Symbols and Signifiers
The angular rock just before the Nitobe lantern is an “alarm rock”; it alerts us to the presence of something of note, in this case the lantern itself.
The benches in the garden are generally wide enough to seat five. This is the traditional number of the tea party (a host and four guests).
There are six water-crossings in the garden, each with its own significance. The 77-log bridge is of particular note as this bridge is symbolic of Nitobe's stated desire to be “a bridge over the Pacific”. A stone plaque just before the bridge carries an inscription that alerts us to this fact. The zig-zag bridge by the iris pond is known as the “devil-losing bridge”. Such bridges are found in both China and Japan and refer to a belief that evil spirits, which by tradition are thought to travel in straight lines, cannot follow anyone across such a bridge.
At the right-hand side of the “mountain path”, just past the Nitobe lantern, is a rock with a cleft. At 4:00 pm on the day of Nitobe's death, 15 October, the sun shines through the Nitobe lantern and strikes the rock cleft.
Island of Eternity:
The island is in the shape of a turtle, a symbol of longevity. Strategically placed rocks represent its flippers, head and tail. On the island is a prominent flat-topped rock, the rahai seki, which may be intended to represent Nitobe's soul.
The Nitobe lantern is rich with symbols (see Symbolism of Lanterns). As well as the zodiacal signs (see below), it has carved on its sides a lotus blossom (flower of paradise and symbol of purity) and a dog (Nitobe's birth sign).
Perched on the top of the family viewing pavilion is an upturned rice bowl, probably symbolizing family life and the feeding of the family.
Tea Garden Gate:
The bamboo gate of the tea garden has seven upright canes and six spaces. These represent heaven (the number seven) and earth (the number six).
It appears that Professor Mori, as designer of the garden, used the two zodiacal lanterns (the Nitobe lantern and the marriage lantern, which are co-located on an approximately north-south axis) to indicate the cycles of time. The 12 zodiacal signs or “earthly branches” are: rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, sheep, monkey, rooster, dog, pig. These earthly branches form the basis of a counting system for the 60-year cycle of the sinitic calendar. This cycle is made up of five units (water, wood, fire, earth, metal), each of 12 years. The earthly branches are used to count years within these 12-year periods. Nitobe was born in the penultimate year (dog) of the water part of the cycle and died in the year of the rooster. However, the 12 earthly branches have also been used to count the months of the year and the 12 double-hours of the day.
Anon (1970) Nitobe Memorial Garden = Nitobe Kinen Teien Davidsonia (periodical of the UBC Botanical Garden).
Bridge, Jo, Mackenzie, Rachel & Bridge, Maurice M. (1996) Nitobe Kinen Teien: guide's guide to the Nitobe Memorial Garden. UBC Botanical Garden.
Copley, R.E. (1995) Darkened lanterns in the distant garden. Chapter 13 in: Nitobe Inazo, Japan's Bridge across the Pacific. J.F. Howes (ed.). Boulder, Co., Westview Press.
Jamieson, Sybil & Copp, Winnifred (1982) Guide's guide to Nitobe Memorial Garden. UBC Botanical Garden.
Lai, T. C. (1979) Animals of the Chinese zodiac. Hongkong: Hongkong Book Centre.
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Sen, Soshitsu (1979) Tea life, tea mind / Soshitsu Sen XV [tr. and ed. by the Urasenke Foundation]. New York: Urasenke Foundation and Weatherhill.