This sample essay on Nitobe Memorial Garden reveals arguments and important aspects of this topic. Read this essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion below.
This essay will encompass the Nitobe Memorial Garden as a whole by discussing its significance as well as the surrounding discourse created through time. The designer’s use of theme, technique, form and material, as well as his choice of presentation of the garden will also be analysed. Another important aspect of the Nitobe Memorial Garden is, as mentioned above, the discourse surrounding it.
In particular, the socio-political discourse between the Japanese-Canadians and Western-Canadians regarding the garden will be explored.
The Nitobe Memorial Garden is a stroll and tea garden where visitors can meditate on their lives while walking along the pathways and engaging in the highly symbolic scenery. Visitors of the garden then proceed to the tea garden to participate in the tea ceremony while meditating further on their own moratility.
In 1959, plans for the construction of a Japanese garden in memory of Dr.
Izano Nitobe at the University of British Columbia were formed. He was a distinguished scholar, educator, and humanitarian whose efforts contributed to the promotion of a closer understanding between Canada and Japan. Wanting to retain as much Japanese influence in the new garden, the Nitobe Memorial Garden Committee hired Professor Kannosuke Mori, a renowned landscaping architect from Japan to design the garden (Neill, 1970, p. 12).
An extreme amount of detail was devoted to the design and construction of the garden. Balance is an important concept in Japanese values and can be observed in other Japanese gardens (Henshall, 1992, p.
9). Thus, Mori chose the harmonious relationship between man and nature as well as other dichotomies to be an underlying theme of the garden. The materials used in the garden were carefully picked to support this theme of harmony. Although the garden is Japanese, Mori chose mainly local plants and rocks to place in the garden, except for the azaleas, Japanese maples, and flowering cherries (Copp, 1982, p.4). This decision caused people to question the garden’s authenticity. Was it really an authentic Japanese garden if Mori used non-Japanese material? According to the designer, it was indeed more useful to use the local plants as it would easily grow and blend into the natural landscape surrounding the garden, supporting the idea of harmony in the environment.
Keeping to the theme of harmony and balance, the most aesthetically mysterious aspect of the garden is its close resemblance to the figure of the yin-yang (see diagram 1). Like the garden, the yin-yang is a symbol for balance and harmony. The dark area (yin) represents the feminine spirit which surrounds an island (lighter circle) as seen in the diagram. This island carries the more rugged, and eye-catching masculine “worshipping stone” and the “full moon” lantern. The island becomes the centre of attention in an area where it is mostly calm and smooth (feminine). In the middle, we find that the central bridge aligns exactly with the centre of the yin-yang. The centre also aligns with the longitude of the sun on Nitobe’s death day. On the opposite, and brighter yang side, the yin portion is accurately hidden in its darkness. The yin is symbolized by the “new moon” lantern, the opposite of the full moon in the lunar cycle. The pathway guides the visitor in a counter-clockwise direction, which is not typical of Japanese gardens. Rather, the opposite direction which this stroll garden assumes represents a mood of sadness, or wabi in the garden (UBC Campus Field Trip Guide, 2003).
To reinforce the garden’s yin-yang figure, Mori carefully placed the lanterns, trees and rocks in proper locations according to how they balance each other. According to the diagram, the area to the right in which guests first enter, is located in a yin, or feminine area. Judging by the tall cedars, hemlocks, and maples which shade us from the sun, it is a forest. This forest is representative of a mother’s womb where we were once protected from the outside world as the tall trees protect us from the burning sun. We then enter infancy. Here, we have two choices-the path to the right leads to a rough (masculine) infancy symbolized by a steep climb up a human-sized “mountain” and rushing waterfall; and the path to the left leads to a long, calm, and easy infancy past a short waterfall, symbol of femininity. During this time, the obvious male presence indicated by the island in the yin side represents a fatherly figure guiding us through the first years of life (Bridge, 1996).
Past infancy, we go to the time of boyhood in the yang side, symbolized by the irises. Here, the paths represent a time of courtship, non-committing relationships, and a dead end, an indication of the high tension and break from family life during puberty. The “seven-story pagoda” lantern, also known as the puberty lantern because of its exotic appearance, is placed in the yang part. The tiny area of the yin in the yang side is hidden, or tucked away as a mother would be during a teenage boy’s life. She is, however, always present throughout his life. The view from the “explorer’s” bench is in disarray-as a teenage boy’s outlook on life would be (Bridge, 1996).
Beyond the zig-zag bridge, we enter the area of yin. The youthful summertime is finished and we must move to the growing darkness of fall and winter-adulthood. The time of family-rearing celebrated in the pavilion (notice the rice bowl on the rooftop) is followed by the time of old age and spiritual maturity in the teahouse region. Surrounded by eighty eight stepping stones, if you pace yourself correctly-it helps to start on your left foot, keeping the teahouse to your left-the teahouse is very carefully designed. Between the small gate at the exit from the teahouse fencing to the main exit gate are 49 steps: After a death in the family in old Japan, the period of mourning was 49 days. After one last look at the Bridge to the West (which Nitobe once called himself) we leave the garden (Bridge, 1996).
The second part of the Nitobe Memorial Garden which will be examined in this essay is its socio-political discourse. As mentioned above, the garden was created in the memory of Dr. Izano Nitobe, who worked closely with ex-president Dr. Norman Mackenzie. Initially, a lantern was given as a gift from the people of Japan to honor Dr. Nitobe’s efforts, and was displayed in a small Japanese garden. In 1959, Dr. Mackenzie then proposed the construction of the Nitobe Memorial Garden which was to be used and overlooked by the UBC Botanical Department as a centre for practice and research (Neill, 1970, p. 14) . The new use of the garden presents an issue. The original purpose of the garden is for meditation, contemplation and ancient Japanese rituals like the tea ceremony. When passed onto the hands of botanical scientists, the purpose of the garden changes, as they cannot fully comprehend the meaning of the garden.
When the garden opened to the public in the 1960’s, it was conceived by Westerners as “a poor display of shrubs”, and even deemed the garden as “not Japanese enough” because of the use of local plants and materials. Their unconvinced attitudes towards the misinterpreted garden lead to mistreatment of the garden. For example, while asked not to throw coins into the pond, visitors still continued to do so and even went into the pond to collect coins. Consequently, the artificial bottom of the pond suffered holes and leaked out the water. Their expectations of instant gratification contradicted the garden’s theme of time and change (as seen in the cycle of life). The garden is a reflection of growth, and must grow by itself (Gray, 1961, p. 21).
Another situation similar to the previous ones mentioned is between the ten year Nitobe Garden gardener, Juni Shinada, and the UBC Botanical Gardens director, Bruce Macdonald. Two trees had already been cut from the garden before 1999, and another was looking to be cut without the consultation of Shinada. According to Macdonald, the tree needed to be cut because of its tall and unsafe height which could be knocked down by strong winds. Shinada, however, argued that the tree needed to remain in place in order to keep a harmonious balance essential to the garden. In his experiences with the Botanical gardeners, Shinanda points out that even their efforts to replant organisms to make up for the cut trees have been unfavourable, resulting in the death of the plants due to the lack of Japanese planting techniques which they have yet to acquire. (Appelbe, 1999), (Kurabashi,1999).
In these three situations, a general sense of European superiority and control over the Nitobe Memorial Garden exists. Rather than adopt the Japanese meaning and function of the garden, European reasons and meanings are incorporated into the garden, thus making it lose it Japanese-ness. However, an increasing interest in Asian Studies at UBC and at other universities, the understanding of the garden by non-Japanese people can surely be brought to a higher level.
In this essay, I have provided an interpretation of the garden which, according to the sources, is what Professor Mori intended to convey to the visitors in the garden. Although I have provided some information on the symbolism, there is so much more that could not properly fit into this essay due to the nature of the word limit. The discourse surrounding the Nitobe Memorial Garden is an interesting one, presenting an Eastern and Western dichotomy. Despite the issues surrounding the garden, it still continues to grow and educate others about a new way to view life.