“Royokan Garden”

This is one of a series of blogs which describe my trip to Japan in April 2012.  To see further blogs in the series, click on “Japan Odyssey” in the Tag Cloud.

The highlight of our trip to Japan was, without doubt, our stay in a traditional Japanese family hotel called a Royokan.  I will write about our experience in a separate blog but the one thing that stands out most in my mind, is the memory of the garden.

The interior of a Royokan is one of stark simplicity – sliding walls and doors.  Standard size tatame floor mats.  Uncarved tables and chairs and no other furniture.  The only interior decoration comes from a few Japanese prints on the wall, and carefully placed Origami flower arrangements.  Colours are straw, wood browns, white wall panels and ebony black furniture – all illuminated with subdued low-level lights.

The small internal garden is a complete contrast.  It contains a host of elements knitted into an intricate tableau of natural and man-made features.  Water meandering in a small stream – contrived into a waterfall, splashing over green moss on rocks, trickling through hollow bamboo shoots.  Rocks and stones of all shapes and sizes – a few rugged boulders, flat stepping-stones, round river pebbles on the banks of the stream.  Man-made stone pagodas and lanterns.  Verdant plants adding a green pallet – moss on the wet rocks.


Tussled uncut grass, ferns on the boundary between the waters’ edge and the rock scree.  Camelias not flowering any longer.  Just one flowering cherry clipped to leave a thin cloud of pink flowers.

A few large trees rising out of and above this small piece of heaven, all bounded by bamboo and plain off-white walls.

In the early morning after doing my Tai Chi exercise in the quiet slumber of a sleeping house – silent footsteps on a forgiving straw mat floor – I sat and watched the dawn break over this garden haven.  The babbling stream is the dawn chorus.  White, golden and speckled Koi Carp adding colour to the dark water.

Black silhouetted tree branches against the lightening, colourless sky.  Light splashes on the already moist rocks and wet leaves.  As the garden wakes, the sun breaks.  Just a slow sleepy-eyed dawn.  The cherry blossom not yet awake for a new day given the courtesy of a late awaking for her daytime glory.

The designer who put this together was a genius.  Nothing and everything new each day – timeless beauty.


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