Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
1999-2013


(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
Flowers and Gardens of Japan
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo
(HOME)

CHAPTER IV
NURSERY GARDENS DWARF TREES AND HACHI-NIWA

A NURSERY garden in Japan may be called a revelation in the art of pruning. A singular idea exists in the minds of many people, that all the trees in Japan are like the dwarf specimens they have occasionally seen in England on a nurseryman's stand at a flower-show, and frequently they display surprise, not unmixed with incredulity, when assured that such is not the case. I would recommend those unbelievers to take a walk in the cryptomeria avenues at Nikko, among the camphor groves of Atami, or to wander through the pinewoods which clothe the hillsides above Kyoto, when they would see for themselves the magnificence of the trees, untouched by the pruning knife of the gardener. The Japanese bestow as much time and care on the trees in their gardens as the Western gardener would give to his choicest flowers. The gardener's ideal tree is not the ordinary tree of the forest, but the abnormal specimen which age and weather have twisted and bent into quaint and unusual shapes. Here, in the nursery garden, we shall find specimen trees; old trees it is true, but trees giving proof that art has had to improve upon nature, as scarcely a single tree in the whole collection waiting, possibly, to transform the new garden of a nouveau riche into an ancestral home will have been allowed to follow its own inclination of growth and shape.

The pine-tree is generally chosen as the subject for the operating knife, and is cut and trained into all manner of shapes; an umbrella made of a single tree of Pinus densiflora trained on a framework of light bamboo, or a junk of perfect form, the reward of years of patience, will be waiting until it is required to be the chief feature in a landscape garden. The curiously twisted appearance characteristic of a Japanese pine-tree, in gardens and temple grounds, is achieved by a clever system of pruning, and gives the trees a stunted and venerable appearance, which they would otherwise not attain for years. The leading shoot of each branch and most of the side ones are removed, giving the branch a new direction, sometimes at right angles to the previous year's growth. This operation is repeated every year, and the branches thinned out, so that every line of the stems can be followed. Another favourite and very effective way of training a pine, is to carry a long branch out over a stream or pond, and by skilful training and cutting to give it the direction that, after a few years' growth, will have become natural to it, and the whole strength of the tree will seem concentrated in that one branch. These trees should be placed by the water's edge or on the slope of a hill, and are often planted leaning at all manner of angles. The gardener is never sparing in his use of stout bamboo props, which to our Western ideas would appear unsightly.

It is not in these trees, interesting as they always are, that the admiration of the visitor to a Japanese nursery garden will be centred; for how few foreigners remain long enough in the country, or take sufficient interest in their temporary home, to construct a new garden round it; yet how easy it seems to accomplish, when old gnarled trees are ready grown. It would appear as though a few hours' planning and plotting, a few stones and trees, a few days' work for a few coolies, are all that is required, and the thing would be done; but remember success depends upon the plan, one false touch would set the whole conception ajar, so woe betide the foreigner if he were to attempt to interfere with the making of his garden; left to himself a Japanese is never guilty of that one false touch.

Arranged in rows on wooden platforms will be the object of our visit to the nursery garden the dwarf trees whose fame has spread throughout the world, and who seem to share with the cherry blossom the floral fame of Japan. When first I visited the country I went prepared to be disappointed with the dwarf trees; I had seen inferior specimens shipped to Europe no doubt because of their inferiority, pining away a lingering life in a climate unsuited to them, deprived of all care and attention; for an idea prevailed in England when they were first imported, that these tiny trees, the result of years of patient training, required no water, and either no fresh air or else were equally indifferent to the fiery rays of the summer suns or the icy blasts of the winter winds. A visit to a garden in their native country will soon reveal that such is not the case. The trees are not coddled, it is true, but the proper allowance of water, especially in their growing season, is most important, and they are impatient of a draught; though many seem to stand the full rays of the sun, the best specimens had generally some light canvas or bamboo blinds, arranged so that they could be drawn over the stands during the hottest hours of the scorching summer days. I have heard these trees described as tortured trees; to me, good specimens never gave that impression, their charm took possession of me, and a grand old pine or juniper whose gnarled and twisted trunk suggested a giant of the forest, and yet was under three feet in height, standing in a soft-coloured porcelain bowl, gave me infinite pleasure. I could see no fault in them, they are completely satisfying and give a strange feeling of repose.

Their variety is infinite, from six inches in height to as many feet; pines, junipers, thujas, maples, larch, willows, and, among the flowering trees, pink and white plum, single and double cherries, tiny peach-trees, smothered by their blossoms, pyrus trained in fantastic shapes, all will be there in bewildering choice of beauty. I have heard of a single treasure, a weeping willow, only six inches in height, the reward of years of patience, for which the price of 7000 yen (700) was paid; probably to our eyes it would have had no more value than a humble "dwarf" which, in consequence of some slight imperfection, would not fetch more than sevenpence. In a perfect specimen not only each branch, but each twig and each leaf, must conform absolutely in direction and proportion to the same unbending laws which govern this art, as well as its sister arts of landscape gardening and flower arrangement laws which a writer says were "the iron rules laid down by the canons of taste in the days when Iyeyasu Tokugawa paralysed into an adamantine immobility the whole artistic and intellectual life of the country." So in every garden there will be failures as perfect works of art, but beautiful in our eyes, which fail to see any difference between the perfect specimen with its boughs bent down by the weight of the laws which have trained it and priced it at some hundred yen, or the "failure" by its side, beautiful and wonderful, with all its imperfections an exquisite and dainty thing, priced at as many pence.

Perhaps one of the best opportunities for buying these imperfect trees, which are still admired and readily bought by the Japanese themselves, though not to be treasured as works of art, is at the sales which take place at night in the streets of Kyoto on certain days of the month. The plants are arranged on stalls down each side of a narrow street, and the intending purchaser has to fight his way through a dense crowd to choose his plants. No lover of dwarf trees should miss attending one of these sales, and perhaps the uncertainty as to whether the plant is in good health, or the bowl containing it is broken, adds to the excitement of bargaining with the stall-holder; every Japanese loves a bargain, and the transaction is eagerly watched by the crowd, and the "foreign devil" will gain their admiration if he can hold his own against the rapacity of the salesman. As the plants vary in price, from a few sen to two or three yen, one can afford to carry off a sufficient number to ensure having some, at least, that will be a reward for one's patience. On the 1st of April the best night-market of the year is held. The stalls will be covered with tempting little flowering trees, their buds almost bursting and full of promise of lovely blossoms to come sturdy little peach-trees, their branches thickly covered with soft velvet buds just tinged with pink; drooping cherries wreathed with red-brown buds; slender pyrus trained into wonderful twisted shapes; little groves of maple-trees, their scarlet or bronze leaves just unfurling, or miniature forests of larch, shading mossy ravines with rivers of white sand; ancient pine-trees spreading their branches over rocky precipices rising from a bed of pebbles; sweet-scented daphnes, golden-flowered forsythias, and early azaleas in porcelain dishes, which are round or oval, square, shallow or deep, and of every shade, from white, through soft greys and blues to a deep green. Every plant is a picture in itself, and the difficulty lies in deciding, not which to buy, but which one can bring oneself to leave behind.



The Old Wistaria


Siebold, who visited Japan and wrote the Flora Japonica upwards of sixty years ago, thus describes the dwarf trees:


The Japanese have an incredible fondness for dwarf trees, and with reference to this the cultivation of the Ume, or Plum, is one of the most general and lucrative employments of the country. Such plants are increased by in-arching, and by this means specimens are obtained which have the peculiar habit of the Weeping Willow. A nurseryman offered me for sale in 1826 a plant in flower which was scarcely three inches high; this chef d'oeuvre of gardening was grown in a little lacquered box of three tiers, similar to those filled with drugs which the Japanese carry in their belts; in the upper tier was this Ume, in the second row a little Spruce Fir, and at the lowest a Bamboo scarcely an inch and a half high.


The Japanese still love their dwarf trees as much as they did in the days of Siebold, and the trade in them has received additional impetus of late years, as great numbers are exported annually to Europe and the United States, where I fear they are not treasured as works of art, but are only regarded as curiosities.

At different seasons of the year the nursery gardens will be gay with the display of some especial flower. Early in May the gaudy-coloured curtains and paper lanterns at the gates will announce, in the bold black lettering which is one of the chief ornaments of the country, that a special exhibition of azaleas is being held. It is scarcely conceivable that any plants can bear so many blossoms as do these stiff and prim little azalea-trees; the individual blooms are small, but their serried ranks form one dense even mass, flat as a table, for no straggling branches are allowed in these perfectly grown plants. Every shade is there, an incredible blaze of colour, all the plants the same shape, all practically the same size, and all in the same shaped pots; the only variety being in the delicate hue of the faience pots or the vivid colouring of the blossoms. The pots are arranged in rows or stages under the blue and white checked roofing, which seems peculiarly to belong to flower exhibitions; the effect cannot be said to be artistic, but there is something very attractive about the little trees, which are visited by the same crowd of sight-seers, who seem to spend their days in "flower-viewing" and quiet feasting on the matted benches, the latter being inseparable from these flower resorts.

Other flower exhibitions will follow in their turn great flaunting peonies, brought with loving care from the gardens near Osaka; and then the last and most treasured flower of all, the chrysanthemum. Again the little matted or chess-board roof will be brought into requisition, and an unceasing throng of visitors will discuss the merits of the last new variety, or of a plant more perfectly grown than its neighbour. Here, too, I saw plants of single chrysanthemums, like great soft pink daisies, grown in tall narrow porcelain pots, grey-blue in colour; left untrained and unsupported the main stem fell over the side of the pot, and the whole plant hung down with natural grace; the effect was charming, and I could not help thinking might easily be accomplished in any garden.

At the end of the year may also be seen the dishes being prepared with a combination of plum, bamboo, and pine which will be found on the tokonoma of almost every house throughout the empire at the New Year, bringing good luck and long life to the inmates. Sometimes the combination will be merely a flower arrangement, but usually it is of a more lasting nature, and a little plum-tree covered with soft pink buds, a tiny gnarled old pine, and a small plant of bamboo, will be firmly planted in the dish, a rock and a few stones may be added for effect, and the ground mossed over to suggest great age. Occasionally a clump of some everlasting flower, such as Adonis amurensis, is used instead of the plum.

It is probably in the nursery garden that the traveller will first see one of the toy gardens called Hachi-niwa dish gardens where a perfect landscape and a well-known scene is accurately represented within the limited area of a shallow china dish, varying in size from six inches in length to two feet. Here we have another art, for the making of Hachi-niwa is almost as much trammelled by rules and conventions as its fellow-arts of flower arrangement and landscape gardening, and the same unbending law of proportion is the first consideration. Just as the landscape gardener chooses the scene which his garden is to represent, in proportion to the size of the ground which the future garden is intended to cover, so the maker of a Hachi-niwa must choose his scene in proportion to the size of his dish; or, as his choice of dishes may be infinite, varying from a few inches upwards, and being in shape round or oval, long and narrow, with square or rounded ends; so having decided on his landscape, he may then choose his dish. As I had been much attracted by these little miniature gardens, each in itself a perfect picture, I determined to learn something of the manner of their construction and to try and grasp a few of the principles of the art. I had heard of a gardener in Kyoto who was a great master in the art, a disciple and pupil of one of the Tokyo professors, who might tell me what I wished to learn. On my first visit to his house he looked incredulous at the idea of a foreigner wishing to study the art of Hachi-niwa. Thinking I could only wish to purchase a ready-made garden to carry off as a curiosity, he appeared decidedly reserved, and reluctant to impart any information on the subject of their composition. A friend who accompanied me, and was more eloquent in his language than I was, assured him that I was in earnest not merely a passer-by, but one who had already spent many months in his country; then his interest awoke, and he asked me to return the next day, when he would have all the materials prepared and I could choose my own subject.

Many a happy hour did I spend making these little gardens and learning something of their history. A certain paraphernalia is necessary for the construction of these miniature landscapes, and the requisite materials include a supply of moss of every variety close cushions of moss to form the mountains, flat spreading moss to clothe the rocks, white lichened moss to carpet the ground beneath the venerable pine-trees, which in themselves are especially grown and dwarfed, till at the age of four or five years they will only have attained the imposing height of as many inches; leaning and bent pines for the scenery of Matsushima or the garden of Kinkakuji, groves of tiny maples for Arashiyama, and pigmy trees of all descriptions. Finally, there are microscopic toys to give life to the scene perfect little temples and shrines, in exact imitation of the originals, modelled out of the composition that is used for pottery, baked first in their natural colour, then coloured when necessary and baked again; coolies, pedlars, pilgrims in endless variety, less than an inch in height; bridges, lanterns, torii, boats, junks, rafts, mills, thatch-roofed cottages everything, in fact, that is necessary in the making of a landscape, down to breakwaters for the rivers, made like tiny bamboo cages filled with stones, such as exist at every turn of rivers like the Fuji-kawa. The necessary implements consisted of chop-sticks, the use of which is an art in itself, a trowel suggesting a doll's mason's trowel, a tiny flat-iron for smoothing the surface of the sand, besides diminutive scoops for holding only a few grains of sand, a pair of enlarged forceps for placing the moss, little fairy brooms about two inches long to sweep away sand which may have got out of place, and a sieve of like dimensions to sift white powder for a snow scene, and, finally, a fine water sprayer to keep the moss damp and fresh.

When the selection of the dish has been made the regulation kind being of white or mottled blue china, in size twelve inches by eight, or eighteen inches by twelve, about one inch deep and the scene decided upon, damp sifted earth will form the mountains and the foundations in which the rocks are embedded; the hills are carefully carved and moulded into perfect shape; crevasses, down which a torrent of white sand will flow, to represent a river, or a mountain road running between a gorge of terrific rocks, are marked out. Then will come the firm planting of the stones, toy temples, houses, or bridges; the position of the trees is carefully weighed and considered; and last of all comes the sand sand of a deep grey colour for deep water, lighter in colour for the shallows, yellowish sand for the ground or roads, snow-white granite chips for water racing down from the mossy mountains or dashing against the cliffs, coarser shingle for the beach in sea scenes; and the correct use of all these sands is a history in itself, as all the different coloured varieties come from the different rivers of Japan, and to use the wrong sand to represent water or earth would be an unforgivable crime in the eye of the master.

To show that great men have turned their attention to these little toy gardens, no less an artist than the celebrated Hiroshige, whose colour-prints of the fifty-three stages of the journey on the old Tokaido road, along which the Shoguns, in days gone by, travelled with all the pomp and state due to their rank, from Kyoto to Yedo, are well known and prized by all lovers of these prints, evidently considered these scenes so suited for the making of toy gardens, that he designed a special book in which the fifty-three views appear as Hachi-niwa. The book is now, unfortunately, scarce and difficult to obtain, but I had the delight of seeing the whole set of views in real life, each in its little dish. My teacher told me that the first Exhibition of Hachi-niwa ever held in Kyoto would take place at the Kyoto Club, where the various competitors would exhibit different views, and a prize would be awarded, from votes by ballot, to the best in the collection. Needless to say, as soon as the doors, or rather the sliding shoji, of the club were thrown open to the public, I hastened to study these perfect little works of art. Round three white-matted rooms they stood, each dish on a low black wood stand a few inches high, raised on a dais only another few inches from the ground, so that to view them properly it was necessary to kneel in adoration before them. I was asked to vote for the three I liked best, and never did I have a greater difficulty in deciding. At first a view of Kodzu attracted my attention, with its pine-clad cliffs, deep-indented coast line, stony beach with a moored junk, and stretching away in the distance an expanse of pale blue sea, in the offing being a fleet of fishing-boats with sails not more than half an inch in size bellying in the breeze. This seemed to me perfection; every ripple on the water was marked in the sand, the crests of the waves white, the shadows a deep blue, and the reflection of the junk in perfect outline a marvel of neatness and ingenuity. But to the Japanese this did not appeal; they condemned it for its very perfection; any one, they said, could make such a scene who had sufficient patience and neat fingers; whereas the view of Kanaya appealed to them as having something grand and yet simple in its conception. A river of white sand threaded its way through the mossy plain, and in the distance stood the little mountain village nestling at the foot of a range of mountains carved in stone. This was awarded the prize, and, I was glad to think, had been made by my teacher. Such an exhibition I had expected would be principally visited by women and children, as I had heard that the making of Xachi-niwa was a favourite occupation for the ladies of Tokyo, but here in Kyoto they found interest in the eyes of "grave and reverend seigneurs" who gathered in groups about the rooms. I saw all the members of the club, politicians, writers, poets, the greatest in the land, engrossed in discussing the merits or demerits of toy gardens, and I could not help thinking that here was a country indeed where "small things amuse great minds."


Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.