A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto, third edition

by Marc Treib and Rob Herman

It’s a challenge for academics to write a guidebook that is general enough for all readers but specific enough to interest experienced travellers, students, and other professionals in their field. It’s inevitable that some sweeping generalisations will be made when covering over a thousand years of history in a single volume, but nearly 40 years ago Treib and Herman wrote a thorough and stimulating guide that brought a very foreign city and its gardens closer to us, allowing us to enter the gardens and landscapes of sacred spaces without feeling the nothingness or even bewilderment that comes with not understanding where we are or what we’re looking at.

How I wish I could turn back the clocks 10 years or so and return to Kyoto with this new edition of their classic guide in hand – essence, eloquence and erudution in one small volume. Japanese gardens have fascinated me since my student days when I first visited Asticou Gardens in Northeast Harbor, Maine. My interest grew to a passion when, in my late 30s, I went to Japan several times to visit nearly every noteworthy garden in and around Kyoto. After reading this guide, I want to go back again. The authors intentions have been fully realised.

We intend this book to be both

pragmatic and insightful, a tall

order given its diminutive size. On

the one hand, we felt the need to

tell about what is there, when it was

made, and when it is open. But we

wanted to do more. Most guides are

informative or confirmatory—they

hint at what to see, but rarely tell

why, or what, we can learn from

that place. We hope that this guide

will provide some direction for

understanding the story behind the

forms so that the visitor can learn

from our experience.

Nothing can prepare us for the feeling of being in Japanese gardens and experiencing them first-hand, but the authors’ photographs in this book, published for the first time in full color, delight us before we even get there. The landscape and atmosphere of many of its gardens are revealed through the woodblock prints of Miyako Rinsen Meisho Zue (1799) while modern maps and floorplans help the reader understand the layout of temples and the growth and development of the city. This book is not a simple guide of times, prices and places, but an elegant bridge that will, through considering the history of religions, culture and politics of Japan, allow western readers to advance several steps closer, from merely looking at to seeing these gardens, to appreciating the distilled, carefully created, controlled nature and silent stones we find in Kyoto.

—Clark Anthony Lawrence for Garden Design Journal