1 First used by Sir William Temple (1628–99) in his Upon the Gardens of Epicurus (1685) to describe the Chinese way of planting in an apparently haphazard manner ‘without any Order of Disposition of Parts’, the term was popularized in mid-C18 England to describe irregularity, asymmetry, and the Picturesque qualities of being surprising through graceful disorder, and so was applied to irregular gardens, known as Chinese, or as les jardins anglo-chinois, embellished with Chinese bridges with fret work railings and vermilion-painted pagodas shaded by weeping willows. However, sharawadgi does not seem to be derived from the Chinese at all, but from a C17 notion of ‘Chineses’, which includes vague notions of ‘The Indies’ or ‘The Orient’. The key to the problem seems to be the Dutch East India Company, which had a factory at Deshima, Nagasaki. When Dutchmen, accompanied by the German Engelbert Kaempfer (1651–1716), visited the gardens at Kyoto in the late C17, they noted the ‘irregular but agreeable’ features ‘artfully made in imitation of nature’, and the Japanese words sorowaji or shorowaji suggesting asymmetry. It would appear that sharawadji is a corruption of the Japanese, filtered through Dutch, probably misheard by the C17 visitors to the Japanese gardens at Kyoto. Temple probably picked the word up from Dutchmen who had visited Japanese gardens.
2Sharawadgi was also used (somewhat pretentiously) to describe irregular, asymmetrical, informal designs in town-planning circles in the 1940s.
Garden History, xxvi/2 (Winter 1998), 208–13;C. Murray (1999);Pevsner (1968)