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Monday, August 13, 2018

Gardens on Wheels

Enjoy the Fall, Tanaka Landscaping Co.
From the people who may well have originally invented and exported to the West the whole concept of "less is more;" from the culture which gave us miniature trees they call Bonsai; from the artists who may have been the first to embrace Minimalist landscapes; we are now gifted with yet another new art form--portable landscapes. The Japanese have done it again, creating works of the landscapers' art in the back of their tiny Kei-tara utility trucks. It's an artform so new Japan seems to be the only place in the world it can be found. Such art is admittedly, not yet widespread (even in Japan), but it comes with its own design competition, and each year seems to grow more and more popular with the Japanese public. The Kei Truck Garden Contest is an annual event sponsored by the Japan Federation of Landscape Contractors. The new artform combines the centuries-old Japanese knack for compact, highly structured gardening, with the modern-day "need for speed."

Autumn Falls, a Kei truck garden with its own pond (and a few fish), by landscaping contractor Inui Zouen.
The Kei Truck, is a tiny, but practical, vehicle that originated in Japan. (These days it’s also widely built and used throughout Asia and other parts of the world.) In Japan you’ll often see them used at construction sites and agriculture industries inasmuch as they can maneuver through that country's small side streets and easily park in spaces hardly bigger than that of a motor scooter. And in a more recent turn of events, apparently they’re also used as a canvas for gardening contests. The truck bed is a mere 54 inches wide by 79 inches long (about the size of a standard double bed).

Takahashi Landscape Construction created this garden that feels like a secret place.
The contest comes with stringent rules--it must include a Kei Truck. That's it, inventive creativity rules. You want to include a working waterfall? Sure, why not. You like fish? How about an aquarium running the length of the truck bed? Each year, participants are raising the bar for the following years. Here, it is possible to see beautiful landscapes with an aquarium or admire exquisite Bonsai trees of all sizes. In the U.S., the closest similar competition would be the floats of the Rose Bowl Parade--not quite the same.

1. Garden with a Coffee Table and Bench created by landscaping   
    contractor Fukuharu Zouen.
2. Bamboo Waterfall, Matsuda Zouen, a traditional rock garden.
3. Bamboo Water Well.
4. Both interior and exterior gardens grace the beds of Japanese Kei
    trucks...sometimes, both at the same time.
At the opening of the 21st-century, superficial impressions of Japan still fostered a nagging schizophrenic image combining the polar characteristics of elegant refinement and those of economic prowess. As the Mimalist artists in the U.S. and elsewhere discovered, there are pitfalls to oversimplification. A visual comparison of Kei truck gardens and the monstrous (in size, if not design) Rose Bowl floats, demonstrate the results provided by a century of scholarship, (both Japanese and Western). They provide ample evidence of a Japanese heritage of visual expression that is as both utterly complex and yet varied as the wider culture that produced them. 

Most Kei truck gardens are intended for viewing from only two sides
--left or right, and rear.
Just as the aesthetics are complex, the competition is high, making it difficult, even for Japanese art experts to decide who is the winner. In this contest, judges score each landscape based on three criteria. They look at the planned expression of the landscape; how the landscape design was executed; and the overall environment presented in the garden. Although there is only one winner, all landscapes in Kei Truck Garden Contest are glamorous and beautiful.

a large bonsai takes center stage in this piece,
by Kansai Uek

It all begins here...


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