Adversity and sickness targets people without bias. Disease can afflict anyone, and people discriminate against people regardless of circumstances. Very few options give relief for social outcasts, and they must learn to live with the ailments and circumstances they find themselves in. How people react and allow possibly horrid conditions to affect them defines their character. Gardens provide one way for people to cope with extraneous circumstances. Many of these gardens developed into masterpieces that reflected the gardener. Gail Tsukiyama’s novel, The Samurai’s Garden, utilizes gardens to depict the characters who tend to them.
The characters in The Samurai’s Garden faced extreme challenges with sickness and discrimination. Matsu, who worked hard throughout his life serving other people, found solace and purpose in his garden. Tirelessly, he planted and cared for various plants and landscape features. His garden provided a means for him to express his creativity and true nature. Described as a quite individual, Matsu kept mostly to himself and his thoughts. He experienced a different perspective of disease from his friends who actually suffered physical ailments.
At a young age, his sister committed suicide because of leprosy, and he felt her loss throughout the novel. He accompanied his father in the garden before her death and continued to absorb its healing nature later on. It provided a place for him to go and keep his mind and hands busy. Matsu’s character and garden shared many characteristics. Both displayed a hidden beauty and recovered better each time circumstances, such as storms and adversity, threatened its strength. Matsu also found comfort in friendship with others who also experienced the pain leprosy brings.
When Sachi first discovered leprosy on her skin, she planned on committing suicide, or seppuku, to bring honor back to her family. She accompanied others affected by the disease into the ocean to commit seppuku, but she backed out at the last moment. Instead, she ran and hid in the woods where Matsu found her and gave her encouragement. She cried in shame at her failed attempt to bring back her family’s honor, but he told her, “It takes greater courage to live” (Tsukiyama 139). Sachi struggled with her fate for many years. She found refuge in Yamaguchi, a town created for outcast lepers.
Matsu helped her situate herself and he installed a rock garden. Adamantly, Sachi stated, “I don’t wish to have any flowers” (Tsukiyama 150). She desired a simple life away from beauty and everything else that her leprosy stole from her. In spite of Sachi’s efforts to avoid beauty, she found a hidden beauty in her garden. The smooth, artistic designs she created in the harsh and rocky garden symbolized how beauty presents itself in unexpected ways from seemingly bland materials. Out of the horrors Sachi’s life gave her, she found beauty in the midst of it. Beauty and happiness presented itself in her life and just as in her garden.
In Sachi’s zen garden, they discovered life. “There, between two large rocks, grew a neat cluster of blooming flowers, startlingly beautiful, a splash of blue-purple rising out of a green patch of leaves, somehow thriving among the muted, gray stones” (Tsukiyama 127). Leprosy plagued her skin with lesions and caused the death of her best friend, but she learned to appreciate other aspects of her life. The disease gave her the opportunity to show her strength and develop into a mature adult. Matsu shared the healing effects of gardens with Sachi and they later shared it with Stephen.
Sent to Tarumi to recover from tuberculosis, Stephen found healing from many mediums during his stay. He spent much of his time swimming, observing Matsu, and painting Matsu’s garden. He found the complexity of the garden difficult to portray in his painting. The hidden characteristics of the garden amazed Stephen and taught him how to appreciate the traits of people that linger beneath the surface. He discovered the intrinsic beauty that hid in the complexity of the garden and the complexity of Matsu’s character. Every part of his character, no matter how subtle, contributed, just like each plant and aspect in his garden.
Leprosy ravaged Japan and created the City of Lepers. Forced away from society, citizens of Yamaguchi created new lives for themselves. From the adversity handed to them, they found a new kind of beauty among them, one away from appearance. Matsu practically created the village and made it habitable. He tended their needs and helped them survive. The citizens strength of character showed itself and they worked together in their difficult circumstances. Each character played a unique role and they blended to make a wonderful community; similar to how Matsu’s plants created a beautiful landscape.
The gardens in The Samurai’s Garden correlated to the characters who cared for them. Matsu’s garden contained a complexity that only presented itself after intense analyzation. It took Stephen many days before he bonded with Matsu due to his hard appearance and demeanor. Once he got past the surface, however, Stephen uncovered Matsu’s complexity. Sachi used her garden as a therapeutic tool and it adopted her persona. Through the harsh appearance of her rock garden, a beauty presented itself. Even under all her scars, Sachi’s physical beauty and the beauty of her personality presented itself to Stephen and they grew an incredible bond.