Nov 27, 2006

In The Korakuen Garden

Yesterday I took a bit of time to see Okayama's major landmark, the Korakuen garden. It was the sort of day that I'm freakishly fond of- one in which the clouds envelop the landscape like this great silent blanket. There was a breeze and a slight chill as I headed to the island in the middle of the city where the garden resides.
I have a fairly good impression of Japanese garden styles. Even though everything is all planned out in the broad scheme of things, it tends to look more naturalistic. The planning seems to be more along the lines of "we'll have a grove of cherry trees here," rather than "look at these neat little rows of plants." According to the handy-dandy English language brochure that I got at the entrance, the place is seasonal, so the best views tend to switch up around the year. Apparently, the maples are the big thing for autumn. They are pretty, but we've got Japanese maples in Oregon, so the tree wasn't anything too new for me, and the moisture on the floor of their grove tended to literally and figuratively dampen their showyness.
What I enjoyed more than the maples was the sheer size of the place. The garden, if anything, is big, with large lawns of grass stretching out in the middle around a central pond. I'd forgotten how calming it is to simply walk around for a long time while surrounded by plants. It's something irrationally stimulating, like petting a cat or playing fetch with a dog. Maybe it's somehow evolutionarialy linked to our persistent fascination with setting things on fire.
On the far side of the garden's large, central lake I saw the koi. The fish were something. Each of them was probably larger around than my own thigh, and with their moustache-like tendrils and mail-style scales they looked a bit like finned swashbucklers. One of my old coworkers at the bookstore had koi fish in his backyard, and told me about how he'd trained them to eat from his hand. I watched the fish for sometime, their mouths opening and closing constantly (I wondered if it was part of their breathing process, or if they were ingesting some tiny organisms) and thought about that, wondering if any tourists ever tossed them bits of something from the stone steps.
Towards the end of the path, there was a rocky hillock with uneven rocky stairs leading up to the top. I imagine that the small Kanji sign said "watch your step," or something to that effect. I stood there for a while, looking out onto the interior lake and the grass fields, at Okayama castle and at the swollen clouds. There were a few small children there, laughing and climbing on the rocks, and a mother worried over them that they might fall. Processions of umbrellas worked their way along the paths, and I sat on a rock for several minutes.
It began to rain in earnest. I told myself that I didn't mind, and for a while I didn't. But, my camera was getting wet, and I felt the sodden collar of my leather jacket rest uncomfortably on my neck. I would have sooner stayed another hour, but walked home in what became a pouring rain.

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