Japanese Gardens

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In À rebours (Against the Grain), the novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans (who features prominently in Michel Houellebecq’s timely novel Soumission), the ‘hero’ Jean des Esseintes furnishes his bedroom as to look as cheaply as possible, using the most expensive materials. In some sense, traditional Japanese gardens are trying something similar: They are designed to look as natural as possible, but simultaneously without any flaws.

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Even the mosses are selected carefully as ground covers to suit their destined location. This is a photographer’s paradise, because literally every view is perfect. No fallen branches or other imperfections spoil the view.

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Often, these nature gardens are contrasted with rock gardens, that are minimalized abstractions of nature.

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The combed patterns of pebbles near islands of rocks or vegetation look like waves at first glance, but reveal a stronger sense for geometric abstraction when looked at from a greater distance. Instead of showing a physically realistic interference of wave patterns, we see a layering of shapes.

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These pictures were taken when I had the chance to stay in Kyoto for two days. This is a city of great tensions between layers of a conserved past and an unknown future. What unifies it is the strong presence of contemplation one can find everywhere.

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