Emerging from a shallow pool of water, a bank of pebbles rises in a crescent shape to form a peninsular through the water. Carving through the centre of this perfectly square garden, this peninsula is a minimal intervention that forms a directive path through the heart of the garden. It culminates at a single point, at which the visitor can walk no further. The layout of the garden carefully determines the visitor experience of the garden.
This is a garden of reflection, a garden which celebrates the moon – an absent, imagined presence during most daylight hours. The garden therefore refers to a poetic vision which ties human presence to landscape, nature and the cosmos. In this 21st Century urban setting of Ulsan city, the garden seeks to evoke personal, historical and literary memory and allusion.
The title of the garden, Drizzling Moon Garden refers to the Japanese Tales of Ugetsu (Ugetsu Monogatari) in which an ‘invisible moon’ drizzles like slowly falling rain, snow or tears on the hearts of the characters through the book.
The crescent shaped peninsular makes reference to the celebrated moon viewing platforms (tsukimidai) of Japanese gardens – stages from which the moon (present or absent) is to be appreciated. Elsewhere in Asia, it is through the moon-gate and moon-window (a circular opening in a wall) that a privileged view of the garden is offered.
The moon inspires a mysterious, shamanistic reverence. It is a distant source of magic and mystery, creating a dreamlike interplay between light and dark, a spell bound up in shadow play. The moon produces no light of its own; it reflects the sun’s light, offering a melancholic reflection of another object - and yet the quality of moonlight is nothing like the sunlight of day.
Moonlight evokes an eerie stupor associated with death and unattainable beauty. Its bright beauty is of course transient. In Buddhism, the moonless night is a metaphor for darkness of ignorance, while the luminous mirror moon reflects inner knowledge, the uncluttered mirror of wisdom, at the heart of Zen. ‘What is meditated upon is nothing that is not of the moon’, said poet monk Basho.
Traditionally, in many cultures, the moon is viewed not directly but as a reflection – its moonlight reflected on a sand platform, or as a reflection in water, or in a mirror. It is a long held superstition throughout world culture that to look directly at the moon may cause madness – the Latin word ‘lunacy’ derives from the Latin name for the moon ‘luna’.
The moon ties the tradition of garden-making to farming. Daily life is historically tied to the cycle of moon, which brings about progression, regeneration and revival. All-knowing, the moon has the power to predict the weather, anticipate the harvest, and foretell the catching of fish. The moon’s cycle controls the ocean tides, the rains, the seasons and even the female menstrual cycle.
In East Asian culture, the moon is seen as a representation of the feminine. The pale ‘moon face’ of a woman is considered the highest, melancholic beauty. When we view the moon in the garden, we are not simply viewing landscape, but the pale beauty that reflects femininity and the poetry of melancholy.