- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

The National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall serves up a piece of Japan in the middle of Washington with its newly installed exhibit “The Spirit of Japanese Gardens,” which includes a real rock garden, complete with thousands of pieces of stone and gravel, a water feature and a living pine tree.

“It’s a beautiful space, just calming — a place for quiet reflection,” says Susan Norton, director of the National Geographic Museum.

The roughly 15-foot-long and 7.5-foot-wide garden and 54 accompanying large color photographs of various garden settings in Japan can be enjoyed through April 29 — which means the exhibit will coincide with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, March 31 through April 15.

Some of the photographs are close to 100 years old and include portrayals of young girls in plain kimonos enjoying a picnic in the park; others are still lifes, showing red maple leaves on still water surrounded by deep green moss.

Enjoying the stillness and beauty of Japanese gardens is one aspect of the exhibit. The other is learning about their origin and meaning, Ms. Norton says.

It was during medieval times — when the warrior class (samurai), with its simple aesthetic, rose in power — that smaller, relatively unadorned gardens became more commonplace, according to the exhibit.

It also was during that time when Zen Buddhism, with its emphasis on meditation and stillness of mind, became increasingly popular. The Buddhist temple gardens were meant to inspire meditation and contemplation. They were not meant to be tread upon or touched.

Yotaro Ono, the landscape architect (and martial artist) behind the National Geographic garden, says he calls this plot the Samurai Warrior’s Garden because it is an expression of the mind and body of Miyamoto Musashi, an influential 17th-century samurai, writer and philosopher.

Musashi’s body is represented by the unmoving rocks; his intent is represented by the constantly flowing water; and his mind is represented by the polished, refined moon, says Mr. Ono, a big fan of Musashi’s teachings.

The moon in this case is a round Japanese roof tile lodged among the gravel, which looks to form a wave or ripple in a river. A few inches away from the moon tile sits a gold-plated rock, which is supposed to show the moon’s reflection in the water.

“This garden will evoke different things in different people,” Mr. Ono says through an interpreter. “That’s fine. I just want it to be a place for your heart and soul to relax.”

The way the various stones — which have different shades of gray — and parts of Japanese roof tiles are laid out, they look like either a river flowing from the small water feature or the tail feathers of a giant bird (a rising phoenix?).

Across “the river” arches a small bridge made of bamboo posts and stretched silk. Sound flimsy? Well, the bridge and the rest of the garden are not meant to be walked on. Just looked at.

Across from the garden, which is bordered by stalks of bamboo, is a bench for people who want to spend time resting their minds and legs.

Speaking of looking, Mr. Ono recommends that visitors view the garden for a while, then close their eyes halfway.

“That way you will see it through your mind’s eye, and you will see things about the garden that are not visible to the mere eye,” Mr. Ono says.

Another important aspect of the garden is that it represents the circle of life, he says. The water flows from a stalk of bamboo, then flows through the rocks and finally gets pumped back into the water feature, completing the cycle.

He also points out that the center of the garden is design-heavy — the wave-looking pebble designs, the water feature, the tree — while several feet around the edges consist of pure white pebbles.

He explains the white, unbusy border in his own meditative way:

“The void gives the other parts meaning.”

When you go:

What:The Spirit of Japanese Gardens,” National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall

Where: 1145 17th St. NW

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. The exhibit runs through April 29.

Admission: Free

Parking: Street, meter and pay garage parking nearby

Metro:Farragut West and Farragut North

Directions: The museum is in the National Geographic Society’s headquarters, which is downtown about four blocks north of the White House.

Miscellaneous:National Geographic Museum has no food service for visitors (only for employees), but several restaurant and coffee shops are in the area.

Information: 202/857-7588 and www.nationalgeographic.com



Click to Read More

Click to Hide