Meet Shunmyo Masuno, Zen priest and modern garden designer

Masuno gardenZen Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno of the Kenkoh-ji Temple in Yokohama is the man behind some of the most breathtaking modern gardens  in urban Japan. He is also the last active garden designer in his order.

Video: The Zen Gardens of Shunmyo Masuno

Masuno is bringing the spirit of the traditional Japanese garden into the hectic world of the modern Japanese.

Masuno: “The fact that time is moving faster means that it is getting more and more difficult for people to take control of time, or even just to take time off and relax. And it is precisely this dilemma which led to the demand for gardens today to be sanctuaries of contemplation, where one feels embraced by nature. In essence, gardens which provide people with peace of mind, a sense of stability and a feeling of contentment. It’s no longer enough to merely provide a green zone here, or an occasional floral embellishment to a skyscraper there. What we need today are gardens that can reach deep into people’s hearts.”  

He brings traditional garden design precepts into the scope of the modern landscape architect.

Masuno: “Fundamental to Japanese garden design is the belief that all things in nature, be they stones or mountains have life and we must honor these lives that exist beyond ourselves so every single, independent characteristic of the thing considered must be discovered, brought out and reawakened to life. A landscape architect must attempt to identify this special character of a given object and honor its worthiness by assigning the exactly appropriate role to play, so in a Japanese garden, crooked or curved trees are viewed as equally valid, as are stones which symbolize movement. We honor the heart of the natural object.” 

Garden-making for Masuno is an intensely personal exercise.

Masuno: “There is a Zen proverb that says if a poisonous snake drinks water, it is changed to poison. If a cow drinks water, it is changed to milk. That means that it is up to me whether the same water I drink is changed into poison or into milk. If my heart is not addressed, I can’t just create beautiful gardens full of spirituality. Therefore, such gardens are also a mirror of myself. They are myself.”