I am not a connoisseur of Japanese gardens, but I’ve visited and enjoyed many. I do marvel at the restraint used in the design of classic Japanese Gardens. The University of British Columbia’s (UBC’s) Nitobe Memorial Garden in Vancouver is maybe the finest I’ve ever seen. It is considered to be the one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in North America and among the top five Japanese gardens outside of Japan.
Trees, stones and shrubs are deliberately placed and reflect an idealized representation of nature.
There is a balance of masculine and feminine forces attributed to natural elements. The garden is home to mostly native trees, but some maple and cherry trees, azaleas, and iris were brought from Japan.
The garden is named after Dr. Inazo Nitobe
He lived from (1862-1933), an agriculturalist, scholar, Quaker, philosopher, statesman and educator. He devoted much of his life to promoting trust and understanding between the United States and Japan. His portrait on the 5000 yen note.
Symbolism in Japanese gardens
Each step in the garden is to reflect a new harmony – designed to suggest a span of time – a day, a week or a lifetime – with a beginning, choice of paths and ending.
- Alarm Rock An angular rock alerts to an importance presence.
- Benches Benches in Japanese gardens are generally wide enough to seat five – the number of the tea party – a host and four guests.
- Bridges There are six water-crossings in the garden, each with its own significance. A zig-zag bridge is a “devil-losing bridge” and refer to a belief that evil spirits cannot follow anyone across such a bridge.
- Falling Sunlight At the right-hand side of the Nitobe Garden’s “mountain path,” is a rock with a cleft. At 4:00 pm on October 15, the day of Nitobe’s death, the sun shines through the Nitobe lantern and strikes the rock cleft.
- Island of Eternity The island is in the shape of a turtle, a symbol of longevity. On the island is a flat-rock which represents Dr. Nitobe’s soul.
- Lanterns Japanese tea ceremonies were often held in the evenings and light was needed to guide guests to the tea room. There are four main types of stone lanterns: Tachi-gata or pedestal lanterns; ikekomi-gata or “buried lanterns”; oki-gata, the small, often portable lanterns; and yukimi-gata, or “snow viewing” lanterns. The lanterns are located on an approximately north-south axis.
- Rice Bowl On the top of a family viewing pavilion is an upturned rice bowl symbolizing family life and the feeding of the family.
- Tea Garden Gate The bamboo gate of the tea garden has seven upright canes and six spaces representing heaven (the number seven) and earth (the number six).
If you do get to visit the Nitobe garden, it is located on the UBC Campus, a nice quiet place for students to enjoy. Just down the road a bit is the UBC Botanical Garden (of which the Nitobe garden is part) and also a tree canopy walking tour on bridges called the Greenheart TreeWalk. I’ll post about those eventually.