Isuien is located in Nara, several miles to the southeast of Kyoto and the site of the capital for several decades prior to 794. The garden lies just southwest of the great Todaiji temple and is actually two separate gardens. The small lower or western garden is built around a pond with two islands representing the crane and turtle, the classic symbols of longevity. It was built in the early Edo period around the 1670's by Kiyosumi Michikiyo, a wealthy textile merchant who managed to escape the sumptuary laws.
Momentos of Kiyosumi's trade make an appearance in the larger, eastern garden built by Tojiro Seki, another Nara merchant in the early 1890's. This so-called rear or upper garden was probably designed by Horitoku, a garden architect patronized by the Ura Senke school of Tea. Another retainer of the Ura Senke school, the carpenter, Kimura Seibei, was commissioned to build Hyoshintei, the pavilion on the west side of the pond.
The pond in the eastern garden inscribes the Chinese character for "water" and contains a small island, reached by the millstones mentioned above. The basic layout is a stroll garden with some artificial hills, three-tiered waterfall and minimal rockwork, much being replaced by topiaried azaleas as was common throughout the Meiji period.
This garden is another excellent example of scenery external to the garden being capture alive. The shakkei here, intended for a viewer near the Hyoshintei pavilion captures the three hills of Nara, Wakakusa, Kasuga and Mikusa, which are foregrounded by the upper part of the South Gate of Todaiji. The capture is effected by the nearby woods of Himuro Shrine, framing the view and trimming out the intervening ground plane.
The two larger gardens on east and west are separated by a much more modestly scaled tea garden with two pavilions at either end connected by a path of stepping stones.
Itoh Teiji. Space and Illusion. Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1973, p. 43.
Mori Osamu. Teien Shohakka. Tokyo: Tokyo-do, 1993, p. 319-320.
Nietschke, Gunter. Japanese Gardens: Right angle and natural form. Cologne: Taschen, 1993, p. 220-221.
A Pair of Stones
Two chunks of gray-green stone,
their shapes grotesque and unsightly,
wholly unfit for practical uses --
ordinary people despise them, leave them untouched.
Formed in the time of primal chaos,
they took their place at the mouth of Lake Taihu,
ten thousand ages resting by the lakeshore,
in one morning coming into my hands!
Pole-bearers have brought them to my prefectural office
where I wash and scrub away mud and stains.
The hollows are black, deeply scarred in mist,
crevices green with the rich hue of moss.
Aged dragons coiled to form their feet,
old swords stuck in for the crown,
I suddenly wonder if they didn't plummet from Heaven,
so different from anything in this human realm!
One will do to prop up my lute,
one to be a reservoir for my wine.
The tip of one shoots up several yards,
the other has a hollow, will hold a gallon of liquid!
My five-stringed instrument leaning on the left one,
my single wine cup set on the right,
I'll dip from the hollowed cask and it will never go dry,
though drunkenness long since has toppled me over.
Every person has something he loves,
and things all yearn for a companion.
More and more I fear that gatherings of the young
no longer will welcome a white-haired gentleman.
I turn my head, ask this pair of stones
if they'd consent to keep an old man company.
And though the stones are powerless to speak,
they agree that we three should be friends.