His book Modernizing the Japanese Garden explores ten major of Shigemori’s works from the checkerboard garden of TÃ´fuku-ji (1939) and the revolutionary tea garden at Tenrai-an (1969) to the masterful stone settings at Matsuo Taisha (1975) using design /cultural analysis, garden plans, photographs, and Shigemoriâ s own words.
Shigemori’s work and writings reflect and interface with the changing political and cultural framework of Japan during his life. Kendall Brown, in his preface to Mirei Shigemori: Rebel in the Garden notes that “Shigemori embodies the central artistic quest of his era – a new direction in Japanese creativity founded on the desire to overcome a fundamental tension between the perceived polarities of dynamic Western Culture and the relative stasis attributed to the Asian tradition.”
Modernists saw the past as a relic, or obstacle to be discarded, and old forms were seen as a “negative against which to measure progress.”
In his argument, Shigemori argued for a hybrid approach, in which the past would inform and give cultural resonance to present developments in form. He advocated for studying the past masters, and that designers should “emulate their way to invention rather than the results achieved, (so) gardenmakers could distill the most valuable inspiration for their work.”
Shigemori’s work reflects this idea of culturally grounded innovation. He spoke extensively of the growing estrangement between people and the primordial power of nature, and his gardens are full of hybrid symbols that seek to reveal the cultural and natural histories their sites. Traditional garden forms are reinterpreted with modern materials and attempt to reengage the viewer with the ever developing continuum of Japanese culture.