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Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Zen priest to receive honors for Canadian garden designs

Staff writer

YOKOHAMA -- A Buddhist priest considered to be one of the world's best Zen garden designers will receive an award from the Canadian government this week.

News photo
Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno points out an element in the garden at Kenkoji Temple in Yokohama's Tsurumi Ward on Sunday. The garden was his first project as a teenage assistant to prominent designer Katsuo Saito, who later became his teacher. KAREN FOSTER PHOTO

Shunmyo Masuno, head priest at Yokohama's Kenkoji Temple, will receive the Meritorious Service Award on Friday in Ottawa, the first Japanese to receive such a distinction. He will also get an honorary doctorate Tuesday from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

They are just the latest awards the 52-year-old Zen Buddhist priest and president of Japan Landscape Consultants Ltd. has received for his innovative gardens, which blend the elements of Zen and more modern concepts.

Priests are encouraged to express their spirituality through such traditional arts as calligraphy and ikebana.

While "ishidateso," or priests who designed gardens, were common in the 14th and 15th centuries, Masuno is now the only priest in Japan who practices the tradition.

He is being recognized by Canada for his garden at the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo and the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Hull, Quebec, and his renovations to the Nitobe Memorial Garden at the University of British Columbia, where he is also an adjunct professor.

Masuno, who also teaches landscape design at Tokyo's Tama Art University, his alma mater, has created gardens in a number of countries. His many gardens across Japan include one at the Foreign Ministry to be completed later this year.

Canadian Ambassador to Japan Robert Wright and former Ambassador Leonard Edwards decided to nominate Masuno for the service award during celebrations last year to mark 75 years of Japan-Canada diplomatic ties.

"While this important Canadian award is rarely bestowed on foreigners, we wanted to recognize and highlight (the) Rev. Masuno's outstanding contribution to Canada-Japan cultural ties," Wright said in a statement.

Masuno's first Canadian project was the embassy in Tokyo's Aoyama Ward, completed in 1991.

The same year the embassy project began, Masuno was asked to help renovate the Nitobe Memorial Garden.

"They knew that the garden was in very bad condition, but they couldn't do anything. They didn't know how to renovate it," Masuno said.

It is now considered one of the top five Japanese gardens in the world outside of Japan.

Don Vaughan, a Canadian landscape architect, called Masuno in 1994 to help design the garden at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

"I would have never attempted to design a garden without him," Vaughan said from Vancouver.

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