Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens derive their beauty from a mixing and blending of different elements:

    • sand
    • rocks
    • water
    • ornaments such as lanterns, water basins (tsukubai), and bamboo fences
    • natural plants and surroundings

Part of the beauty of the Japanese gardens comes from the symbolic expression of religious Buddhism and Shinto beliefs.

The design of the Japanese gardens is based on three basic principles, reduced scale, symbolization, and borrowed view. Gardens in reduced scale represent famous scenes and places in small and confined spaces. Mountain views and rivers are miniaturized using stones, sand and gravel. Symbolization is used in almost every Japanese garden. Raked sand or gravel symbolizes rivers, groupings of stones and rock can represent islands. Shakkei or borrowed view is the use of existing scenery and plants to supplement the garden. The garden design is made in such a way that the existing scenery becomes part of the total design.

There are several different styles of Japanese gardens.

Karesansui, or waterless rock and sand garden, is a very well known type of Japanese gardens. This type of garden appeared in the Muromachi period (1333-1568) and is influenced strongly by the Zen-Buddhist doctrine. This type of garden include some though limited plant life, mostly moss, raked gravel symbolizing streaming water, groupings of rocks and stones. A famous example of this type of zen-garden is Ryoanji in Kyoto.

Tea gardens - Cha Niwa or Roji
Contrary to what one could expect from the name, one does not drink tea in a tea garden. This type of garden has the following elements: Japanese lanteren (toro), crouching water basin (tsukubai), stepping stones (tobi ishi), and a waiting place (machi-ai). Most of the time these are small enclosed gardens. They are the passage to the teahouse where one performs the tea ceremony. It is a passage from the outside world to the inner world of the teahouse. The purpose is to have a peaceful mind before starting the tea ceremony. The tea garden is usually part of a larger garden. The Kimura-en in Kashiwasaki in the province of Niigata is a beautiful stand alone tea garden.

Courtyard Gardens - Tsubo Niwa
Courtyard gardens are small gardens. One tsubo is a Japanese measurement equaling 3.3 square meters The origin of the tsubo niwa lies in the 15th century when Japan's economy was thriving. A lot of merchants had large house with several storage buildings around it. The first courtyard gardens were made in the open spaces between the house and the storage buildings. The elements of a courtyard garden are similar to the elements of a tea garden, however more shade tolerant plants are used. The design principles of traditional Japanese courtyard gardens, are very suited for create contemporary small spaces on roofs or terraces.

Strolling gardens - Tsukiyama
These are large landscape gardens. Often existing landscapes are reproduced on a smaller scale, or an imaginary landscape is created.

Strolling gardens - Kaiyu-Shikien
These are pleasure gardens, mostly built during the Edo-period. Most of these gardens are now public parks.