I visited Koraku Park (Koraku-en) in Okayama in July, 2015
‘You see this stone,’ my guide says, pointing at a huge stone impossible to miss.
‘This stone comes from one of many islands in Inland Sea. A long way from here. You know Inland Sea? Between island of Honshu and island of Shikoku?’
I nod while looking at the stone. It is massive, maybe five meters tall, and just as long and wide, if not even more. Transporting it here must have been a nightmare. I notice there are cracks all over the stone, in a pattern. Like it has been cut into smaller pieces and assembled again. My guide continues.
‘The lord of the castle saw the stone on an island in the Inland Sea. He said he want that stone in his garden. But how could they transport it? Back then they had no boats big enough. How could they?’
My guide looks up at me, wondering if I have the answer.
I am starting to get an idea of how they did it, but want to hear her tell the story.
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘How did they?’
‘You see,’ my guide says, walks over to the stone and runs her hand along one of the cracks. ‘Back then they had no boats big enough to transport the stone, but the lord said he must have it in his park. It is the perfect stone for the park.’
The Japanese people and their dedication to creating beauty, perfect harmony, impresses me. Whatever it takes. Beauty comes first. The park is stunning, breathtaking.
‘So what they did was to cut the stone into 92 pieces, and transport it here piece by piece. They then put the stone back together here at the park.
My guide stops at a junction in the path. A tea house is situated to the right of us. My guide points towards the castle.
‘The castle was for business,’ she says. I am quite surprised by how good her English is. Not what you expect from a pensioner. ‘And the garden was for entertaining guest.’
She points towards the tea house.
‘This is where they would sit and enjoy the view. The lord was very pleased by this view and would often come here at night.’
She points toward the hills in the distance, the famous view the lord liked so much.
You can see large parts of the park, the lawns, the small rivers running through the park. It is a sunny day which makes it all the more beautiful. So green, the water so clear, small trees standing along the path. In the distance the forest covers mountains, and in the middle of the forest on the mountain stands a pagoda.
‘You see that pagoda. In the mountain?’ My guide looks up at me. I nod.
‘The lord wanted a perfect view, and felt the perfect view needed a pagoda. So they then built a pagoda on the mountain. Isn’t it beautiful?’
I don’t know what to say, can simply nod.
From the top of the hill you have a great view of all of the park. There is no way my description can justify its beauty. It simply must be seen.
The bright green lawns, the clear water with the orange carps. The perfectly ordered rice fields. Bamboo forests in the distance. I stand there a while to take it all in.
My guide comes up behind me. One of the many retired Japanese who volunteer as tourist guides at popular sights. She has been an excellent guide, have so many stories to tell and so much knowledge about the park.
‘This hill wasn’t in the original park. The lord who built the park did not include this hill.’
I look down on her, she is only about 1.5 meters tall but surprisingly agile and in good shape for her age. She had no problem climbing the rocky path up the hill.
‘It was his son who built the hill. After his father died he had this hill made. I guess he wanted to add something of his own to the park.’
‘See there?’ My guide points towards a small stone sculpture. A circle with a roof on top. A small river is running beside it, then turning to run in front of it, it is flanked by a small tree on each side. Behind it you can see the river and a tea pavillion in the distance.
A guite simple view, not as beautiful as some of the places I have seen, I thought.
‘That is called the most beautiful view in all of the park. This is very famous view.’
I study the scenery once one. Is this really the most beautiful view of the whole park. Is it something to do with how everything is placed perfect in relation to each other? Something I did not see? To me there was nothing special with what I saw. Yes, it was beautiful, but compared to the rest of the park quite normal.
The Japanese can create parks of incredible beauty, it is simply a joy to just wander around looking at it all. In the middle of the most busy city you can suddenly stumble upon a beautiful park. A nice getaway from the noise and stress of the city.
Even as a foreigner I can enjoy these parks, but clearly there is something about the Japanese concept of beauty I don’t get. There is no way I would even consider calling this the most perfect view.
Koraku-en is only a twenty minute walk from Okayama station, which can be easily reached by the shinkansen travelling south from Osaka.