May Term 2006
In May, 2006, eight students traveled with me to Japan to study Japanese gardens. These pages are the product of that study.
The American landscape architect James Rose wrote a very funny book about gardens in the 1960s, appropriately titled, Gardens Make Me Laugh. In a chapter concerning Japanese gardens, he wondered about the emerging fad of creating "Japanese" gardens here in the United States. Especially amusing were the people who after a brief encounter with the gardens of a place like Kyoto were sure that they had to reproduce the feel and look (perhaps by investing in the kinds of ornaments found in some Japanese gardens - such as stone lanterns). Commenting on the question whether we could have authentic Japanese gardens in America, he responded: "Of course you can have a real Japanese garden. All you have to do is be Japanese."
What is "Japanese" about a Japanese garden? Rose's wry comment suggests that gardens result from the rich historical and cultural background of the gardeners (not just designers, but also those entrusted with maintaining them as well). If this is so, then gardens - especially gardens in a place like Japan, where their design and maintenance have been high art for a long time, hold the possibility of providing a window through which we can discover many things about a culture. It is in that spirit that I designed the course, "Japan & Its Gardens," hoping that students would find the gardens we encountered both fascinating for themselves and for what they could glean about a culture very different from their own by peering through that window.
This website offers a glimpse at the outcome for students of that opportunity to peek through the window. Primarily, you will find three things here: their individual projects, their presentations of specific gardens, and excerpts from student journals. The primary goal for producing this website is to provide an opportunity for the students to share with each other what they learned (and thus to continue their collective study), as well as to share it with anyone else interested. Alex Benzer deserves a special note of appreciation for his professional guidance in constructing this web site.