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I'm a fan of Japanese designs in gardening. One of the hardest things for me to grasp is their concepts of space. Here's a quote that I think does a good job of explaining some key principles:

One of the first things that occur to western eyes viewing a Japanese garden is the "emptiness" of portions of the garden. This is unsettling to gardeners accustomed to filling every space in the garden for a riot of color, but it is a key element in the design of Japanese gardens. This space, or ma, defines the elements around it, and is also defined by the elements surrounding it. It is the true spirit of in and yo, that which many of us know by the Chinese words yin and yang. Without nothing, you cannot have something. This is a difficult point to grasp, but it is a central tenet of Japanese gardening.

Another key point to ponder is the concept of wabi and sabi. Like so many Japanese words, there is no single translation. Wabi can denote something one-of-a-kind, or the spirit of something; the closest we can come to a literal translation is "solitary". Sabi defines time or the ideal image of something; the closest definition might be "patina". While a cement lantern may be one of a kind, it lacks that ideal image. A rock can be old and covered with lichens, but if it is just a round boulder it has no wabi. We must strive to find that balance.


Take a look at this picture of one of Amano's famous works. I've pulled it from a site on the web:



How do you think Amano has used yin and yang/wabi and sabi here?
 

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It looks like a fake to me. The Discus should be reflected in the glass at the right. The way the Discus are swimmiing away from each other at center right looks fake. The school of small fish should be reflected in the glass at the left.

Other than that, yeah, empty space helps.

TW
 

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I think in the book Amano attributes the space in this aquascape to the actual needs of the discus rather than his design. It's easy to see however how the space has been used, with such a large tank like this I think the temptation would be to fill it with plants, but Amano is using what three types of plant here?

The driftwood used is obviously the wabi sabi bit, again Amano has softened this with ferns but it's the shape and positioning of it which ties in both aspects perfectly.

It's one of my fave Amano tanks this one :yes:
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
This is one of Amano's older works. I think it is described in Nature Aquarium Book 1. It is a real tank and there's several pictures of it in the book and elsewhere.

John, I see the picture, perhaps you are having trouble with your pop-up blocker or anti-virus software?

TWood, I know Amano takes great care not to get reflections. I'm sure he may use a little PhotoShopping to get that done as well. :D

The reason I posted this as an example was that it is not your typical discus setup. Yes, they are big and need a big tank, but people typically give them plenty of hiding spaces. You'll see a lot of heat tolerate tall plants.

Amano chose to go the other way and leave them out in the open there. The ying/yang or balance between the open space and the driftwood is just right to me. It would be very easy to put too large or too small a piece of driftwood here and the aquascape would be off. There is a tremendous amount of open space here, but the aquascape doesn't appear to be empty or missing plants, right?

Also, note that the large discus are balanced with the small rummy nose tetras. The green plants with the brown wood. The glossostigma with the upward leaves of the microsorum, Crypt, and hairgrass.

As for the wabi/sabi, I think the driftwood gives you the impression of being there for decades. Why is that? Is it the placement, color, texture of the wood or is it the fact that he's tied microsorum to it? The glosso also is kept in a way that is reminiscent of a ground that's been there forever.
 

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Amano regularly sends us untouched scans of photos to use in TAG. (we can see the edges of the film in the scans) None of them have been touched in Photoshop. I can assure you that he is a master at avoiding reflections. (a matter, really, of controling the direction of the light)

(can't tell you why the discus refused to follow the Master's direction and line up properly ;-)

Karen
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Thanks Karen.

You're up early. Oops! Forgot you have kids like me. :wink:

Happy New Year to you and yours.
 

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Maybe so, but the plants are reflected.

One of the things that is bugging me about the Amano clones :prayer: is that the design seems to have devolved into picking the coolest looking piece of driftwood. Then photographed at an angle that is unlikely in real life unless the tank is up at eye level. And even then, the tanks look like a nightmare for upkeep to keep them looking like they do in the photograph. It all seems so forced, which is the opposite of the intended effect.

Maybe I'm just feeling grumpy... [smilie=r:

TW
 

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The usefulness of a pot lies in its emptiness.
Without the emptiness in the middle, a carriage wheel would be of no use.

Design with void in mind and you might better understand some Japanese principles.

Andrew Cribb
 

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Ewww

My theory goes ok again! Everyone saying Amano tanks are photo tricks, photoshop (one day someone will say its witch stuff) doesnt have a tank posted on forum.

Dont take it personal, but its something ive been noticing in forums around the world; Amano this.. Amano that.. what about your tank? :wink:
 

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Heh,

I figured that was coming. I don't have the fancy camera and camera angles, but I like my tanks. Up close, it's more like a peek into the end of the eddy along a river bank. A cross between a biotope and an aquascape, so it doesn't really compete well. Maybe I'll add a few big rocks and name it Zen N'Eddy?

http://aquabotanicwetthumb.infopop.cc/eve/ubb.x?a=tpc&s=4006090712&f=8006023812&m=5031070701

Scroll down the thread to see a pic of my 90.

Here's the 70 in progress:

http://www.aquaticplantcentral.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=3863

I guess I have a thang for the 'window into another world' look.

TW
 

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You have to sign up and register to see the photo. That is quite a wall of plants... I don't see the biotope intention, just a wall of healthy plants.

On the other hand, I do not understand why people get the notion that Amano's aquariums are supposed to be representations of a biotope. They are not, which he clearly states in the aquajournal magazine.

Wabi is basically what westerners refer to as 'personality' or 'character' to inanimate objects or trees-- the weather beaten tree, the rough edged rock, the fallen branch with several scars and cracks. It seems to me like objects that show evidence of past experiences/its history.

Sabi, the 'patina' aspect, shows signs of age. This can include moss, ferns, and other epiphytic plants on our hardscaping material, which give a sense of timelessness and softens the composition.

A round river rock has no character. Its too perfect. Thus, it has no wabi, even though it may be naturally moss covered (sabi). On the other hand, a roughened rock may have wabi but have no sabi if it is kept clean.

Carlos
 

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Yup, I agree. It -looks- like a wall of plants in the photo, but not in real life. That's why I've never entered it, it doesn't photograph well. The substrate is about waist level, and looking down into it is a whole 'nother experience, but that view doesn't photo well either. So I'm suspicious of tanks that look good in photos, but may look like a rotting piece of wood in a glass box in real life. [smilie=d:

TW

PS: Art, I'm sorry I hijacked your thread. I'll shut up now. :toimonst:
 

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TWood said:
Maybe so, but the plants are reflected.

One of the things that is bugging me about the Amano clones :prayer: is that the design seems to have devolved into picking the coolest looking piece of driftwood. Then photographed at an angle that is unlikely in real life unless the tank is up at eye level. And even then, the tanks look like a nightmare for upkeep to keep them looking like they do in the photograph. It all seems so forced, which is the opposite of the intended effect.

Maybe I'm just feeling grumpy... [smilie=r:

TW[/quote]

I think this is where people go wrong, they pick a great looking piece of driftwood and put it in the tank without planning it, it's like they see a piece of bogwood and get inspired by the bogwood itself and get it on a whim, whereas Amano has the vision of the piece he wants already and finds that specific piece.
 

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Thanks Karen,

I'm usually the contrarian but it's not with any malice. I have one of those brains that just twitches at conformity.

Also, I've slowly come to the conclusion that driftwood is a real problem-maker in certain water conditions, including our local Austin water. Even the LFS show tanks in town that have driftwood in them are usually over-run with BBA. Many online posts that complain about BBA also concern a tank that includes driftwood. I believe that there is a correlation between driftwood and BBA in a tank. So I don't use it, which puts my tank setup out of current 'favor'.

And this is just too anal for me:

"A round river rock has no character. Its too perfect. Thus, it has no wabi, even though it may be naturally moss covered (sabi). On the other hand, a roughened rock may have wabi but have no sabi if it is kept clean."

So, a naturally smoothed stone is too perfect, but a stone blasted out of a cliff and thrown in a tank is okay as long as it has moss on it? Bleah.

TW
 

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And this is just too anal for me:

"A round river rock has no character. Its too perfect. Thus, it has no wabi, even though it may be naturally moss covered (sabi). On the other hand, a roughened rock may have wabi but have no sabi if it is kept clean."

So, a naturally smoothed stone is too perfect, but a stone blasted out of a cliff and thrown in a tank is okay as long as it has moss on it? Bleah.
As with everything in Amano design, it is simply a guideline. Bare branches may be appropriate while mossy ones are not. It all depends on the layout.

And aquariums don't need driftwood to be good. Nor do they need rocks to be good, according to Mr. Amano. It all depends on the design -- and his NA style concept has to be the most flexible, free style aquascaping philosophy presently out there.

Rocks can be pretty smooth/round but they do not have to be /featureless/. It is more complicated than just choosing between round/smooth rocks and jagged/rough rocks:

Stone layouts:









Biotope-like:



Formal gardens:



Wall of plants:





Driftwood arrangements:





I think it is really hard to generalize and say Amano tanks are 'high maintenance' or 'restrictive.' His layouts show an enormous variety of atmospheres and styles which vary not only from year to year but between those produced in the same year.

As the NA concept has solidified, Mr. Takashi Amano does seem to be focusing on the use of an ever narrower selection of plants -- typical of a mature aquascaper, who tends to stick with his one or two dozen favorite species with the occassional sprinkling of something new.

Carlos
 

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Try each style to figure out what you like.

I design based on critters or their forms most often.
Try each rock texture, color, character, if you don't care for the artsy justication(I never have) just adjust things till it feels right to you.

Sit on your butt and stare at it for a long time. I work with one of the top people from Japan on this stuff. He does the rock scapes for Japanese gardens in CA. He gets all angry(I do this also oddly) and spends a great deal of time thinking about it. I see him sitting out there, I leave, he's still sitting there, perhaps he moved the rock some. I did the same thing when I did mixing of wood and rock. Later, I'm still not happy with it entirely.

It's some past experience as well, you do get better, but to me it's a feeling you are trying to invoke at the core.

If after things have grown in, you dislike it, tear out and start over.
The more you do, the better you will get.

I've yet to have done a scape I really like.
But there is the future.

Amano has done more scapes than all of us combined. Practice.
Tear it down, start over. Try new plants as they come down the pipe, don't give up on old favorites.

Most folks do not have the same access Amano does to choice plants, but several LFS have a great selection these days here in the USA.
Also, many folks need to seek out wood, rock that has the characters they seek.

But do not limit yourself to rock and wood either.........hint hint.........

Regards,
Tom Barr
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Like all good artists, you learn the key principles and then you internalize them. This makes them your own and you develop your own style for things but always having those basic principles in mind.

I remember Amano's concern with the late release of his books in the US. He mentioned that the Nature Aquarium concept had evolved so much in the time the books were published in Japan and when they were being published in the US.

What interests me is this Amano's learning that caused the changes or is it refinements? Is it Amano internalizing more of the core principles and then putting them into practice better or was he just getting bored with old scapes and wanted a fresher look?

Anyway, this is the reason I started this thread. I think those principles serve people well. We should think about them more and see how we can put them to practice in our aquascapes.

I would set up an aquarium with a vague idea of what I wanted. Typically, I was limited by the materials available to me. Then as time went on, I would find myself tweaking the placement of the hard scape items and realizing that so and so plant would be better in the other corner or trimmed lower. Thnking back on it now, I think I was using the above techniques without even knowing it.
 
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