“If you look at this garden, you can’t tell which era it’s from. It’s eternally modern. That was his concept,” beamed Komyo-in chief priest Fujita-san as he guided us around his temple. The “era-less” garden in question was the Hashin no Niwa, a garden created in 1939 that is well-known in Kyoto for its autumn colours, flowing lines of moss, and dynamic stone work. This garden contains seventy-five unique, carefully handpicked stones, and although they were laid out in a planned, controlled space, they somehow still express the free and wild spirt of their creator: the great Shigemori Mirei (1896-1975).
Mirei was a landscape artist, probably one of the most famous in post-war Japan. Over a span of thirty years, he created over 200 gardens all over the country, mostly in Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. Although he rose to prominence designing for the most traditional of places, he was no conventional artist. Mirei’s mission was to step out of the strict rules of traditional garden design and express a new style of creativity. He was never formally trained, nor did he attend a gardener’s trade school. All of Mirei’s designs came purely from his innate artistic ability and life experiences.
When talking about Japanese gardens, one might imagine a minimally designed and stereotypically structured Zen garden— words such as “peaceful”, “serene”, and “passive” might come to mind. The beauty of Mirei’s gardens, however, comes from the strength and primitive nature of his design, evoking impressions far more “wild” and “loud”.