Courtyard Garden

Two neighboring settings in the Gardens are meant to be explored from clay-walled and shingle-roofed viewing shelters called machiai. These intimate courtyard gardens are where visitors can also explore their own emotional responses to beauty.

The defining feature in both gardens is a stone wash basin. The basins are carved from granite and have different forms: one upright and deep, the other low-set and shallow. The lower basin bears an inscription of four kanji characters. Read from the top in a clockwise direction, these can be translated as “Enjoy the present time.” In gardens with a tea house, such a basin is where water is ladled into a visitor’s hands as part of the ritual of purification before a tea ceremony.

The differences in basin shape lend the water a subtly different sound as it fills the hollowed rock, gently plashing in one basin and trickling into the other. The surrounding greenery, the damp air, and the patterns that the water makes over wet stone are further elements for spiritual refreshment.

This restrained type of garden in a small and hushed space obeys the concept of “the Great in the Small,” and is called a tsubo-niwa. Often found within the enclosing walls of a residence, it is first recorded in the imperial palace in Kyoto during the Heian period, from the 8th to the 12th century AD.