Japanese Garden Reference Guide



Appendix B: Numeral Influences

by Dec 21, 2015Appendices, Handbook0 comments

Asymmetrical designs and odd-numbered groupings are favored. Not being evenly divisible, these prevent the garden from having a sense of completion and suggest the wildness of nature.
Seike Kiyoshi and Kudō Masanobu

Seasonal haru-no-nanakusa for sale in a Tokyo supermarket. They are added to a rice to form a porridge

Seasonal haru-no-nanakusa for sale in a Tokyo supermarket. They are added to a rice to form a porridge

Numbers and numerology play a far more important role in the Orient than they do in the West. Certain numbers, and certain combinations of numbers, hold specific significance under the Chinese Zodiac, and astrology, geomancy (Ch. feng-shui; Jp. fūsui 風水), and tradition also have their respective numerology. It should come as no surprise that odd numbers are favored as propitious, as asymmetry (fukinsei 不均斉) is the foundation of a large portion of Oriental aesthetics. “According to ancient Chinese thought,” François Berthier comments, “the odd numbers – which were celebrated in other times and places by Virgil and then Verlaine – are yang, [ 陽], while the even are yin [in 陰].” Harmony resides primarily in uneven numbers. Furthermore, many core beliefs in Buddhism are expressed through numbers, series of numbers, and the mathematical relationships between numbers. The selective entries below outline some of the more important associations with numbers that are likely to be encountered in the study of Japanese gardens, although most of them are covered more fully within the text of the book.

1 (ichi 一)
• In Buddhism, the first anniversary of a death is known as ikkaiki (一回忌) or isshūki (一周忌).

2 (ni 二)
• Dualism is the heart of the or yin-yang (inyō 陰 陽) system.
nidōji (二童子): The twin attendants flanking a Buddha.
niō (二王): The two statues of fierce Deva kings who guard a niōmon (二王門, Buddhist temple gate).

3 (san 三)
• The triad is at the heart of so many Japanese aesthetics – from (能) drama to architecture, from sumie (墨絵) to ikebana (生け花) – that it is legitimate to call it an aesthetic archetype. The trinity of heaven, earth and humanity are comprised of ten (天 “heaven”), chi (土 “earth”) and jin (人 “man”). The exploitation of three components, one large, one medium and one small, creates “a dynamic balance of odd numbers.”
mitsukanae (三つ鼎, みつかなえ): A Chinese three-legged pot that served as a model for triangular rock configurations during the Heian period.
Nihon-sankei (日本三景): The Three Best Views of Japan (see “et Us Now Praise Famous Places” in Looking beyond: Borrowed Scenery).
Nihon-santei (日本三庭): The Three Most Celebrated Gardens in Japan (see “Gardens of Repute” in Looking beyond: Borrowed Scenery).
saikan-sanyū (歳寒三友 “cold season’s three friends”): More commonly called the Three Friends of Winter, they are pine, bamboo, and plum, a combination of flora often found in Chinese-based gardens. When they are called shō-chiku-bai (松竹梅 “pine, bamboo, plum”), they connote a comparative ranking system in which shō is the best, chiku is very good or great, and bai is good.
sanbō (三宝 “Three Treasures”): Buddha Shakamuni Buddha, the sutras, and the priesthood.
sanbusshō (三仏生 “Three Natures of Buddha” ): All beings have three natures: Temporary Nature, Dependent Nature, and Absolute Nature.
santoku (三徳 “Three Virtues”): Wisdom, benevolence, and valor.
sanshu-no-jingi (三種の神器 “Three Sacred Treasures of the Imperial Family”): The mirror, the sword, and the jewels.
sanzan-gogaku (三山五园): “Three Mountains and Five Peaks”; a common motif in rock compositions.
sanzon-butsu (三尊佛): The Buddhist Trinity.
sanzon-ishigumi (三尊石組): Triad rock compositions.
sansei (三聖 “Three Sages”): K’ung Fu-tse (Confucius; Jp. Kōshi), Guatama Buddha (Jp. Shakamuni), and Lau-tse (author of the Dao Te Ching; founder of Taoism). Their traditional dwelling places were three mountains in the Tokai province of China. In gardens, they are often represented by three vertical stones. Benjamin Hoff’s summary of the ancient allegorical ink painting “The Vinegar Tasters”, painted by an unknown hand, is worth citing here: “We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar. Each has dipped his finger into the vinegar and has tasted it. The expression on each man’s face shows his individual reaction. Since the painting is allegorical, we are to understand that these are no ordinary vinegar tasters, but are instead representatives of the “Three Teachings” of China, and that the vinegar they are sampling represents the Essence of Life… To K’ung Fu-tse (kung FOOdsuh), life seemed rather sour. He believed that the present was out of step with the past, and that the government of man on earth was out of harmony with the Way of Heaven, the government of the universe… To Buddha, the second figure in the painting, life on earth was bitter, filled with attachments and desires that led to suffering… In the painting, why is Lao-tse smiling? After all, that vinegar that represents life must certainly have an unpleasant taste, as the expressions on the faces of the other two men indicate. But, through working in harmony with life’s circumstances, Taoist understanding changes what others may perceive as negative into something positive. From the Taoist point of view, sourness and bitterness come from the interfering and unappreciative mind. Life itself, when understood and utilized for what it is, is sweet. That is the message of The Vinegar Tasters.”

4 (shi / yon 四)
• Four is an inauspicious number in Japan because shi (四) is a homonym of shi (死), meaning death. Items are sold in sets of five rather than four, thus five is an auspicious number.
shijin (四神): The Four Directional Gods.
shiki (四季): The four seasons.
shitennō (四天王): The Four Deva Kings.
• Buddhism warns against the Four Great Crimes of fornication, theft, murder, and prevarication.

5 (go 五)
• Like three and seven, five is another auspicious number in Japanese garden design. François Berthier succinctly summarizes its significance: “On the numerical scale the 5 is accorded special significance: situated in the middle of the first nine numbers, it is the symbol of the center… This originally Daoist schema gave rise to the cosmic diagram of a central mountain surrounded by four others situated at the cardinal points. Thus 5, as the pivotal number, marks the axis of the world around which the four directions are arrayed.”
• Three and seven occur equidistant from five in the scale of one to nine, hence the numerical triad so common in Japanese aesthetics, and especially in garden design. In Looking for the Lost: Journeys Through a Vanishing Japan, Alan Booth quotes an old Kyushu woman as she rationalizes the significance of five fires in a folk song: “In these parts a lot of things are counted in sevens, fives and threes. For instance, old farm houses have either three, five, or seven roof beams. Three is small and seven is big. Five is pretty normal.” The most celebrated example of the three numbers occurs in the dry landscape “Garden of Emptiness” (Mutei 無庭) at Ryōan-ji, which contains fifteen rocks placed roughly in groups of three, five and seven.
• The Five Directions of the Buddhist cosmos are all interrelated as follows: North (Water, Black), East (Wood, Blue-green), South (Fire, Red), West (Metal, White), and Center (Earth, Yellow).
gochi-nyorai (五智如来, gobutsu 五仏 “Five Buddhas”): Dainichi-Nyorai (center; see Fudō-Myōō), Ashuku-Nyorai (east), Hōshō-Nyorai (south), Amida-Nyorai (west) and Fukūjōjū-Nyorai (north).
godai-myōō (五大明王): The Five Greats of the Shingon sect of Buddhism: Fudō-Myōō (center), Gōzanze-Myōō (east), Gundari-Myōō (south), Dai-itoku-Myōō (west) and Kongōyasha-Myōō (north).
gojū-no-tō (五重の塔): Five-storied pagodas represent the Five Greats of Buddhism in an architectural metaphor. It is no coincidence, then, to find that most lanterns (tōrō 灯籠) are comprised of five separate parts.
gogyō (五行): The Five Elements (fire, wood, earth, metal, water).
gojō (五常, gotoku 五徳 “Five Cardinal Virtues”): Benevolence (jin 仁), justice (gi 義), propriety (rei 礼), wisdom (chi 智), and fidelity (shin 信) are the five Confucian precepts. Goten-no-suitei (五典の水庭), an enclosed garden built by famous sculptor Asakura Fumio (1883-1964) in the early 1900s, contains five rocks that represent these precepts.
• The Five Capital Offenses of Buddhism (Skr. Pantchanantarya): parricide, matricide, the killing of an arhat, causing disharmony during worship, and shedding the blood of a Buddha.
gorin (五輪 “Five Rings”): Buddhist in origin, they are the five parts of the human body: head, left and right elbows, and left and right knees. In Confucianism, gorin refers to the Five Human Relationships: between lord & vassal; between father & son; between husband & wife; between an older person & younger; and between friend & friend.
goshiki (五色 “Five Colors”): Red, yellow, blue, black and white.
Gozan (五山 “five mountains”): The first ranking of the five most important Zen temple complexes in Kamakura and Kyoto that helped introduce and disseminate Zen religion and culture throughout Japan. However, the Gozan were also instrumental in permitting the bakufu (幕府 “curtain government”) to control – in some degree – the policies and activities of the temples. Members of the Kyoto Gozan today are: Nanzen-ji; Tōfuku-ji; Kennin-ji; Shokoku-ji; and Tenryū-ji. The second ranking of temples is known as the Jissatsu (十刹 “ten temples”), the second ranking of ten important Zen temples. Shigemori Mirei (重森三玲 1896-1975) incorporated a design of five moss-covered mounds in the south dry landscape garden at Tōfuku-ji that represent the Gozan temples. Refer to Collcutt, M. (1981). Five mountains: The Rinzai Zen monastic institution of medieval Japan. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Hōriazan (蓬莱山): Some accounts attribute five islands to the Mystic Isles of the Blessed.

6 (roku 六)
• The Chinese believed that there were six attributes required for perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiality, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. A famous Song Dynasty (960-1279) garden combining these attributes forms the original influence for Kenroku-en (one of the Nihon-santei; see “3” above). Six is also a number associated with earth (do 土) and the cosmos (rikugō 六合).
• Buddhism speaks of the Six Paths: Hell, pretas, beasts, asuras, men and Heaven. The Heike-monogatari (平家物語 Tale of the Heike) has a chapter called “The Six Paths”).
rokudai (六大 “Six Greats”): The Six Great Elements are earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness.
• The Six Arts: rituals, music, archery, riding, calligraphy and mathematics.

7 (shichi / nana 七)
• Seven is often used in Buddhism to symbolize the compassion of Buddha, thus shichi-go-san-ishigumi (七五三石組 “seven-five-three rock compositions”) are often encountered in Japanese gardens, the most famous example of which is the dry landscape at Ryōan-ji. Shōden-ji also exploits a 7-5-3 configuration, although here the rocks have been replaced by clipped azaleas. The nakaniwa (中庭) at Tōkai-an, Kyoto, has seven rocks placed in an austere dry landscape arrangement. Seven is also the number associated with heaven (ten 天). Buddhist death anniversaries include the shonanoka (初七日 “first seven days”), the minanoka (sanshichinichi 三七日 “three times seven day”, 21st day) and the shichikaiki (七回忌 “seventh round memorial”, 7th year).
shichi-go-san (七五三 “Seven, Five, Three”): A Shinto festival in which girls aged three and seven and boys aged five dress up in traditional costumes and visit shrines to pray for happy, healthy futures.
shichifukujin (七福神 “Seven Gods of Good Fortune”): Originally came from Chinese mythology. The garden at Daichi-ji, attributed to Kobori Enshū (小堀遠州 1579-1647), contains an ōkarikomi (大刈込み) representation of a treasure ship laden with these auspicious deities.
shippō (七宝 “Seven Treasures”): Gold, silver, lapis lazuli, pearls, crystal, agate, and coral.
Tanabata (七夕): A festival celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month that commemorates the annual meeting of two stars. According to myth, Orihime (Vega) may cross the Milky Way to meet her lover Hikoboshi (Altair) only once every year.
haru-no-nanakusa (春の七草 “Seven Herbs of Spring”): seri (芹 Oenanthe javanica), nazuna (薺 Capsella bursa-pastoris), gogyō (御形 Gnaphalium affine), hakobera (繁縷 Stellaria media), hotokenoza (仏の座 Lapsana apogonoides), suzuna (菘 Brassica rapa), and suzushiro (蘿蔔 Raphanus sativus). See “Four Seasons” in The Living Tapestry for more information.
aki-no-nanakusa (秋の七草 “Seven Flowers of Autumn”): bush clover (hagi), Chinese bellflower (kikyō), fringed-pink or wild carnation (nadeshiko), Japanese pampas grass (susuki), patrinia (ominaeshi), thoroughwort (fujibakama), and arrowroot (kuzu). See Appendix C for more information on these plants. See “Four Seasons” in The Living Tapestry for more information. Mukojima-Hyakka-en (Garden of a Hundred Flowers) in Tokyo grows the seven plants and is therefore a good place to view them in season.

Seasonal haru-no-nanakusa for sale in a Tokyo supermarket. They are added to a rice to form a porridge

Seasonal haru-no-nanakusa for sale in a Tokyo supermarket. They are added to a rice to form a porridge.

8 (hachi 八)
• In Buddhist cosmology, Shumisen (須弥山), the tallest, central mountain is surrounded by eight lesser mountain ranges and eight seas in succession. Humans dwell on the outer-most range, beside the eighth sea.
hakke (八卦 “eight ke”): The Eight Divination Signs.
hakku (八苦): The Eight Plains of Buddhism.
Nippon-hakkei (日本八景): The Eight Views of Japan; not as popular or as famous Nihon-sankei (Three Best Views of Japan).

9 (kyū 九)
• “Nine, nine, seven, three” was the combination of garden trees that Tachibana no Toshitsuna (橘俊綱 1028-1094), following his own style in Sakuteiki (作庭記 A Record of Garden Making), recommended that if one wanted to attract the guardian gods into a garden. One should plant nine willows to the east in lieu of a winding stream, nine Judas trees to the south, seven maples to the west, and three cypresses to the north.
kurin (九輪): Pagodas are capped with spires of nine circlets.

10 ( 十)
jikkai (十界): The Ten Realms of Buddhism.
jikkan (十干): The Ten Stems.
jikkyō (十境): From the Muromachi period (1338-1573) and onwards, Buddhist priests would sometimes select ten landmarks from either the landscape surrounding their temples or from within the temple walls themselves as markers or boundary points, and ascribe to each a Chinese name. Each of the ten landmarks would have specific religious symbolism in association with a Buddhist context, and together, these formed an essential part of the temple’s extended ground plan. A classic example of these landmarks can be found at Kennin-ji.

12 (jūni 十二)
jūnishi (十二支): The Twelve Horary Signs.

15 (jūgo 十五)
• Fifteen rocks in total comprise the famous dry landscape at Ryōan-ji. Fifteen sea turtles (kame 亀) were commanded by the Supreme Being of the Cosmos to support the five Mystic Isles of the Blessed (Hōraizan 蓬莱山).

16 (jūroku 十六)
Jūroku-jō (十六条 “16 ”): The legendary height of Shakamuni Buddha, hence many statues of Buddha are sixteen units in height.
• There were sixteen Buddhist disciples, and several temples commemorate this with gardens featuring sixteen stones. The dry landscape garden at Myoren-ji, Kyoto, has sixteen large blue-stones in a sea of finely raked white sand, and the dry landscape at Jizō-in also has sixteen stones representing the Jūroku-rakan.

48 (yonjūhachi 四十八)
• The Amida-no-shijūhachigan are the Forty-eight Vows of Amida-Nyorai, one of which was to save all human beings who called on his name from the cycle of birth and death (see The Paradise Garden).

49 (yonjūkyū 四十九)
• The chūin (?) period, or period of mourning, when the soul of the deceased awaits its next form of life, last for 49 days.

53 (gojūsan 五十三)
Tokaidō-gojūsan-tsugi (東海道五十三次 The Fifty-three Stages of the Tokaidō), a set of wood-block prints by Utagawa Hiroshige (歌川広重 1797-1858), depict various scenes from along the ancient highway between Kyoto and Edo (Tokyo). These are sometimes reproduced in the stroll gardens of daimyo.

64 (rokujūyon 六十四)
• The rokujūyonshi (六十四支) are the 64 possible combinations of geomantic hexagrams in the ancient art of divination.

99 (kyūjūkyū 九十九)
• Ninety-nine is used in Japan to convey the sense of the innumerable. A group of islands off the coast of Kyushu near Sasebo is known collectively as Kyujukyu-shima; actually, there are 170.

108 (hyakuhachi 百八)
• A Buddhist rosary traditionally contains 108 beads, one for each of the causes of human suffering.

Bibliographical notes:

Asymmetrical designs and odd-numbered groupings are favored… Seike, K., M. Kudō, & D. H. Engel (1992). A Japanese touch for your garden. New York: Kodansha America Inc.; p. 38.

“According to ancient Chinese thought,” François Berthier comments… Berthier, F. (2000). Reading Zen in the rocks: The Japanese landscape garden. Translated and with a philosophical essay by G. Parkes. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press; p. 37.

The exploitation of three components, one large, one medium and one small, creates “a dynamic balance of odd numbers”… Nitschke, G. (1993). Japanese gardens: Right angle and natural form. Köln: Benedikt Taschen; p. 25.

We see three men standing around a vat of vinegar… Hoff, B. (1987). The Tao of Pooh. Illustrated by E. H. Shepard. Harmondsworth: Penguin; pp. 2; 3; 6.

On the numerical scale the 5 is accorded special significance… Berthier, F. (2000); p. 37.

“In these parts a lot of things are counted in sevens, fives and threes…” Booth, A. (1996). Looking for the lost: Journeys through a vanishing Japan. Tokyo: Kodansha; p. 208.