Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Chinese garden: Marvel of man and nature

My Okinawan souvenirs. Aren't they cute? (Photo swiped from the Net)

Hundreds of years ago, Okinawa had a close trade relationship with China, and Chinese influences are still apparent today all over the islands. Perhaps the most ubiquitous souvenirs for sale were pairs of shisa, a creature from Okinawan mythology that's a cross between a lion and a dog. Shisa serve as guardians to ward off evil, and hence are often found on rooftops and around entrances.

In our wanderings around Naha, we stumbled across a traditional Chinese garden and decided to go exploring. The garden, Fukushu-en, was gorgeous and turned out to be one of my favorite parts of the trip.

My Internet research tells me that Fukushu-en was built entirely with wood and stone from the Chinese city of Fuzhou, Naha's sister city. This place really took my breath away. Walking through it, I often thought that everywhere I looked felt like a picture.

I'm no expert on the differences between Japanese and Chinese gardens, but I have to admit that I kind of preferred this garden to the Japanese gardens I've visited. Japanese gardens seem to be designed with a lot of meticulous landscaping and careful thought in the use of plants so that flowers are always in bloom no matter the time of year. Sections of the gardens are designed to highlight these flowers when they are in bloom. More emphasis in the Chinese garden seemed to be placed on the creation of graceful structures that flowed naturally with the landscape. Chinese gardens are designed to achieve a balance between architecture, rocks, water and plants (feng shui and all that). The swooping curves of the structures in Fukushu-en were really lovely.

The waterfall you see above actually had a caves built into the rocks behind the waterfall so that you could sneak inside and look at the garden from behind the waterfall.

Not only was looking out at the landscape from the garden's buildings a treat, but so was looking up. Take this pagoda for example:

From the inside looking up:

Or this little gazebo:

Looking up:

The level of detail we encountered in places was truly extraordinary, like these columns that had intricate dragons carved into them.

These dragons actually had free-standing stone balls in their mouth that could be rolled around but were too large to be removed from the mouth.

Last but not least, a door knocker. Because old door knockers are cool.

I really could have spent all day in this place, taking photos and relaxing. It was this little oasis of calm in the midst of the city, and I found it so fascinating that it makes me want to learn more about the Chinese culture.

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