Welcome to the Tsubo-en diary. Thanks for stopping by and reading. If you have any questions feel free to email us or post in the comment sections of one of the posts you'll find here.
     Marijke & Piet.

Tag search

Follow us

Slow Blog Button: Go to Manifesto discussion.

Shumi-sen or Mount Sumeru, in historical perspective

In the garden book Sakuteiki 5 “Creating a garden” is expressed as “setting stones”, ishi wo taten koto; literally, the “act of setting stones upright.”

At the time the Sakuteiki was written, the placement of stones was perceived as the primary act of gardening. Similar expressions are also used in the text, however, to mean literally “setting garden stones” rather than “creating gardens”.

Make sure that all the stones, right down to the front of the arrangement, are placed with their best sides showing. If a stone has an ugly-looking top you should place it so as to give prominence to its side. Even if this means it has to lean at a considerable angle, no one will notice. There should always be more horizontal than vertical stones. If there are “running away” stones there must be “chasing” stones. If there are “leaning” stones, there must be “supporting” stones.

And note again that in many cases stone and shaped shrubs (karikomi) can be used interchangeably.

Mount Sumeru or Shumi-sen ( 須弥山 or しゅみせん ), (Chinese: Xumishan) symbolized by the upright heavy rock is one of few stone arrangements, ishigumi, in Tsubo-en. This is the mountain at the center of the World in ancient Hindu-Buddhist cosmology. Its prominence is emphasized by some everlasting snow that seems to cover it and the Shitenno, the Four Heavenly Kings, that protect the four continents surrounding Mt. (Su) Meru.

Today, ink monochrome painting still is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. A primary design principle was the creation of a landscape based on, or at least greatly influenced by, the three-dimensional monochrome ink (sumi)landscape painting, sumi-e or suibokuga. In Japan the garden has the same status as a work of art.

Interestingly after erecting this stone we discovered that it shows great resemblance to a Japanese monochrome ink landscape depicted in the book “Zen culture” [5] by Thomas Hoover.

This shows the second and third tier of the three dimensional painting technique.
Our Sumeru shows near resemblance with the mountain at the center-right. Not only the shape but also the coloration of black and white. In the garden the clouds are formed by the blooming Wisteria sinensis(Fuji).
The backdrop boundary hedgerows and the “borrowed scenery” (by means of Shakkei) are also part of the third tier. This Japanese monochrome ink landscape is probably a simplified version of this painting if the Fanghu isle.

Funghu         The Fanghu Isle of the Immortals

Fanghu (literally, “square jar”)is one of five mythical island homes of immortals traditionally thought to lie in the sea off the east coast of China. Fanghu was a common theme in Chinese painting, and this hanging scroll depicting it is one of the finest. Belief in this island dates to at least the third century B.C., when the first emperor of China sent an expedition into the eastern sea in the hopes of making contact with beings who could teach him the secrets of immortality. This expedition remains one of the more tragic events in Chinese history: since immortals were believed to have eternal youth, the emperor sent an embassy of young boys and girls to communicate with them. None returned. Largely because of this event, Taoists came to believe that Fanghu and the other islands either lay beyond violent seas that prevented mortals from finding them or rested on the backs of great tortoises who were constantly in motion, so that the mountains had no permanent location.

Wang Yun depicted the mythical Fanghu rising from such an ocean. In this scroll, a precariously perched, oddly-shaped rock formation rises forcefully from surging waves. The other islands can be seen in the background through mist. The island is inhabited by immortals, whose red-and-green palaces with gold roofs resemble Taoist temples nestled in the folds of the rock. The rest of the mountain is an ideal landscape adorned with magical plants and trees, misty vapors, and mysterious caverns from which waterfalls descend. The inscription in the upper left by the artist indicates that this hanging scroll was painted for a Taoist named Helao and based on an older Song-dynasty composition.

Wang Yun (1652—1735 or later)
Qing dynasty, Kangxi reign, dated 1699
Hanging scroll; ink and colors on silk, 142 x 60.3 cm Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City (also in [e] Fig 4, page 84).

The above “The Fanghu Isle of the Immortals” by Wang Yun may very well be inspired by this monochrome hanging scroll ink on paper painting, named Spring Dawn at Cinnabar Terrace (under the figure it states: Spring Dawn Over the Elixir Terrace), by Lu Guang, Yuan Dynasty, ca. 1369 (also in [e] Fig 11, page 91).

This however is said to be a sacred spot identified as Mount Mao Shan near Nanjing.
Mount Mao was an ancient Daoist center and is here symbolically represented by the artist as a manifestation of his own practice of “inner alchemy”. An outdoor Daoist altar is depicted on a cliff at the top of the mountain.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art,
Ex coll.: C. C. Wang Family, Edward Elliott Family Collection, Purchase, the Dillon Fund Gift, 1982 (1982.2.2).
Image copyright the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For more specific information about the context and surrounding in our garden have a look at the related pages.

Related: Stone and rock: Mount Sumeru stone setting, In Year round activities: 17th August 2008: Mount Sumeru erected after 10 year of “dormancy”, Monochrome landscape ink painting examples The front garden compartment: beside the drive Hõrai-jima, “symbol of the islands of the Blest”