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UNESCO's garden

The garden is of great historical significance, being the first to have been created by a sculptor rather than a gardener. In the past, gardens were not created by artists, and their work in gardens is the sign of a new era which has given rise to many contemporary Japanese gardens that differ considerably from the traditional gardens. It therefore represents a new departure.
   Isamu Noguchi’s father was a famous Japanese poet and his mother an American writer. Although he was born in Los Angeles he spent his childhood in Japan, spending some time in a Zen temple. At the age of 14, imbued with Japanese culture, unwittingly for the most part, he returned to the United States. His creation is perhaps more profoundly Japanese than anything a Japanese artist who had remained in Japan would have created, because he was trying to understand the culture of his childhood.
   Isamu Noguchi is a deeply Japanese sculptor but ultimately very international and modern in his assertion of himself as an artist (a Western concept).
   UNESCO’s garden, a donation by the japanese government, is marked throughout by the Japanese spirit and at the same time it expresses Noguchi’s individual artistic creativity.

It differs from a traditional Japanese garden in that :

    It can be viewed as a whole by visitors : Noguchi created the platform (butai), or upper garden, in order to achieve this. Traditionally, however, it is never possible to see a Japanese garden at a glance : it is a space to be discovered gradually ;
   • It has three axes : the axis from the platform to the place set aside for the open-air tea ceremony, the axis of the ‘‘ flowery path ’’ and the stream, and the axis from the rounded bridge to the lantern that passes through the place set aside for the open-air tea ceremony.
The axes of Japanese gardens are traditionally invisible. Their visibility here is indicative of a clear decision taken by the creator.
In traditional gardens the boundaries between different materials and spaces are kept deliberately vague, and natural materials are used as far as possible. UNESCO’s garden is characterized by clearly defined boundaries; consequently, each area is discreet. The garden is, in fact, a composition of clearly autonomous spaces; and each one of those spaces is a profound expression of Japanese culture and taste. Their autonomy makes each space an individual sculpture;
   • for Japanese people, the use of asphalt in the garden is highly shocking. It is however a fixed form, that is, another sculpture ;
   • the relationship between nature and human creativity is tilted here in favour of the latter, and it is in fact an essential feature of contemporary gardens that human creativity takes precedence over nature ;
   • the ‘‘flowery path’’ and the platform (butai) are not traditional garden features: they are nonetheless traditional elements borrowed from other areas of Japan’s culture : theatre, construction, and so on;
   • the upkeep of a Japanese garden involves a creative effort on a daily basis, which is the source of its charm. Isamu Noguchi has left such a lasting stamp on this garden that its upkeep does not allow for traditional creative development.
However, the garden is all the more Japanese in that it was made by Mr Toemon Sano, the sixteenth in a celebrated line of Japanese gardeners. The way in which the rocks, imported from Japan, are laid out, for instance, is essentially Japanese. The plants have been selected to resemble as closely as possible the natural landscapes of Japan, and enable the visitor to appreciate the passing seasons.