Designer's Perspective: An Essay from "The Gardens of Juki Iida" Part II ~ Notes

By Mark Bourne

This post is a companion to the translation of Iida's essay about the construction of the Seattle Japanese Garden found in the book Iida Jūki Teien Sakuhinshū, The Gardens of Juki Iida. The translation can be found here.

These notes follow the order of terms as they appear in the text, with phrases quoted exactly from the translation.

1. Tsubo: historical Japanese units of measurement are used throughout in the original essay, with the exception of Iida stating the distance to Snoqualmie Pass. Tsubo was historically defined as the area of two tatami mats, standardized in modern times as 3.31 square meters, or 35.63 square feet. Likewise, the unit of length measurement used in the original is shaku; 1 shaku is 30.303 centimeters, or 11.93 inches

Figure 1: Construction site, with the building footprint marked by white jinawa.

Figure 1: Construction site, with the building footprint marked by white jinawa.

2. "a large wooded slope": Iida uses the term "zokibayashi" (雑木林). There is no easy translation that captures the full cultural richness of this term. This phrase is very important to Iida's work as a garden designer: Iida created an innovative approach to garden design that he named zokibayashi-style. Given this significance, zokibayashi will be the subject of a forthcoming blog post.

3. "I instructed each of them": Literally, "I also explained how to lay out the pond using jinawa..." Jinawa is most often used as a method for  laying out buildings prior to the beginning of construction, and entails setting ropes (nawa) on the ground to mark the outlines of property boundaries and structures.

4. " they were all very well-behaved": This is a literal translation of Iida's writing. As in the case of "odd" below, Iida's intent is not entirely clear, and the usage of "well-behaved" in this context is irregular. The image that emerges is of Iida puzzling over how to describe stiff, upright trees that had been trained in nurseries to have straight trunks, and consistent, symmetrical canopies.

5. Kitamura: Nobumasa Kitamura was part of the team that had drafted the design documents in Tokyo.

6. March 7, 1961: This is clearly an editorial error, as the garden construction started in March 1960, and was completed by the end of May.

7. Peninsula: Iida uses the word suhama. As a feature of Japanese gardens, suhama is a pond-shore that is laid out with four- to six-inch rounded river cobbles, that are usually flat. The layout of the peninsula in the Seattle Japanese Garden, with a misaki-style stone lantern set on a stone at the tip, is a very close modeled after the peninsula at Katsura Imperial Villa; this motif is a common element in Japanese gardens from the 20th century.

Figure 2: Suhama at Omiya Imperial Palace, Kyoto

Figure 2: Suhama at Omiya Imperial Palace, Kyoto

8. "It was rather odd...": Precisely how Iida felt about this is not clear in the original, and it is possible he was of a divided opinion. One reading is that he felt that the finished plantings reflected the idiosyncrasy of his personal style; another reading is that he felt that the plantings would be an ongoing challenge, as he had written in the preceding sentence.

9. "7-to-8-foot tall firs and yews": Iida uses the Japanese common names momi and ichii, which usually refer to Abies firma (fir) and Taxus cuspidata (Japanese yew) respectively. Japanese common names share the same flexibility as common names in English, and momi in particular is used to refer to a wide range of fir-like conifers, and would likely include our own Douglas fir. The trees that Iida describes as "yew" is less certain, but may have been Western hemlock. However, hemlocks are well known in Japan: Tsuga, the botanical name for the hemlock trees of the Pacific northwest, derives from tsuga, the common name (in Japanese) for Tsuga sieboldii. It is possible that Iida was referring to the Pacific yew, Taxus brevifolia. However, our native yew, with its spreading habit, is quite different from the Japanese yew Taxus cuspidata, which reaches 60 feet tall with trunk diameters of 2 feet.

Figure 3: Design for a 13-tier pagoda from the original plans for the garden.

Figure 3: Design for a 13-tier pagoda from the original plans for the garden.

10. 13-tier pagoda As is the case with the dates of construction, this appears to be an editorial error. The original design drawings made for the pagoda indicate a 9-tier pagoda, while the pagoda actually in the garden is 11 tiers.

11. "elements of a Momoyama-style garden": The pond-stroll garden style that dictates the overall structure of the Seattle Japanese Garden is most often associated with the daimyo gardens of the Edo period (1603 - 1868). In contrast, the gardens of the Momoyama period (1555 - 1603) were often designed to be viewed from a seated location in an adjacent main hall, or in the case of stepping stones, incorporated in gardens at a much smaller scale. With the exception of the zig-zag bridge, the elements that Iida lists are hallmarks of the Momoyama period.

Mark Bourne trained in Kyoto as a master Japanese garden designer, and holds a Master's of Science in Architectural Theory from the University of Washington. Mark designs and builds Japanese gardens as the owner of Windsmith Design.

Images and the original (Japanese) text are from:

Nihon Teien Kyōkai. Iida Jūki Teien Sakuhinshū. Tōkyō; 東京 :: Sōgensha; 創元社, 1980.

Mark Bourne