There are many interesting artifacts and photographs about the history of the Yamato settlement and Morikami himself on display in the Yamato-kan, the Morikami’s original building, a teahouse inspired by traditional Japanese architectural design. Outside this picturesque building is a huge collection of bonsai trees.
When I visited the museum, I had the impression I had stepped into ancient Japan. In the main museum there was an exhibit on Japanese dolls and Kabuki theater as well as rooms full of paintings and photographs.
The Zen-like gardens, though, are what originally attracted me to the Morikami. Space, light and darkness, texture and color, sounds — of rushing water and rustling leaves — Japanese gardens are designed to be holistically sensual rather than merely visual.
Designer Hoichi Kurisu created the complex around a lake as six distinct gardens — each from a different period of Japanese history.
Shinden Garden is from the Heian Period, between the 9th and 12th centuries, when the Japanese nobility adapted Chinese garden design ideals that featured lakes and islands that emphasized informality and appreciation of nature. Paradise Garden comes from the 13th and 14th centuries when strolling gardens were introduced as an earthly representation of the Pure Land or Buddhist heaven. Early Rock Garden is inspired by the 14th century when Japanese gardens were inspired by Chinese landscape paintings in ink that depicted water cascading from distant peaks into a sea or lake.
The other three gardens are: the Karesansui Late Rock Garden, based on 15th- and 16th-century rock gardens; the Hiraniwa Flat Garden from the Edo Period of the 17th and 18th centuries, which evolved out of late rock gardens; and the Modern Romantic Garden from the Meiji Period of the late-19th and early-20th centuries, reflecting Western influences that had begun to permeate Japan.
Walking through the gardens shortly after the New Year, I left the bamboo grove, walked over a Japanese wooden bridge, and wished I could stay for a meditation retreat. Walking slowly, staring at swaying leaves, breathing deeply — it was a great way to start 2013.
Maria Karagianis can be reached at email@example.com.