Take a peaceful stroll amongst the trickling streams and cherry blossoms at the Shoyoen Japanese Gardens in Dubbo.
Far away in distant Japan lies Dubbo’s sister city, Minokamo. The bond between the two cities was forged in 1990, and in 2002 was celebrated when the Japanese city gifted the Australian city a traditional Japanese garden. Known as the Shoyoen Garden, which means ‘strolling and refreshing’, it was designed by students at the Kamo Agricultural and Forestry High School in Japan and is considered to be one of the most authentic Japanese gardens in Australia. Its design is full of symbolism, and as such there is more than meets they eye at the Shoyoen Garden – although what meets the eye is also very pleasing.
Entry is through a beautiful set of traditional gates, made by Japanese craftsmen, which leads to a waterfall flowing over several tiers into a large, placid lake at the bottom. This flow of water represents life and the passage of time: from the turmoil of birth and the vibrancy of youth (represented by the waterfall), to the finding of one’s life path and one’s growth as a person (represented by the trickling streams) to the stillness of old age and the vastness of death (represented by the large, calm lake). The sound of the water can be heard throughout the garden, both gushing and trickling depending on where you stand. Symbolism aside, it’s a wonderfully relaxing soundscape. The ponds are full of what the Japanese refer to as ‘living flowers’, koi fish in three distinct varieties: the Kohaku (white with red markings); the Taisho-Sanshoku (white with red and black markings); and the Showa-Sanahoku (black with white markings). Fish food is available for free, and kids will love throwing fistfuls of it off the little wooden bridges to the very friendly fish below.
There is a selection of Japanese trees, plants and flowers in the garden, including the iconic and wonderfully delicate Japanese maple and, of course, the cherry blossom. It was early springtime when we visited and both had just started reemerging after a long winter sleep, bringing with them a hub of activity from bees, butterflies and birds. Japanese folklore has it that if, while you’re sitting under a cherry tree drinking your wine, a blossom should fall into your glass, good luck will befall you. 10am was probably too early to test the theory, but we felt pretty lucky all the same to be passing the morning in such charming surrounds. The cherry tree has a special significance for Dubbo, which was founded by Frenchman Jean Emile Serisier. The French spelling of his surname, ‘Cerisier’, means cherry tree, which is why you’ll find the plant on the Dubbo Coat of Arms. Other significant Japanese plants found in the garden include maiden hair tree, hydrangea, chrysanthemum, iris, camellia, perrywinkle and magnolia, to name a few.
The garden also has a traditional Japanese teahouse, or chakoya, which is named Jurian, meaning ‘happiness and long life house’. Traditional tea ceremonies are held here regularly, during which guests gather to drink green tea to unite them with nature and cleanse the soul.
Perhaps the most enchanting feature of the garden, however, is the suikinkutsu, or Japanese water harp. Located next to the teahouse, the mysterious suikinkutsu cannot be seen, only heard, and only by the astute listener. It is an underground instrument comprised of an empty ceramic pot buried upside-down to create a resonant chamber. As water drips through the rocks on the surface and into the chamber through a hole in the top, the pot rings like a bell, making a sound much like the Japanese zither. It is located next to the hand-washing basin – an integral part of the tea ceremony – so as water drips from the basin onto the rocks the suikinkutsu plays its quiet underground music. It is delicate and meditative, like so much of Japanese culture.
The final symbolic feature of the Shoyoen Garden is the karesansui, or rock garden. This is comprised of small white pebbles arranged in such as manner as to depict the mountains and rivers of Japan, or perhaps the islands and waves off its coast. Even in this so-called ‘dry garden’, the Japanese preoccupation with water remains.
Beautiful and tranquil, the Shoyoen Garden is a wonderful and unlikely slice of Japan on the doorstep of Outback NSW.
The Shoyoen Japanese Garden is located on Coronation Dr, Dubbo, NSW. Click here for more information.