furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto
an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / the splash of water
When I asked Kazu Ishihara which were the ten best gardens in Japan (excluding gardens he had designed) his list included Kiyosumi in Tokyo (as well as, inevitably, a garden he had designed himself). Kiyosumi has strong British connections because the tea house, which is now its focal point, was built as a guest house for Lord Kitchener and because the garden was originally built for a Tudor-style residence designed by the English architect Josiah Conder, the man who re-modelled Tokyo in the nineteenth century. Sadly, the house, together with nearly everything else he built, was destroyed in the Great Kanto earthquake of 1923 (what the earthquake didn’t get, the American bombs did). But there’s nothing at all English about the garden, which is a typical Japanese “strolling” garden, whose pathways wind around a large pond. Even in mid-winter the garden is enchanting but it looks its best, I’m told, in May and June when spectacular displays of iris and azalea come into flower. But there’s a problem with including this garden in Japan’s top ten. It borrows its scenery from some of Tokyo’s ugliest architecture, which intrudes into every aspect. In fact it’s impossible to take a photo of the garden which doesn’t include a chunk of brutal concrete. I’ll have to ask Kazu to reconsider.
Note: The Basho haiku is carved on a stone monument in the garden.