The finest garden from Sesshu—the famed 15th-century painter
The garden created by Sesshu Toyo, one of the greatest artists in Japanese history, is considered a masterpiece. It is believed to have been created around 1478 when Sesshu was the head priest at Ikoji Temple. This garden is a testament to the artistic genius of Sesshu and showcases his mastery of the traditional Japanese garden design.
The garden is known for its rakan statues, each with a unique expression. These statues add a sense of charm and personality to the garden, and they are a popular attraction for visitors. The Sesshu Memorial Museum is located nearby, providing further insight into the life and works of this renowned artist. Additionally, there is another Sesshu garden at the nearby Manpukuji Temple, offering visitors the opportunity to explore multiple gardens created by this legendary painter.
To get to the garden, visitors can take a 10-minute bus ride from Masuda Station. Masuda is the last station on the Sanin Main Line running from Tottori. The convenience of public transportation makes it easy for tourists to access this beautiful garden.
The garden itself can be described as a semi-stroll garden. In japan, gardens usually fall into two categories: view gardens and stroll gardens. View gardens are meant to be seen from a single viewpoint, typically the veranda of a temple or samurai home. On the other hand, stroll gardens are meant to be walked around and are more like a park. This garden combines elements of both types, allowing visitors to appreciate the beauty from various angles.
The design of the garden is reminiscent of a scroll painting. It unfurls like a scroll, with each section revealing a new and captivating view. The pond, in particular, is a striking feature of the garden. It is shaped like a crane flying west, and the island within the pond resembles a turtle. Both the crane and turtle are symbols of longevity in Japanese culture.
Throughout the year, the garden undergoes changes that reflect the different seasons. In spring, the weeping cherry tree blossoms, adding a burst of color to the garden. May brings the flowering of azaleas, while the summer months transform the garden into a lush green oasis. Autumn paints the maples in vibrant red hues, creating a picturesque scene. However, it is in winter, after a snowfall, that many consider the garden to be the most evocative of Sesshu’s paintings. The white snow blankets the garden, enhancing its tranquility and beauty.
To truly appreciate the garden, it is important to understand the story of Sesshu and his significance in the art world. Sesshu was born in rural Okayama in 1420. As a young boy, he was sent away to train as a Zen monk, where he discovered his talent for art. Under the guidance of Shubun, the greatest painter of the time, Sesshu honed his skills and developed his own unique style. He is credited with altering the ink-painting techniques of China’s Song dynasty, creating a distinctly Japanese version that continues to influence artists today. Sesshu spent much of his life painting in western Japan and returned to Masuda towards the end of his life.
Visitors to the garden can also explore the temple itself, which houses a wealth of art. The rooms of the temple are adorned with beautiful folding screens and paintings that showcase the artistic talent of the region. One notable feature is the Kaizan-do, a small hall within the main building that houses a collection of rakan statues. These statues, carved from single blocks of red pine, depict the disciples of the Buddha. Each statue is carved with a unique expression, showcasing the skill and artistry of the sculptor.
After exploring the temple, visitors can make their way to the nearby Manpukuji Temple. This temple, one of the oldest in the region, was relocated to its current location in 1374. It offers a different perspective on Sesshu’s garden design, with a more minimalistic approach. The garden at Manpukuji Temple is meant to be enjoyed from the veranda, allowing visitors to take in the serene beauty of the landscape. With advance notice, visitors can reserve matcha green tea and cake, creating a truly immersive and relaxing experience.
The garden at Manpukuji Temple features a large rock that protrudes from the “mountain” beyond the pond. This rock represents Mt. Meru, the axis of the universe, known as Shumisen in Japanese. The pond itself is shaped like the Chinese character for heart, adding a symbolic element to the garden’s design.
In conclusion, the garden created by Sesshu Toyo at Ikoji Temple is a true masterpiece. It showcases the artistic brilliance of Sesshu and his ability to capture the essence of nature in his paintings. The garden’s semi-stroll design allows visitors to immerse themselves in its beauty and appreciate its different elements from various angles. Whether it is the rakan statues, the changing seasons, or the symbolic elements, every aspect of the garden has been carefully thought out and designed to create a harmonious and serene environment. A visit to this garden is a journey through time and a chance to witness the genius of one of Japan’s greatest artists.
Address And Maps Location:
4-29 Someba-cho, Masuda-shi, Shimane-ken