Saturday, September 13, 2008


Day fifty-four: Shakkei
Fujiya Hanakaida
Below: Omaya

One the of principles of Japanese garden design, shakkei ("borrowed scenery") entails bringing the surrounding landscape into a garden by deliberately incorporating views of distant mountains, castles, or other landmarks. This practice can add depth and complexity to even the smallest garden. I particularly appreciate how changing atmospheric conditions shift the relationship between the garden proper and the borrowed scene; personally, I see this as a reminder not to be so pig-headed about the correctness of my own perceptions.

I got to thinking about borrowed scenery when I found myself photographing the day's three sweets in the internal garden of Zenkōji, Takayama's most eccentric Buddhist temple and guest house. Through their forms and ingredients, all three sweets have such a strong relationship to nature that they themselves seem to bring the garden indoors with them.

At the 90-year-old Omaya shop (below, left) I paid ¥304 for two harbingers of the autumn harvest. The plump kaki-shaped sweet was filled with white bean paste and sweet-sour bits of diced persimmon. The more abstract kuri kinton was formed from chestnuts (kuri) that had been boiled, then mashed and mixed with sugar; it was very dry and slightly crumbly, with oily little reservoirs of crushed nut, sort of a less-sweet version of the pecan divinity my grandmother used to make.

A few blocks away there's a 2-year-old sweetshop called Fujiya Hanakaida, which has a generous seating area and beautiful wood-and-glass fixtures (below, center and right). From a selection of equally craftsmanlike namagashi, I chose a tiny, totally edible model of a tsukubai (¥220), the outdoor stone basin at which guests clean their hands and mouths before entering a teahouse; they lift the water from the basin using a long-handled bamboo ladle. The "stone" is made of nerikiri (white bean paste stiffened with glutinous rice to make it more sculptable) and black sesame seeds, with a puddle of kanten jelly water and a ladle made of cinnamon nerikiri and a snippet of sweetened soba noodle.

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