts imagery that inspired the garden he designed. The final signature says: "Drawn by Juki". Photo: University of Washington.

By Corinne Kennedy

The Juki Iida Scroll is a unique work of art, created in 1960 by Juki Iida, the lead designer of the Seattle Japanese Garden.  Although little known, it’s available for viewing at the Elisabeth C. Miller Horticulture Library, part of the Center for Urban Horticulture complex (located in Seattle, adjoining the Union Bay Natural Area).

The following photos and text are from the Miller Library’s website:

”Juuki Iida was selected by the Tokyo Metropolitan Park Department to help realize the Seattle Japanese Garden in the spring of 1960. He took the space designated in Washington Park and infused it with his deep understanding of Japanese gardens.

He brushed this scroll at leisure during his stay in Seattle and then gave it to Richard Iwao Yamasaki, who worked closely with him. The scroll reveals the essentials of the Japanese garden: trees, water and rocks, which, when brought together in quiet and harmony, grow, age, and become natural.”

The Tokyo Park Department donated garden design services for the creation Seattle’s garden, and selected Juki (also spelled Juuki) Iida as the project’s lead designer.  Iida was an internationally-known landscape architect who had created many naturalistic gardens in Japan and throughout the world.  In Japan, Iida and other designers created plans for a stroll garden, then he traveled to Seattle in late 1959, and again in spring 1960, to personally supervise the garden’s construction.

 Sketches of trees in the Washington Park Arboretum. Photo: University of Washington.

Sketches of trees in the Washington Park Arboretum. Photo: University of Washington.

According to Professor Makoto Suzuki, Iida was responsible for the naturalistic and informal southern portion of the Seattle Japanese Garden.  This portion includes the mountain/woodland area, with its conifers, Japanese maples and other understory plants.  The waterfall and 11-tier stone pagoda, which represents an ancient monastery, are here.  Nearby is the teahouse, with its inner and outer gardens (roji).  The green naturalness of the roji, with its luminous carpet of moss, contributes to the quietude and simplicity we experience there.  On the other hand, the northern portion of the garden, including the fishing village, reflects the more formal style of other designers involved with the project.

Juki Iida (1889-1977) created more than 1,000 gardens, and was honored by the Emperor of Japan for his work.  Most were residential gardens in Japan, and because of the pressures of development, have not survived.  Even his own Tokyo residence, which his grandson lived in until recently, is no longer extant.  The only large garden that remains is our Seattle Japanese Garden, which Iida visited several times after its construction – inspecting the garden, making recommendations, and emphasizing that “No matter how beautifully a garden is designed, all is lost without proper and timely care.”

Iida painted his scroll in ink during the three months in 1960 when the garden was constructed. Before returning to Japan, he gave the scroll to his rock work contractor, Richard Yamasaki (1921-2008).  Although he was a Nisei and an experienced landscape contractor, Yamasaki didn’t speak Japanese and had no previous experience creating Japanese-style gardens.  Nevertheless, he observed, learned from, and forged a relationship with Iida, developing “a lifelong desire to study and understand his teachings.”

Yamasaki kept the scroll for many years, but near the end of his life, he and his wife Fumi donated it to the Miller Library, as a gift to posterity.  At the dedication ceremony, held on August 8, 2006, he spoke of how Iida “continued to help me see what he was creating, a Japanese garden in a foreign setting, but with strict application of certain Japanese principles, such as shizen sa (naturalness) and sono mama no susumu sugata, or the way natural elements age and spread.”

He concluded with the following remarks:

“Today Fumi and I are so pleased that this scroll, which he painted in ink during his evenings at the Holland Hotel in Seattle, and which he gave me in 1960, may now be seen by those who visit and work in the Seattle Japanese Garden. Fumi and I have held it for so many years. It now becomes, along with his creation, and his concern for our ability to maintain the garden, Juuki Iida’s legacy to all of us. Thank you.”

Richard Iwao Yamasaki died two years later in 2008, thirty-one years after the death of his mentor.  The Juki Iida Scroll is a legacy of both men’s vision of, and dedication to, the care and preservation of our garden.  Located in the Special Collections Room of the Elisabeth C. Miller Library, it may be viewed by appointment during library hours.

Note:  This article is shorter, and focused on the Juki Iida Scroll, but contains some of the same material as my April 2016 article, Juki Iida & Richard Yamasaki:  Collaborating in Space and Time

Corinne Kennedy is a Garden Guide and a frequent contributor to the Seattle Japanese Garden blog.