Today, the Longwood Graduate Fellows visited a private garden at the home of Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi to observe the oldest suikinkutsu (lit. translation “water cave pot”) in Japan. A suikinkutsu consists of a ceramic pot which is buried upside down in the low point of a garden, creating an entrancing musical sound when water trickles through it. Prior to the advent of sewage systems in Japan during the Taishō and early Shōwa Periods, suikinkutsu served as a drainage system for gardens, channeling and dispersing water deep into the soil. Since arriving in Japan, we learned that less than 10 suikinkutsu remain in the country. Ōhashi-san was very excited to show off his suikinkutsu, which was constructed by his great grandfather.
The second half of our visit was focused on the 8 tōrō lanterns located throughout the garden. Each reflects a different style of craftsmanship from Korean-inspired long window types to a 3 layer pagoda style. Many of Ōhashi-san’s stone lanterns were procured during the Meiji Period (1868-1912) and early Taishō Era when his great grandfather began developing the garden. One of the oldest ones in the garden resembles a straw hat worn by women during the Heian Period (8th-12th Century).
One tōrō was particularly noteworthy, because it was toppled during the Great Hanshin Earthquake, a devastating quake centered in Kobe, Japan which occurred 20 years ago to the day. The Kobe Earthquake took the lives of over 6,400 people and ushered in a new era of earthquake-safe building throughout Japan.
Mr. Ōhashi was very knowledgable about Kyoto garden design and gave the Fellows insight into specific methods which had developed over time. Interestingly, he informed us that the dry landscape rock gardens (karesansui) characteristic of Ryoan-ji Temple (see yesterday’s post) were created at a time when Kyoto had little water, and after a canal was constructed to carry water from Lake Biwa (Japan’s largest freshwater lake) water gardens began to be designed and installed in earnest. Ōhashi-san talked about the famous landscape architect Ueji, the 8th generation member of the Ogawa Jihei gardening clan and a Meiji socialite who designed the Heian-Jingu Shrine Garden (see Thursday’s post). Even today, Mr. Ōhashi does the majority of garden maintenance on his own, only contracting out shrub pruning to young members of the Ogawa Jihei family (12th and 13th generations).
Ōhashi-ke Garden receives a few hundred visitors per year who come to see the serene beauty of the garden featuring well-manicured plants, mossy rocks, stone lanterns and suikinkutsu. Prior arrangements must be made with Mr. Ryoichi Ōhashi for a visit, but all visitors receive a private tour and discussion (in Japanese) of the garden. There is a small entrance fee which helps pay for seasonal pruning maintenance and other expenses. Well worth a visit!