If one would like to learn more about Japanese culture, but an overseas trip to that country is not on your schedule, how about exploring a Japanese garden instead? I had the opportunity to visit the Japanese garden at Cheekwood ( www.Cheekwood.org ) in Nashville, Tennessee, this past week, where I photographed their garden, and followed up with a "crash course" from Wikipedia, to give me a better understanding of this lovely art form. Several years ago I took the training to be a Master Gardener in Arkansas, but never progressed much past the classroom, in terms of putting my new knowledge into practice. Fortunately, however, there are highly-trained landscape gardeners who successfully manage to create a landscape that captures the essence of a Japanese garden. The stone lantern shown in this photograph, is typical of what one normally sees in a Japanese garden, and often are thought of as the "symbol" of such a place.
The Cheekwood space had the typical entrance gate, where the visitor is to leave the cares of the world behind.
Then there is the stepping stone path, where one prepares for spiritual renewal. Parts of the path are intentionally hidden to give a sense of discovery. It is uneven to focus attention on the journey.
A Japanese garden is said to be an artistic expression of the essence of nature, where the form, dimension, and arrangement of every element is meant to have a spiritual meaning. The purpose of the garden is to provide an opportunity to connect with nature and one's inner self. (According to the Cheekwood placard placed near the entrance to the garden).
From the viewing pavilion within the garden, one contemplates an abstraction of nature in the dry lake---encircled by hills---with every stone, lantern, and plant carefully placed.
The enclosure or "framing" provided by the hedges, walls, and bamboo grove is intended to create a feeling of security.
Although Japanese gardens have evolved over the last 1300 years, it is still accurate to say that the primary purpose of a Japanese garden is to create an oasis of serenity, and a place for meditation and contemplation. Although one might think these are only aspects of Eastern religions, there are plenty of places in the Bible where those qualities are encouraged. In the New Testament, we are told that Jesus retreated to a garden to pray; and in the Old Testament, Psalms 46:10 instructs us to "Be still, and know that I am God...." . It is very easy to neglect taking this quite time in today's hectic world, so I am thankful that there are places all around us (even if it is not a lovely Japanese garden!) where we can "BE STILL" and feel the presence of God. Miles of smiles! Tricia