The Art of The Japanese Garden

Dec 17th, 2008 | By | Category: History & Culture, Parks, Gardens & Nature, Tokyo and Vicinity

To visit a garden in Japan is to take a step away from reality.  Many of these gardens are a calm oasis in the center of very vibrant and bustling communities and they offer visitors an opportunity to relax and forget, if just for a moment or two, the hectic pace just beyond the garden itself.

The best gardens in Japan incorporate aesthetics that are contradictory in nature but somehow complement each other when employed by a skillful designer.   Ancient texts describe the following six qualities as essential components of a well designed garden.

Spaciousness & Tranquility

Many Japanese gardens encompass large areas and are naturally spacious but smaller, more intimate, gardens can also have a feeling of spaciousness when well laid out.  The placement of paths, water features, rocks, trees and and shrubs can create the illusion of a larger space to visitors.

Tranquil oasis’ can be found in the nooks and crannies created by the paths that meander through well designed Japanese gardens. A stroll along the path make take you past a secluded nook where a lovely stone lantern is surrounded by Japanese pine trees and further on, around a slight curve, you will have an impressive view of an island in the center of a graceful pond.  Still later, and on the same path, you may run across a rest house or tea house tucked away that beckons you to a seat or allows you to imagine a simpler time when kimono clad women were entertained by sword wielding samurai.

Artifice & Antiquity

Man is responsible for the creation of Japanese gardens and they should not be regarded as feats of nature.   The skillful manipulation of a natural site creates a world unto itself and although they are man-made, the best gardens have a very natural appearance.

An air of antiquity is established by the use of weathered rocks and aged trees that are carefully manicured.  Many of the gardens in Japan have been in place for centuries and have an authentic air of antiquity but it should be remembered that this sense of age was there from the beginning and has only been improved upon by Mother Nature.

Water-Courses & Panoramas

Like in nature, the water in a Japanese garden is found at the lowest point on the site, or in the case of streams, meanders down from the artificial hills, through the forest to a central pond.  The garden path offers a variety of wonderful vantages points upon which to gaze upon the central pond.

A well designed Japanese garden creates famous panoramas in miniature for visitors to behold.  You need to take your imagination with you when you wander amidst the hills, forests, streams and ponds of a Japanese landscape garden.   Atop one of the artificial hills you may feel as if you are enjoying the view of a large lake after a long day of trekking up one of Japan’s famous mountains.   The ancient gardens of Japan were designed as a way for local nobility to relive their travels to far-away and famous destinations in Japan.  While the shinkansen from Tokyo to Mt. Fuji may only take a few hours today, in ancient Japan the trip was long and arduous and only made by the most wealthy and powerful people and their retainers.

Rikugien Japanese Garden

Types of Japanese Gardens

Tsukiyama Gardens employ artifical hills, water features, meandering paths and a variety of vegetation and flora to recreate famous landscapes in Japan.

Karesansui Gardens are rock gardens, or dry gardens, that utilize stones, gravel, sand and moss to represent mountains, islands, boats, seas and rivers.  These gardens have been influenced by Zen Buddhism and are considered ideal spots for meditation.

Chaniwa Gardens are gardens specifically built for the tea ceremony and are often very simple designed in line with the practices of the tea ceremony itself.  Stepping stones leading up to a tea house and the use of stone lanterns are common features in Chaniwa Gardens.

Kaiyu-shiki, or strolling gardens,  make the most of the garden path by panning it such that visitors are presented with unique views of the garden at various points along their journey.

To learn more about the art and beauty of the Japanese garden, take some time to read the visit Japanese Garden fact sheet (PDF) created by Web-Japan that offer historical information and elaborates on the different types of gardens listed above.

Almost every prefecture or city in Japan has its own garden. JGarden has a search engine that will help you find a garden close to where you live, in Japan, or elsewhere in the world.

Image Credit:  Personal Collection

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  1. I love Japanese garden, they are a chance to escape the hum drum pace of everyday life and just sit and contemplate anything I want to. One that I didn’t see on your list that comes highly recommended (from me : ) is a garden called San-Kei-En. This was originally owned by a silk merchant in Yokohama - on his death he left it to the local community to be preserved for their enjoyment. If you get a chance to visit I really recommend it - especially during hanami season. It is beautiful!

  2. […] in the different and lovely views seemingly around every bend of this and most other well designed Japanese gardens.  A tea house overlooking a fishing pond and a rest pavilion where you can purchase snacks and […]

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