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The Uses of Stone


The Japanese appreciation of stone stretches back into prehistory, unusual rocks were believed to be the abode of the kami , spirits who literally inhabited the rocks themselves and to this day are marked by placing a rope around them. Nitschke (1990) states that"the unique or extraordinary in nature is often venerated as go-shintai , the abode of a diety. Go- shintai may be an unusually shaped rock, a tree weathered over the centuries , a strikingly jagged rock or a waterfall of rare shape or size". Small stones are collected for display in the home, sometimes with bonsai, a hobby known as suisekiand can be highly valuable. In 1580, the warlord Nobunaga exchanged a small stone entitled ' Eternal Pine Mountain' for the Ishiyama fortress, on the site of present day Osaka castle. (Covello and Yoshimura 1996).
Granites, gneiss and schists are used for their aged appearance, each shape, whether tall and angular or rounded, evoking its own moods, in these cases moods of austerity and warmth respectively (Whitner 1992).
The placement of stones in the garden is regarded as providing the back bone to the structure, bad placement can offend the spirits and result in misfortune and the technique of stone placement is studied at length in Japan (Coates 1989). Mitchell and Wayembergh (1981) quote the Sakuteiki in stating that "the great majority of taboos involve the proper and improper use of stones."
In both sansui and karesansui gardens, stone groupings are used to create islands, often in the tortoise or crane formation and round the edges, as Cave (1996) states, " no other material gives such instant maturity to a landscape or garden" . Saito (1969) indicates that" at the side of calm, standing water, the stones must be placid, whereas they must be set to accent dynamically the movement of swift streams or rapids."
An important use of stone in relation both to water gardens and karesansui gardens is the creation of waterfalls. Tall, flat striated stones, sometimes called cascade stones may be used to create the impression of falling water and wave dividing stones used to split the waterfall into two distinct falls. A stone is often placed at the bottom, onto which the water will fall for the effect of the splashing sound. A famous example of this is the carp ascending stone, at the Dragon gate cascade of the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji).\par
Where a garden stream is to be created, work should commence at the place where the stream turns, a large rock placed in such a way as to cause the stream to divert (Mitchell and Warembergh 1981).
The most basic rock grouping is the triangular group of three, known as the sanzon grouping, symbolising the Buddhist trinity. This can be extended to five or seven, numbers of religious significance. Sometimes, one of these stones is omitted, being left to the imagination. (Davidson 1982).
The use of the asymmetric triangle is central to Japanese design. The balancing of forces of psychological thrust to provide balance is resolved in the asymmetric triangle. Mitchell and Wayembergh (1981) give an equation to represent this


Psychological mass X Distance between object and fulcrum = Balance.

The use of groups of three is found in the Noh theatre as well as flower arranging and represents the three elements. These three elements are taken to represent either the planes of horizontal, diagonal and vertical, the structure of the universe i.e. heaven ,earth and mankind, or, the Buddhist trinity of the three treasures, the Buddha, the law and the priesthood (Phillips and Foy 1995)

\p To achieve a sense of balance, a relationship between stones must be achieved, " the symbolic forces of stones directed to create an emotional relationship, both enliven the stones themselves and create interest around them" (Saito 1969).
Balance is also achieved by burying the stones to at least a third there depth and they should appear to be spreading where they enter the earth, to increase stability.

Stones are seen as having innate qualities and the gardener should seek to
"follow the request" of the stones. As Saito (1969) explains, " the gardeners duty is to seek to discover the direction in which the stone most naturally relates and to permit the formation of such a relationship" . In stone groupings, the smaller stones are used to determine distance, a large stone and a small stone will be separated by a number of times the width of the latter. The size of the stones will also be related in this way.
In general rocks should be laid with their strata horizontal unless a dramatic effect is desired where they can be laid vertically, suggesting ancient volcanic upheaval. (Eliovsen 1970). Where it is felt that the design lacks balance or there is a flaw in the rocks, plants such as ferns can be added to hide this.
The creation of rock landscapes has also been stylised into five distinct forms, these are ocean, river, valley, marsh and wavy reed styles. These designs symbolise various land forms and come complete with recommended features and selected plants.

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