A tour of Koishikawa Korakuen with Suzuki Sensei

Professor Suzuki Makoto at Koishikawa Korakuen

I had the great pleasure to view Koishikawa Korakuen with Professor Suzuki Makoto of the Tokyo University of Agriculture. Along with Hama Rikyu in Tokyo, and Rokuonji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Jishoji Temple (Silver Pavilion), and Daigoji in Kyoto, this garden is one of five gardens in Japan that have been designated as both special historical site and special scenic spot under the Cultural Assets Preservation Act in 1952.

Koishikawa Korakuen Lone Pine

Professor Suzuki was leading a class of foreign students in Environment and Landscape in Japan, and I was very impressed by his deep knowledge and careful attention for his students. Exhorting his students to “use their imagination” and “listen to the birds,” Suzuki sensei organized the walking tour from Inner Garden to Outer Garden, and pointed out where the daimiyo’s house and three quarters of the original estate had been replaced by the massive sports and entertainment complex called Tokyo Dome.

Suzuki Sensei’s tour highlighted three key aspects of the Japanese Garden: 

1. A plethora of historic and literary allusions. Begun in 1629, Koishikawa Korakuen was completed by the second lord Mitsukuni of the Mito Tokugawa family with the guidance of Shu Shunsui, a Confucian scholar and refugee from China. The name Koraku, “meaning “delight afterwards,” comes from a Chinese text in Hanchuen’s “Gakuyoro-ki.” Specific sections in the garden evoke the Chinese Rozan mountain and Lake Saiko, and the Oikawa River in Kyoto.

2. Miniaturizations and variety.  The garden’s twisting paths and changes in elevation allow the visitor to experience miniaturizations of built and natural environments including a castle moat, Confucian full moon bridge, Kyoto’s Togetsukyo bridge and Kiyomizu Temple, a shrine, and an Edo-era drinking house. In roughly 70,000 square meters, one also experiences forest, mountain, river, lake, rice field, and plum orchard. Large stones in the path, which Suzuki Sensei called “articulation stones,” signal the shift from one landscape to another.

3. All of Japan in one compact space. Suzuki sensei displayed his own illustration of how Koishikawa Korakuen embodies the archetype of Japan’s island landscape, which goes from ocean to pine forest to hills and mountains. 

I feel very fortunate that Suzuki Sensei has agreed to be the host for my Council on Foreign Relations Hitachi fellowship.

Professor Suzuki Makoto at Koishikawa Korakuen


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