Script error Borrowed scenery (借景 shakkei?, lit. "borrow/lend scene") is the principle of "incorporating background landscape into the composition of a garden" found in traditional East Asian garden design.


Shakkei in the Sakuteiki

Shakkei was originally codified in the oldest extant Japanese garden manual, the Sakuteiki (作庭記?, "Records of Garden Making"). This text, which is attributed to Tachibana Toshitsuna (橘俊綱, 1028-1094 CE), a son of the Byodoin's designer Fujiwara no Yorimichi (藤原頼通, 990-1074 CE), records the Heian period’s attention to a concept called "mono no aware" (物の哀れ) "the pathos of things". Clearly here the Shinto belief that all things were living, feeling beings had carried into their design approach despite the time period’s coincidence with a massive increase in Buddhist temple construction and consequently a larger practicing population. The first principle of the Sakuteiki is,

According to the lay of the land, and depending upon the aspect of the water landscape, you should design each part of the garden tastefully, recalling your memories of how nature presented itself for each feature. (tr. Inaji 1998:13)
These four principle tenets guiding Japanese garden organization are,

  • shotoku no sansui (生得の山水?, "natural mountain river") intending to create in the likeness of nature
  • kōhan no shitagau (湖畔に従う?, "follow the lakeshore") planning in accordance with the site topography
  • suchigaete (数値違えて?, "irregular numerical value") designing with asymmetrical elements 
  • fuzei (風情?, "feeling of wind") capturing and presenting the ambience

Shakkei, which attempts to capture nature alive rather than create a less spectacular version, is included in the first of these categories.

The origins of shakkei gardens, as well as Shinden-zukuri, lie in the increased local travel of the Japanese elite, a layered endeavor involving the bolstering of a national identity separate from China and the display of personal wealth. When they returned from their travels they would want to physically manifest these travels at home in a more ostentatious way than could be accomplished solely with art, weapons, or ceramics. Thus, shakkei was introduced to incorporate the foreign landscapes seen in northern Japan into the southern cities of Nara and Kyoto.

The Chinese counterpart of shakkei (借景) is jiejing (借景) "borrow/lend scenery". According to the 1635 CE Chinese garden manual Yuanye (園冶), there are four categories of yuanjie (遠借 "distant borrowing", e.g., mountains, lakes), linjie (隣借 "adjacent borrowing", neighboring buildings and features), yangjie (仰借 "upward borrowing", clouds, stars), and fujie (俯借 "downward borrowing", rocks, ponds); respectively Japanese enshaku, rinshaku, gyōshaku, and fushaku.

Diffusion of shakkei and sharawadgi

A major feature of modernity is the increased speed in dispersing and diffusing knowledge through the printed word, travel, and correspondence. Sir William Temple (1628-1699) was a statesman and essayist who traveled throughout Europe. His essay Upon the Gardens of Epicurus; or Of Gardening, in the Year 1685 described what he called “Chineses” [sic] landscaping.

Among us [Europeans], the beauty of building and planting is placed chiefly in some certain proportions, symmetries, or uniformities; our walks and our trees ranged so as to answer one another, and at exact distances. The Chineses scorn this way of planting, and say, a boy, that can tell an hundred, may plant walks of trees in straight lines, and over-against one another, and to what length and extent he pleases. But their greatest reach of imagination is employed in contriving figures, where the beauty shall be great, and strike the eye, but without any order or disposition of parts that shall be commonly or easily observed: and, though we have hardly any notion of this sort of beauty, yet they have a particular word to express it, and, where they find it hit their eye at first sight, they say the sharawadgi is fine or is admirable, or any such expression of esteem. And whoever observes the work upon the best India gowns, or the painting upon their best screens or purcellans, will find their beauty is all of this kind (that is) without order. (1690:58)

Multiple authors have attempted to trace the etymology of sharawadgi to various Chinese and Japanese terms for garden design, two philosophies that greatly differ in adherence to feng shui directional principles, proportional codes of site orientation and placement of buildings and plants. Two Chinese authors suggested the Chinese expressions sale guaizhi "quality of being impressive or surprising through careless or unorderly grace" (Chang 1930) and sanlan waizhi "space tastefully enlivened by disorder" (Ch'ien 1940). E. V. Gatenby (1931) proposed English sharawadgi derived from Japanese sorowaji (揃わじ) "not being regular", an older form of sorowazu (揃わず) "incomplete; unequal (in size); uneven; irregular". S. Lang and Nikolaus Pevsner (1949) dismissed these two unattested Chinese terms, doubted the Japanese sorowaji, and suggested that Temple coined the word "sharawadgi". P. Quennell (1968) concurred that the term could not be traced to any Chinese word, and favored the Japanese etymology. Takau Shimada (1997) believed the irregular beauty that Temple admired was more likely characteristic of Japanese gardens, owing to the irregular topography upon which they were built, and compared the Japanese word sawarinai (触りない) "do not touch; leave things alone". Ciaran Murray (1998, 1999) reasons that Temple heard the word sharawadgi from Dutch travelers who had visited Japanese gardens (perhaps accompanied by the German Engelbert Kaempfer), when the Dutch East India Company had a factory at Dejima, Nagasaki. Murray emphasizes that Temple used "the Chineses" in blanket reference inclusive of all Oriental races during a time when the East-West dialogues and influences were quite fluid. He also notes the similarity between sarawadgi and the southern Japanese Kyūshū dialect pronunciation shorowaji.

The Oxford English Dictionary enters Sharawaggi or Sharawadgi without direct definition, excepting a gloss under the Temple quotation, "… have a particular Word to express it [sc. the beauty of studied irregularity]". It notes the etymology is "Of unknown origin; Chinese scholars agree that it cannot belong to that language. Temple speaks as if he had himself heard it from travellers", and cites Lang and Pevsner (1949). The OED cites two other early usage examples by Alexander Pope (1724) "For as to the hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Paradise of Cyrus, and the Sharawaggi's of China, I have little or no Idea's of 'em" and Horace Walpople (1750) "I am almost as fond of the Sharawaggi, or Chinese want of symmetry, in buildings, as in grounds or gardens."

Temple misinterpreted wild irregularity, which he characterized as “sharawagdi”, to be happy circumstance instead of carefully manipulated garden design. His idea of highlighting natural imperfections and spatial inconsistencies was the inspiration for fashioning early 18th-century "Sharawagdi gardens" in England. The most famous example was William Kent’s “Elysian field” at Stowe House built around 1738.

Ties between shakkei and the Picturesque style

Temple's development of fashionable "sarawadgi" garden design was followed by Edmund Burke’s 1757 A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful. Burke suggested a third category including those things which neither inspire awe with the sublime or pleasure with the beautiful. He called it "the picturesque" and qualified it to mean all that cannot fit into the two more rational states evoked by the other categories. A flurry of English authors beginning with William Gilpin and followed by Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price, and Humphrey Repton all called for promotion of the picturesque.

Gilpin wrote prolifically on the merits of touring the countryside of England. The naturally morose, craggy, pastoral, and untouched landscape of northern England and Scotland was a suitable endeavor for the rising middle classes, and Gilpin thought it almost patriotic to travel the homeland instead of the historically elite tour of the great European cities. One of the major commonalities between the precursor shakkei and the later picturesque style movement is the role of travel and its integration in designing one’s home to enhance one's political and social standing. A simple description of the picturesque is the visual qualities of Nature suitable for a picture. However, Lockean philosophy had freed Nature from the ideal forms of allegory and classical pursuits, essentially embracing the imperfections in both landscapes and plants. In this way the idea progressed beyond the study of great landscape painters like Claude Deruet and Nicolas Poussin into experimentation with creating episodic, evocative, and contemplative landscapes in which elements were combined for their total effect as an individual picture.

As shakkei became a commonplace principle in Japanese gardening and was employed in monasteries, temples, and less noble homes alike it became more of a framing mechanism than a gesture to foreign scenes. Shakkei moved to incorporate the elements of the surrounding lands, such as a mountain in the distance or an ancient grove of trees, as the backdrop for the actual garden, arranging the plantings to highlight the distant view. Like the picturesque style, this was a conscious manipulation of Nature to create foregrounds, middlegrounds, and backgrounds in a move to highlight a selection of provocative formal elements. This improvement or elevation of certain aesthetic qualities is hardly a new phenomenon, as art and philosophy have often progressed hand in hand, but it is unique that an idea was mistakenly diffused (Sharawadgi), which resulted in a typology of gardens that served as a precursor for the picturesque style which actually represented the ideas of sorowaji and shakkei quite accurately. These class-driven aesthetic preferences were driven by nationalistic statements of incorporating goods and scenery from one’s own country, framing mechanisms which dictate the overall experience, and a simultaneous embracing of irregular qualities while manipulating the “natural” scenery to promote them. The importance of this comparison lies in its location at the beginning of modernism and modernization, marking a period in which Nature was allowed to become less mathematically ordered but where intervention was still paramount but could be masked compositionally and just shortly after technologically as in Adolphe Alphand’s Parc des Buttes Chaumont and Frederick Law Olmsted's Central Park.


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