Dedicated in October 1988, Tenshin-en, or the “Garden of the Heart of Heaven,” is a contemplative Japanese garden. Named for the Museum’s curator of Chinese and Japanese Art, Kakuzō Okakura (known in Japan as Okakura Kakuzō and also as Okakura Tenshin), who worked at the MFA from 1904 until his death in 1913, Tenshin-en was designed as a viewing garden in the karesansui style by the late Professor Kinsaku Nakane of Kyoto.
As described by Professor Nakane, “the goal of a karesansui garden is to suggest magnificent scenes from nature by forming the shapes of various landscape elements such as waterfalls, mountains, islands and ocean … thus the garden expresses the vastness of nature in miniature, within a strictly limited space.” Tenshin-en is anchored by more than 200 stones including a dry waterfall (takiguchi), tall stones representing Mount Sumeru, and two of the Mystic Isles of the Immortals: the Tortoise Island (kamejima) and the Crane Island (tsurujima). The garden is also home to more than seventy species of plants—1,750 specimens in all—drawn from America and Japan, providing color and texture to the landscape. Cherries, Japanese maples, and pines serve as symbols of the changing seasons.
Representing a unique merging of two cultures, Tenshin-en combines the profound symbolism of a Japanese garden with a feeling that evokes the rocky coastline and deep forests of New England.
Tenshin-en’s much anticipated reopening in April 2015 marks the end of an extensive yearlong effort to preserve and renew the garden, generously underwritten by Nippon Television Network Corporation, which provided the original funding for Tenshin-en’s establishment through former Chairman, Mr. Yosoji Kobayashi. During these renovations, existing shrubs were significantly pruned and new vegetation planted in keeping with the garden’s original design. Paving, irrigation, draining, and lighting systems were all updated; the garden’s granite plank terrace was reset; and truckloads of new granite gravel were brought from North Carolina and distributed throughout. These renovations culminated with the replacement of the kabukimon-style entrance gate, incorporating simple design innovations to extend the gate’s anticipated life for the next quarter century and beyond to ensure that future visitors to the “Garden of the Heart of Heaven” can continue to experience the truth of Kakuzō Okakura’s words: One may be in the midst of a city, and yet feel as if one were far away from the dust and din of civilization.
Founding and renewal partner is Nippon Television Network Corporation, Tokyo, Japan.
Additional support for the ongoing care and maintenance of Tenshin-en provided by Jan Fontein, the Beacon Hill Garden Club, Sharon and Brad Malt, the Lawrence and Roberta Cohn Fund for the Department of Asiatic Art and the Wendy Shattuck Landscape Maintenance Fund.