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Shin-Sakuteiki: A Manifesto for the Japanese Garden

Christian A. Tschumi, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland / University of Kyoto, Japan, Fellow 2004–2005

Mirei Shigemori created gardens in Japan between 1933 and 1975, refusing to reproduce traditional gardens because they lacked any sense of modernity, and refusing to imitate European gardens because they were out of touch with Japanese culture.

Born in the Japanese countryside near Okayama city, Shigemori went to Tokyo to study painting. After a detour into the field of ikebana, he undertook an extensive survey of gardens in Japan and between 1936 and 1939 published a twenty-six-volume book on the history of the Japanese garden. As a passionate advocate for the renewal of the Japanese garden he felt that innovation had come to a halt around the middle of the Edo period and that gardeners were just repeating what had been done before. With his distinctive garden designs, he wanted to make a true contribution to the renewal of Japanese garden culture.

With the eyes of a painter, Shigemori looked at the garden's plane of gravel as a canvas and its stone arrangements as points. Missing in this picture were lines as well as different colors. This realization led Shigemori to rejuvenate the karesansui, or dry landscape garden. He added lines, colors, and shapes while overlaying the garden with entirely new themes. As a result Shigemori no longer restricted himself to the traditional references of the karesansui garden, which were often historical landscapes or paintings thereof. So in the case of Ryogin-an, for example, we see a dragon producing dark clouds while rising from the sea to the sky, an idea derived from the temple's name.

In his late seventies, after creating more than 240 gardens, Shigemori felt ready to write an update to the Sakuteiki, the ancient garden-making manual. He called it the New- or Shin-Sakuteiki, and it became a passionate manifesto for the renewal of the Japanese garden tradition, resulting in one of the most important contemporary texts regarding the history and theory of garden making in Japan. But surprisingly until now it has never been translated into any Western language. I have during my time at Dumbarton Oaks been working on a complete translation of this text into English. I hope to make it soon accessible to a scholarly audience outside Japan.