What makes the Adachi Museum in Matsue so successful? What do they do that other places do not? For starters, every single employee at the Museum understands what it takes to maintain a top-notch garden. Visitors to the Museum don’t usually get to see this, but each morning every Museum employee works outside in the garden for almost an hour doing cleaning and maintenance. And when I say every employee, I mean everyone, from top to bottom. This includes managers and accountants, waitresses and receptionists – everyone. They are all out there every morning sweeping and cleaning. This policy of involving the entire Museum staff means that each employee knows what it takes to be the best. They are all fully invested in the garden and in the organization’s success. I remember the day I saw an Adachi waitress leave one of the coffee shops to go outside to pick up a leaf that had fallen. One leaf! Oh my goodness. What kind of a place has employees who care about one leaf falling?
Another secret to their success is their constant effort to improve. Most places give lip service to the concept of improvement, but the Adachi Museum actually follows through and does it. Every single day the Museum Director, Takanori Adachi, and the head gardener walk about the grounds and identify areas that aren’t quite right. They point out seemingly minor problems like a spot were a tree branch is wilting or one fish in the koi pond that is swimming oddly. Then, with a laundry list of things to fix and adjust, the Museum’s garden staff runs – and I do mean runs – about making improvements. There are seven gardeners. I call them the “Seven Samurai” and they are extraordinary individuals. From head gardener Nobuhiko Kobayashi down to the newest recruit – each is talented and dedicated. They’re willing to go to any length to fix a problem and make things perfect. I’ve seen them remove one very nice-looking tree and replace it with a similar tree just because the first tree wasn’t 100% perfect. Every year they wash the white gravel by hand to make it clean. And they sometimes cut the grass with hand clippers. Amazing!
The constant effort to improve is no doubt a work ethic that came from the Museum founder, himself, Zenko Adachi. I have heard stories about how he made garden builders tear apart and rebuild sections of the garden that weren’t quite right. Then, after evaluating how the garden looked from a different angle, he had them tear it apart and rebuild it again – just to get things perfect. This sort of constant adjustment – not just with details but also with major elements – might have driven some workers crazy, but the Museum’s former head gardener, Hiroichi Sugihara, obviously took the approach to heart. For 30 years Mr. Sugihara, and now the present head gardener Mr. Kobayashi, have continued Zenko Adachi’s policy of constantly adjusting, constantly seeking perfection. It’s something that very few other facilities do. The historical gardens of Kyoto, in particular, do not try very hard in this regard. While Adachi keeps getting better, most other gardens in Japan are content to keep things as they are.
Numerous other small, but important, policies play a role in the Adachi Museum’s success. The fact that visitors don’t actually set foot in the gardens make it easier to maintain those outdoor spaces. Some visitors really want to walk out in the garden, but I don’t mind the policy at all. It reminds me of the traditional sukiya-style homes that I once lived in. As I sat there on the tatami mats in my living room I felt like I was outside in the garden. I didn’t actually need to step outside of my house to feel surrounded by beautiful nature. That kind of indoor-outdoor integration is one hallmark of the sukiya living environment, and I think Adachi’s policy mirrors it.
You might also be surprised to hear that the Adachi Museum never closes. For 40 years now it has been open every single day. That’s right: no holidays, no snow days, no time off for the o-shogatsu new year’s festivities. Their “steady state” approach means that the place always has to look great, even in bad weather or when events such as construction are occurring. The fact that the garden staff works right out there in front of the visitors is a good thing, I think. The crew works harder because they are “on stage” and everyone is watching. And the people who are watching – including the visitors and other Museum employees – learn from their efforts and are inspired to work harder themselves. The Adachi method is contagious, it seems.
Doug Roth is publisher of Sukiya Living, the Journal of Japanese Gardening, a bi-monthly English-language print publication dedicated to the special world of Japanese gardens and Japanese architecture. Every other month, this 44-page magazine discuses various aspects of Japanese architecture, horticulture, art, and philosophy. Topics range from centuries-old design principles to modern, how-to construction and maintenance techniques.
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