Outside-in: Borrowed Scenery in Nitobe Memorial Garden

A Japanese garden does not always end at its defined boundaries. “Borrowed scenery,” or shakkei is a technique used to incorporate elements from outside of the garden proper into its themes or vistas. The formal term first appears in the 1634 Chinese garden treatise Yuanye, and in the 1735 Japanese garden treatise Tsukiyama teizōden, and can be divided into four types: enshaku (“distant borrowing”), rinshaku (“adjacent borrowing”), gyōshaku (“upwards borrowing”), and fushaku (“downwards borrowing”). In the case of Nitobe Memorial Garden, rinshaku is the most prominent of the four, drawing from both structures (the Asian Centre building) and nature (the trees surrounding the garden) in the vicinity.


The thematic link, I think, comes from the garden’s intention to honour Inazo Nitobe and his desire to be a “bridge across the Pacific.” It is a synthetic thing, with stone and florae taken from around the Lower Mainland and then tended to in the Japanese manner. The tall trees within and the trees without blend seamlessly into each other against the slate grey sky, and were it not for the wall it would be hard to say where the garden itself ended. The Asian Centre, too—looming in the background like some Japanese manor or castle—borrows its roof from the Sanyo Pavilion designed for the 1970 Osaka World’s Fair. Juxtaposed with the other manmade structures within the garden—the stone pagoda, the gazebo, and the teahouse—it looks at home with its peers. The fusion on display seems bounded only by the sky, the line between Japan and Canada ambiguous.


Interestingly, there may also be an element of what I will call “borrowed sound.” On this particular day, the wind made the trees howl loud, creating a sort of white noise that drowned out much of the outside world. Perhaps it allows the visitor to be introspective, or else focused on the world within the walls. However, when the wind died down, I could hear the roar continue—it came from the cars on the other side! The sound of cars trundling down the road was a close match to the wind blowing through the trees. It could be said that on a windless day, the garden will borrow the sound of traffic to stand in for the natural noise of the trees. It may also just be coincidence, but I feel that it would be a happy one.


Works Consulted

Goto, Seiko, and Naka Takahiro. Japanese Gardens: Symbolism and Design. Routledge Ltd, 2016. Web.

JAANUS: Japanese Architecture and Art Net Users System. 2001. Web. http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/

Kuitert, Wybe. Themes in the History of Japanese Garden Art. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2002. Web.

Overmeyer, D.L. “Glowing Coals: The First Twenty-Five Years of the Department of Asian Studies at UBC 1960-1985.” Asian Studies Department. UBC. http://asia.ubc.ca/department/about-us/history/

Sugiyama, Ryo. “Nitobe Garden.” Lecture, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, February 24, 2016.