Summer, 2008 – Focus on Japan

What is the meaning of this parable posed by 16th century tea master Sen-no-Rikyu? Sen-no-Rikyu built a garden enclosed by a tall hedge that blocked the view of the sea. The wealthy merchant for whom the garden was built was unhappy – until he bent to wash his hands in the water basin.

Why? Visit these websites on gardens of Japan and see if you can come up with an answer.

Let’s get warmed up at

Now, just dive in at, where 29 Japanese gardens are featured in a most user friendly manner. The midori taki (green waterfall) at Kenroku-en is positively dreamy. Check out the “Elements” listings for a plethora of lanterns, bridges, stones and other garden features. (Meditate on Japanese Gardens) is a modern site complete with blogs. Look at the featured gardens on the right hand side scroll – the moss temples are otherworldlike and the essays by William Will are spot on and give a sophisticated topic its due. There is a wonderful glossary as well with cogent definitions.

More photos, this time in black and white, at

At, search botanic garden in japan for a list of almost 100.

So niwa shi, (garden master) do you know the meaning of the parable?

The merchant smiled when he bent to wash his hands because the sea then became visible in a gap between the hedges. As Sen-no-Rikyu had hoped, his client then realized the intent behind the design. As his mind made the connection between the water in the basin and the great ocean it also connected the merchant and infinite universe.

– Lesley Parness

Lesley Parness is Superintendent of Horticultural Education at The Morris County Park Commission. She can be reached at