Who was Juki Iida? Working with “Gardeners” Overseas

A rare color photograph of Juki Iida (left) with Kaz (Kei) Ishimitsu, Richard (Dick) Yamasaki, and William (Bill) Yorozu, taken during the construction of the Seattle Japanese Garden from 1959 to 1960 (photo undated).

A rare color photograph of Juki Iida (left) with Kaz (Kei) Ishimitsu, Richard (Dick) Yamasaki, and William (Bill) Yorozu, taken during the construction of the Seattle Japanese Garden from 1959 to 1960 (photo undated).

By Mark Bourne

Since I was last able to write a post I have found a number of interesting sources that will expand this series about Juki Iida, shedding some light on his life and his work as a garden designer.

While designing and building the Seattle Japanese Garden Iida kept a daily record of meetings and reflections. In the opening passages of this “Overseas Garden Journal” (presented in this earlier blog post) Iida used the term “gaadenaa” (ガーデナー, gardener) to describe the professionals he anticipated working with in Seattle. When I was preparing that translation,  interpreting Iida's use of this word was especially difficult. Although it seems counter-intuitive, English-origin words present a particular challenge in translating, because the Japanese sense of the word can differ from the English sense of the word.

One example of the difference between English and Japanese is the French word “naïve” (ナイーブ); in Japanese, this word retains the early French meaning “innocent”, without the pejorative sense that is predominant in English. In addition to the challenge of understanding the nuance of Iida’s use, uncertainty about Iida’s interpretation of “gardener” is compounded by the potential for changes in usage in the intervening 55 years. Current use of the word gardener in Japan is strongly influenced by a boom in hobbyist and semi-professional interest in growing flowers and vegetables since the early 1990’s. Most contemporary uses of the various senses of the word garden (such as gardening -- ガーデン、ガーデニング, etc.) have been associated with this interest. How the term gardener would have been used in the late 1950’s is not clear.

Iida's selection of the word “gardener” to describe his potential colleagues presented a challenge: Iida was being hired as a master of Japanese garden design, so does this use carry some meaning about his expectations regarding his American colleagues? Although there is no appearance that Iida thought he was working with semi-professional gardeners, this recent change in the usage of the word in Japanese potentially obscures the nuance of Iida’s understanding. What would be the most accurate translation of the katakana-word (カタカナ語) “gardener” back into English? (The Wikipedia entry for katakana is somewhat technical, but avoids the reductionist explanation that “katakana is used for foreign words”)

I found an answer to this question of interpretation in the following passage from an article about Iida’s life and career:

After the war, as was the case with all types of work, employment was scarce for landscape gardeners. In 1946 (Showa 21), the Allied occupation force issued an order that mandated maintenance for the gardens of requisitioned housing. At that time, Iida gathered together 20-odd highly skilled small- and medium-sized landscape companies and established the Association of Tokyo Gardeners. With each company as a shareholder, this group received those work orders for garden maintenance. The work orders had been divided into several districts, and in other areas the contracts were received by major landscape companies. There are many small- and medium- sized landscape gardeners who say they were able to survive the period of turmoil after the war without abandoning their craft because of the Association of Tokyo Gardeners. Iida also persuaded master landscape gardeners who refused to work for the Americans to work, saying that by doing that work they could help support Japan.

In the immediate aftermath of the war, the impact of Iida’s decision to use an English word to describe his profession is not clear, but conversations with Japanese scholars yielded the possibilities that Iida was deliberately trying to differentiate the association he was creating from both pre-war garden practice, and also from other existing large landscape gardeners. This episode is  one example of Iida’s concern for other gardeners, and also an example of Iida’s interest in looking forward.

In 1959, 13 years after he had formed the Association of Tokyo Gardeners, Iida was offered an opportunity to build a Japanese garden overseas. As he contemplated that decision, one of the first things that piqued his interest was the opportunity to work with Japanese-American and American landscape gardeners. As he considered this unknown quantity, it appears that he thought of his American colleagues in the same way that he thought of the group of craftsmen he had brought together in the turmoil of the post-war years.

The translation contained here is entirely my own, adapted from: Ogata, Junichi. "Juki Iida: An Originator of Zoki Planted Garden." Journal of the Japanese Institute of Landscape Architects 61, no. 1 (1997): 1-4. (original in Japanese)