Japan-based group visits Healing Gardens seeking ideas for city

By Sarah Brown
Lebanon Local

For a brief moment in time on a blustery Lebanon day, a silent group of visitors walked the Japanese gardens at Boulder Falls Inn and Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital, occasionally stopping to snap photos or discuss the landscape.
The group comprised a delegation of about a dozen city leaders and landscapers from Kobe, Japan, who came for a single day – Friday, Nov. 4 – searching for ideas to adopt in their own city. Renowned designer Hoichi Kurisu, with his daughter and marketing director Michiko Kurisu, guided the company through the gardens, which he designed and installed himself.
“Kobe City is looking to revitalize their downtown because Osaka and Kyoto are the bigger names,” Michiko said. “They’re trying to put themselves more on the map and revitalize the city.”

CITY LEADERS and landscapers from Japan follow Kurisu, right, along the path at Healing Gardens behind the Boulder Falls Inn.

According to Bill Rauch, who as a Lebanon Community Hospital Foundation trustee was instrumental in bringing Hoichi Kurisu’s landscape features to Lebanon, Kobe is a “small” industrial city of 1.5 million now overrun by two bordering cities, and its leaders are looking for ways to make it stand out.
Lebanon had a similar problem after the timber industry’s decline caused a bustling community to lose its economic identity, Rauch said. Kurisu’s Healing Garden at the hospital grabbed national attention and served as a key influence on decision-makers when they chose Lebanon as the site for Western University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific-Northwest, which opened in 2011.
A light rain began forming rings on the pond and creating gentle pitter-patters on surrounding plants when the visitors entered the garden at Boulder Falls. Kurisu led the company down the path while talking about his work.
The deluge became more aggressive by the time the tour in the first garden ended, but it didn’t stop the visitors from crossing to the hospital for the second tour. There they heard about the Healing Garden’s design, which offers comfort to patients, staff and new mothers in the birthing ward.
“The Japanese garden that I saw was not self-asserting, but rather, I felt a warm gaze from a human perspective,” Kobe City leader Mitsuru Harada said. “I thought that this provided healing to patients in hospitals and comfort to visitors in hotels.”

Two visitors chat about the landscape in the garden at Samaritan Lebanon Community Hospital.

Michiko Kurisu offered a presentation after the tours, explaining differing cultural beliefs over time about nature’s healing abilities.
“This concept that a garden is a place to heal is ancient,” she said. “We have paintings and writings and evidence from all over the world indicating that we have always felt that gardens are a paradise.”
In colonial America, she continued, Quakers discovered that psychiatric patients became calmer and more productive in the garden, but 100 years later, the medical, architectural and technological fields began believing that nature was a source of pathogens, so patients were shut off from it. In recent decades, however, medical facilities have again begun welcoming nature into the system for its healing powers.
“I was very surprised to see that in Lebanon, Oregon, so far away from Japan, Japanese gardens have been accepted by so many people, and that this effort is spreading throughout the city,” Harada said. “I believe that the people of Lebanon have understood and accepted Mr. Kurisu’s passion as well as the benefits of Japanese gardens.”
Two plus one does not equal three, but infinity, Hoichi Kurisu said in his native language.
“This concept is about something being greater than the sum of its parts,” Michiko Kurisu explained.
“The healing power of Japanese gardens comes not from the items [boulders, bridges, trees] but from the calm and peace that emerges when one experiences the space. Japanese gardens create space that allows us to disconnect from distraction and stress and reconnect to the beauty and resilience of nature.”

LANDSCAPE DESIGNER Hoichi Kurisu, left, draws up a simple design while an assistant holds up an old scale to illustrate the power of balance and harmony.

Hoichi Kurisu led a demonstration on design using dynamic balance in gardens.
“In Japanese culture, aesthetics and the Japanese garden, often an asymmetrical balance is embraced,” Michiko Kurisu explained. “The scalene triangle is an example of how that balance is achieved and a dynamic space created.”
It’s more about space than about the objects in that space, she said. Her father’s healing gardens provide room for people to capture deep relaxation and find inspiration and renewal.
“I was impressed by ‘two plus one does not equal three, but infinity,’” Kobe City leader Teddy Kawanami said. “This is the same as gardens that are created with sensitivity. Healing is created when the sensitivity of the creator and the sensitivity of the viewer are in harmony.”
Kawanami said he would like to work with his local government to create a park in Kobe that does not “surprise” people, but, rather, brings them one step closer to healing.
“I heard that more projects are in development in Lebanon, and I look forward to the further expansion of comfortable spaces filled with healing and joy in the city of Lebanon,” Harada said. “I would like to see Kobe City incorporate the healing power of gardens into its urban development.”