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Japan's oases of secret beauty

The Hidden Gardens of Kyoto Photographs by Katsuhiko Mizuno, text by Masaaki Ono Kodansha International, $45

September 23, 2004|Lili Singer

Kyoto is an ancient city of famous landscapes, a mecca for garden tourists. Between these elegant covers -- and only here -- readers are treated to some of Kyoto's most exquisite gardens that never open to the public.

These cloistered gardens -- at palaces, tea schools, shrines, temples, villas, inns and restaurants -- represent all three types of Japanese gardens (pond, dry landscape and tea) and incorporate such powerful devices as ponds shaped like cranes and tortoises, steppingstones that slow one's pace and areas of quiet seclusion. Whether grand or small, in their exclusivity they seem quieter, more magical and intimate than other Japanese gardens.

Photographs of brilliant color and astonishing depth are paired with clarifying captions. A closing essay, "Appreciation of a Japanese Garden," provides history and the basics on standard features -- information "needed to appreciate both their beauty and significance in full."

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Lili Singer

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