Special Interview Dr. Brown x Dr. Kato “The 21st Century’s Classic Landscape is a Japanese Garden”

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Dr. Kendall Brown

Board President
North America Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA)

North America Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA) Board President, Dr. Kendall Brown is known as an influential person in North American Japanese garden research. Dr. Brown plays an important role in educating and spreading information regarding Japanese gardens, and has also written several books on Japanese art. Currently planning his next book and considering the theme of “the vision for future gardens,” he visited Japan. Dr. Brown met with Dr. Tomoki Kato, president of Ueyakato Landscape Co., Ltd. and discussed the current state and future of Japanese gardens and garden craftsmen. While enjoying the scenic garden of bare winter trees, the discussion was held at Junsei Restaurant in the Junsei Shoin (study room), which is a Registered Tangible Cultural Property designated by the Japanese Government. Various topics were discussed in depth, starting with the theme of Dr. Brown’s next book, the motive for this visit to Japan being Dr. Kato’s keynote presentation at NAJGA’s Chicago conference (October 2014), current Japanese garden evaluations, and what will be expected from garden craftsmen.

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Dr. Tomoki Kato

President
Ueyakato Landscape Co., Ltd.

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The Spirit of a Garden Craftsman is “40% Creation and 60% Fostering”

Dr.Kato: Welcome Dr. Kendall Brown, thank you very much for coming today. I heard that this visit to Japan is for research on your next book. Will you tell me a little about this book? What is the theme you are writing on?

Dr.Brown: I am currently in the process of writing a book about the future vision of Japanese gardens in North America, and beyond. I want to write about the current state of Japanese gardens, but I do not want to just introduce traditional forms and ways of making gardens. I want to view Japanese gardens of the 21st century as “living landscapes” *1 and think about how we can foster them by reviewing current conditions.

Dr.Kato: Your book sounds like it will be a wonderful one.

Dr.Brown: In this next book, I am aiming to shift perceptions of Japanese gardens from the preservation of a “static” traditional art form to understanding gardens as “dynamic: spaces for ongoing personal engagement. Your keynote presentation at the NAJGA Chicago conference about the concept of “fostering,” *2 and the idea that a garden is “40% creation and 60% fostering” is exactly what I view to be necessary for the future of gardens. I was strongly impressed and wanted to discuss the idea with you, so here I am.

Dr.Kato: I am honored by your thoughtfulness. Thank you very much.

Dr.Brown: I am struck by your new concept of garden “fostering” and the “evolution” of gardens. Fostering a garden for 100 or 200 years from its creation was a new concept for us, but a very important one for the future of Japanese gardens. The message was very powerful because it came from a traditional family lineage of garden craftsman in Kyoto—an ancient city renowned for its long traditions and deep formality. I am very interested in how you created this concept.

Dr.Kato: Personally, all the things I talked about are things that I have been doing, considering, and have been conveying in fragments. The roots of my concept come from what I was told by my grandfather as a child, what I was told by my father, and from what I learned in my experience. Yet, my message was not in words that I could teach other people. My father would often just say “anjyou seiyo (just do it properly/accordingly)” but without explaining in what way because that is how craftsmen had been teaching and learning for generations. However, because of increasing company staff and foreigners coming to study as interns, the phrase “anjyou seiyo” is not enough. You have to express the idea in clear, understandable words and that is why I have been feeling it is part of my mission to make this tacit knowledge (unexplainable through words) into shared knowledge. Therefore, I deeply appreciate being given such a wonderful opportunity to make a presentation in Chicago.

Dr.Brown: Dr. Kato, I think your concept needs to be more widely known. You have the right message and you are the right messanger. I think many of the participants from the Chicago conference felt the same way. The time is ripe for this message.

Dr.Kato: I believe that some of the messages I have been saying in fragments are coming together. These ideas have been told in our profession from a longtime ago. Amongst my father’s generation of garden craftsmen, if you were to put it in words, the message would be “listen to the voices of the trees,” and “listen to the voices of the stones.” I was delighted that what I said was also accepted by the American audience.

Nanzen-ji Junsei

Nanzen-ji Junsei Restaurant garden fostered by Ueyakato Landscape. The Shoin (study) is a Registed Tangible Cultural Property designated by the Japanese Government.

*1 “Living landscape”

“Living landscape” theory is by Tadahiko Higuchi, a landscape scholar who wrote a book, The Visual and Spatial Structure of Landscapes, that analyzes the scenic view of Japanese gardens from a landscape engineer’s perspective. In it is a passage on how landscape elevations are perceived in different stages, so naturalistic terrain is “thinking” but not in the meaning of a cognitive stage, but rather as a scenic landscape that you can “live” and “experience” from inside. In this remarkable cultural theory, the “living landscape” in “Japanese landscape scenery” is considered as a habitat that we prefer, or are attracted to live in.

*2 NAJGA

North American Japanese Garden Association (NAJGA), founded in 2007 to share common problems and assignments that Japanese gardens in North America face as well as nurturing the gardens craftsmen. In 2012, signed a cooperative aggreement with the Academic society of Japanese garden, creating strong ties with Japan. In October 2014, Dr. Tomoki Kato gave a keynote presentation, included were new concepts of “fostering” and evolutions.

 

Outline and summary “The Spirit of Kyoto Garden Craftsman” keynote speech

Nanzen-ji Oogenkan garden

5th president Jiro Kato (grandfather of the current president Dr. Tomoki Kato) Creating the Nanzen-ji Oogenkan garden (1970)

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