Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Bay of Shiogama

Katsushika Hokusai, The Minister Toru, c. 1833-4

Among the miniature landscapes reproduced in Japanese gardens, one of the more elaborate was created in the late ninth century by Minamoto no Toru (822-95), Minister of the Left and a son of Emperor Saga. His Kyoto garden recreated the Bay of Shiogama and even included a salt kiln because the famous kiln at Shiogama was believed to be the first place salt had been made in Japan. As Ivan Morris describes it in his book The World of the Shining Prince, the Minister ‘ordered gallons of water to be brought daily from the coast and, while it was being boiled, he and his friends would sit and imagine themselves in the far-of northern region – a region which, of course, nothing short of a ukase would have induced them to visit in person.’ Royall Tyler also describes the creation of this garden. Why was Toru admired, to the extent that a No play was written about him by Zeami? Tyler thinks there are two reasons: (1) he transmuted the raw landscape into an aesthetic object, bringing the hinterland into the capital; (2) his gesture was at the same time respectful and transmitted recognition back onto the original landscape.

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