Asian Influence at Kew Gardens
Several structures and gardens at Kew were influenced by the culture and styles in the Orient. The Pagoda, Japanese Landscape and Chokushi-Mon and the Japanese Minka and Bamboo Garden date from as early as 1762.
Whimsical follies—extravagant, frivolous or fanciful buildings—and an artistic style that reflected Chinese art and building—known as Chinoiserie—was popular in Europe in the 18th century. Sir William Chambers, who had lived in China while working for the Swedish East India Company, designed 25 decorative buildings for Kew. Only a few remain.
Chambers’ Pagoda was completed in 1762. Successive floors taper upwards in the 163 foot tall octagonal structure. Both the height and diameter of each floor is reduced by 1 foot compared to the one below. There have been a number of restorations to the building, but unfortunately, the original roofs which had iron plates with colored glass covered dragons on each edge have not been restored.
The Karamon (Gate) of Nishi Hongan-ji Temple in Koyoto-the ancient imperial capital of Japan-was the inspiration for this four-fifths replica. Built for the 1910 Japan-British Exhibition in London, Kew’s Chokushi-Mon (Gateway of the Imperial Messenger) is built in the architectural style of the Momoyama period in the late 16th century. A full restoration of the Chokushi-Mon was completed in 1995.
A dry stone kaiyu shiki (stroll-around or walking) garden around the Chokushi-Mon at Kew is comprised of three styles depicting different aspects of Japanese gardens. A ‘Garden of Harmony’ using precisely positioned stones and rock outcrops to represent the mountainous regions of Japan links a ‘Garden of Piece’ (similar to a Japanese Tea Garden) on one side with a ‘Garden of Activity’ on the other.
Stone lanterns, a dripping water basin, gravel, rocks and plants of Japanese origin complete the illusion of water flowing, water falls and natural scenery.
The Japanese Minka
The equivalent of British wattle-and-daub cottages, minka were popular in Japan until the middle of the twentieth century. The Japanese Minka at Kew was originally constructed as one of these earthquake resistant and easilyrecycled country homes around 1900 near Okazaki City on Japan’s south central coast. It was dismantled and shipped to Kew where it was reassembled in 2001.
British builders who had worked on the Globe Theatre in London built the Minka’s mud wall panels. Norfolk reeds and wheat straw were used to thatch the roof.
Bamboos range from sturdy pole varieties suitable for construction material to those that can be eaten or even mown as lawn. Bamboo grows wild on every continent except Europe. The Bamboo Garden at Kew contains several varieties and provides an appropriate environment for the Japanese Minka.