Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tour of the Portland Japanese Garden April 15, 2017

Our first gathering as a group travelling to Japan together, there was a sense of getting a sneak peak of the tour to come, meeting the people we will be spending time with and learning how to function as a group. We were lucky to have beautiful weather—clear, sunny, yet still a bit brisk and a slight wind. The finishing touches on the newly updated Gardens were barely in place, and it was exciting to see the new additions to the Garden.

We ascended the steps and assembled ourselves in two groups with our respective guides.  Our guide had lived in Japan for many years, some in a Buddhist Monastery.  He injected a Zen perspective for the tour.  Because we are a choir he focused on sound in the garden.  He talked about the concept of “hearing” incense, and the principles of Japanese aesthetics.  The architect of the garden focused on the sounds that a waterfall made.  The waterfall not only had to look right, but also had to sound right.

The gardens opened in 1963 as a symbol of healing between the WWII adversaries. Before the tour I was talking with Carole Anderson, a Portland native, who remembered visiting this location as a child when it was the Portland Zoo. During the tour our guide Richard pointed out that one of the main ponds had previously been the Bear Pit for the Portland Zoo.

There are 5 separate gardens that make up the Japanese Garden.  We started with the 5th garden, which is usually last.  Generally, the four seasons are represented in this garden.  Summer was depicted by the raked gravel that represents water (the water cools you down), the Fall by the beautiful color of the Japanese maples, Winter was the pine trees that catch the snow in tufts, and Spring is the cherry blossoms.  He talked about asymmetrical balance, for example, in the 5th garden there was a statue that was the center, on the right were 3 manicured bushes and on the left were 3 other objects of different heights.

The crane and the tortoise are very important to the Japanese.  The crane mates for life and represents longevity, while the tortoise also represents long life.  Objects representing the tortoise and the crane are found throughout the 5 gardens.  The origami crane is used frequently to remind people of these qualities. 

One of three tea houses has a stone walking path that is designed to help visitors shed the concerns of the outside world. Inside the gate where the tea house is located is a contemplative space that represents rural life.  Outside the gate is an angular cement walkway that represents city life – the fast moving I-5 freeway. 

A concept of Japanese aesthetics is called Miegakure.  When looking at a garden, you see or hear a glimpse of that which is beyond, enticing one to move forward into the next space.  One might hear a waterfall without the ability to use one’s eyes to see.  It is necessary to see with one’s ears.

The Japanese enjoy calling to mind a monk who foregoes reaching nirvana to return to earth to be a teacher for his fellow human beings.  We saw a stone statue with a carving of this monk on a gentle, rolling path.  Later, Marcella picked up a little statue of this inspirational teacher at the gift shop.

At the completion of our tour, Richard invited us to return in the Fall for the Harvest Moon viewing.  He recommended getting tickets early to ensure you can enjoy the tea, sake, the beautiful community of people who gather, and the stunning gardens.