Hakusasonso Garden With a View
Japan is such an amazing country with over 5,600 museums from north to south—in Tokyo alone, comprising of over 130. While the stereotyped impression of a museum is narrowed down to a box with pictures flattened against the wall, or free-floating installations stuck to the ground or suspended from a ceiling perhaps, Japan proudly boasts of garden museums as well—art that extends circumferentially from indoors to outdoors, and vice versa. After all, the Japanese garden has always been omnipresent in Japanese culture for centuries.
Apparently linked with Buddhist and Taoist ideologies from China since 7th century AD, Japanese gardens have been fundamental elements in temples and shrines, niches of peace and spiritual nourishment for the monks and worshippers. In The Tale of Genji, around 1000 gardens were depicted as symbols of aristocracy, and at the same time picturesque landscapes that seduce medieval romance.
In Kyoto, one particular garden museum located just a few steps from the quintessential Ginkakuji temple projects such a romantic aura of nature, tradition, and art as encapsulated in ancient times. The Hakusasonso Hashimoto Kansetsu Garden Museum is often missed, in fact, by Kyoto visitors as the exterior appears more of a private residence than an actual museum. Kansetsu Hashimoto (1883-1945) was a Nihonga painter originally from Kobe, and appointed Imperial Household artist, whose father Kaikan Hashimoto was, likewise, a classic painter and Confucian scholar, and from whom he acquired the profound love for Chinese art and culture. As a young boy, Hashimoto was surrounded by Chinese poetry and trained in calligraphy, and at twelve years old, began to study the Shijo style of painting, which largely focused on realism from the Western point-of-view, but adopted the Japanese painting technique. Heavily influenced by Chinese themes, Hashimoto developed a deep association with the “New Nanga” movement during the 1910s, which followed the path of Chinese literati painting, and it is important to understand this significant mark in Hashimoto’s timeline to grasp the visual relation of his art and the garden landscaping of the museum.
Hashimoto moved to the present Hakusasonso in about 1916, around the time when the land was merely covered by paddy fields. Today, it is a paradise oasis of beautiful cherry blossoms, pine, plum, and maple trees showing off an exuberant and colorful foliage, surrounding ponds filled with bright carps. The entrance to the museum grounds is itself a wooden gate with stone pillars, common in Japanese houses in the olden days. The stone slab pathway leads directly to another bamboo gate that opens to the sanctuary of plants, tall trees, lush green moss, ducks and birds. Japanese garden structures typical of those seen in temples and shrines also abound: stone lanterns, Buddhist statues, an Edo-styled stone bridge, wash basins with their bamboo water spouts, numerous pagodas (including a large one by the middle pond), and carefully laid out stepping stones in perfect harmony with the indulging scenery—all collections of Hashimoto traced back to the Heian, Momoyama and Kamakura periods.
Combined with the abundance of nature, the 10,000 square-meter site is also an outdoor architectural showcase of Japanese buildings, such as a small arbor hut, painting studio (where Hashimoto originally painted), temple, tea ceremony house, restaurant, the main residence and the museum.
The Hashimoto Kansetsu Museum was completed much later in 2014 as the family’s tribute to Hashimoto who passed away in 1945. The mix of modern concrete and wooden structure reflects the melodic flow of the present within the past. Apart from Hashimoto’s own personal artworks and collections displayed in the three museum showrooms, which evolve around Nihonga paintings, sketches, calligraphy, byobu folding screens, ceramics and glassware, there are also brush tools, ink stamps, and utensils. One of the cherished highlights of anyone’s visit to this garden museum is an ascend to the second floor of the main museum where a wooden veranda opens majestically to one of the most spectacular views of luscious Kyoto. The Higashiyama mountains with a direct perspective of the Daimonji tower over the enchanting garden setting of Hakusasonso. One can sit quietly on the benches, unmindful of the minutes that go by, and even steal the charming hums of birds hovering nearby.
Upon exiting the gates, the sudden hustle of tourists rushing their way to Ginkakuji temple or the Philosopher’s Path may arrive abruptly in rebellion of the encased tranquility just experienced before. However, the grandiosity of the garden’s beauty is too precious to be camouflaged, and surely remains without resistance, whether while continuing to stroll the rustic streets of Kyoto or heading back to the over-swamped city life.