Down to earth: Yasuhiro Fukada
Martial arts and gardening may not seem to have a lot in common but Yasuhiro Fukada says they are similar.
“Karate is very like the Western style of gardening,” says the accomplished Japanese gardener. “The movements are sharp and direct like the straight lines of many of the gardens. Japanese landscape style is more like the martial arts form aikido – energy is directed so that it flows and designs are centred to avoid the linear.”
Yasuhiro trained for four years in Japan, learning traditional Japanese gardening skills such as pruning techniques and the selection and placement of rocks. He also spent eighteen months in the United States where he worked on major commissions and won a gold medal in an international competition for sculptures of an oversized praying mantis and beetle.
Yasuhiro came to New Zealand from Tokyo on a working holiday that has now extended indefinitely. He has worked here for nine years, offering specialised pruning and maintenance services.
Recently he has also been designing gardens with a distinct Japanese feel but he’s loath to create strict imitations of the Japanese landscape style here. Instead, he likes to layer traditional conventions with his own interpretations.
“Japanese landscape design has so many rules,” he says. “I like working here because there is a lot more freedom. I don’t like thinking too much within such structured ideas. I prefer to take what I have learned and add my own feelings and thoughts.”
Yasuhiro likens the slavish recreation of a Japanese landscape style to a Westerner walking around in traditional costume in Japan. “It will never look quite right.”
Besides, he has found that differences in climate and available plant material demand fresh responses to the creation of a Japanese-style garden in New Zealand.
“The light is so different here,” he says. “It is very harsh. In Japan the light is much softer. So, in places like Auckland, you can try fresh ways of doing things.”
That said, some things aren’t negotiable. The shapes of paving stones and the way they are placed are governed by notions of harmony and balance and there are prescribed ways of achieving this.
Choosing rocks for a garden can be difficult. Yasuhiro visits quarries and hand-picks the rocks to ensure that he achieves the desired variation of shape and form.
The main rock in a garden should have a tall, commanding presence counter-pointed by a second rock that is flat-topped and not so high. A third rock, long and low, completes the arrangement.
“The Japanese style of gardening is very time-consuming compared with normal New Zealand landscaping.”
Pruning is another art form. Yasuhiro calls his creations “giant bonsai”. Coaxing plants to grow in a particular way through constant clipping takes time and patience. “I like to work with nature,” he says. “I study the structure of a tree so I can tell what I need to do to get the right balance and symmetry.”
Still, details aren’t the primary focus in a garden.
“It’s all about creating an atmosphere. That’s what’s really important.”
Contact Yasuhiro Fukada on 027 422 7887 or email email@example.com
For an insight into Japanese and other global styles, watch NZ House & Garden on TV ONE, 7.30pm Fridays, screened with the support of Mitsubishi Electric.
Story: SARAH BERESFORD
Issue: September 2006
Photographs: SALLY TAGG