Next to Okayama by rail (all our travelling in Japan was by rail), where we quickly headed to the Korakuen Gardens, considered one of the three most beautiful gardens in Japan. It was begun by a feudal lord in 1686 and completed in 1700, and of course has been much changed over the centuries. It was the personal place of the ruler during the period of the daimyos. After being bombed during WW2 it was restored using Edo period paintings and designs. It is in the scenic promenade style, whereby the visitor sees a new view at every turn of the path, and has man-made features such as streams, waterfalls, rocks, hills and forests, and pavilions (such as the Ryuten). Each feature has a symbolic meaning (the secret of Japanese gardens, large or miniature). Zen, for example, likes to use the sacred symbols of the circle, square and triangle. There are also lawns and little rice paddies (to remind the daimyos of the ordinary people they ruled). The colours change with the seasons, cherry blossom in April, azaleas in May and June, iris and lotus in June and July autumn colours in October (in theory anyway, autumn being late this year we missed the browns, reds and yellows almost completely).
Next day we visited Imbe to see some famous Bizen pottery ware (using techniques dating back to the 700s). It is earthy, rustic pottery and we were invited to see a kiln in action (with Japanese tea added in – the Japanese are very polite and welcoming). The potter was a master potter called Shuzoh Ogawa. On our last day we visited the Prefectural Museum of Art in a splendid modern building (there are many such in Japan, using Japanese architects, among the world’s best), and often commissioned by very rich Japanese as their contribution to culture (better than buying football teams!). Then to the Yumeji Art Museum featuring the work of Yumeji Takehisa (1884-1934), sometimes called the Japanese Toulouse-Lautrec, a founder of the Japanese Art Nouveau movement. (We were to find a good deal of Art Nouveau works in Japan, something we have a great interest in). We found his work interesting but too often there is a sentimental element, not to our taste (but perhaps like English Victorian art in some ways) – women waiting for their lovers or sadly thinking of departed ones, etc. There was also some prefiguration of comic characters, anticipating the modern Japanese love of (or obsession with?) cartoon and comic genres. More on Nara next.