Japanese garden

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This view from the Symbolic Mountain Lookout in Cowra, NSW shows many of the typical elements of a Japanese garden
Stone lantern amid plants. The shape of the roof will trap and hold a picturesque cap of snow.
Karesansui garden at Tōfuku-ji in Kyoto
This garden has an abundance of plants, including seasonal flowers.

Japanese gardens (Kanji 日本庭園, nihon teien), i.e. gardens in traditional Japanese style, can be found at private homes, in neighborhood or city parks, at Buddhist temples or Shinto shrines, and at historical landmarks such as old castles. Many of the Japanese gardens most famous in the West, and within Japan as well, are dry gardens or rock gardens, karesansui. The tradition of the Tea masters has produced highly refined Japanese gardens of quite another style, evoking rural simplicity. Japanese gardens have also been imitated in Western gardening.

Typical Japanese gardens contain several of these elements, real or symbolic:

  • Water
  • An island
  • A bridge to the island
  • A lantern, typically of stone
  • A teahouse or pavilion

Japanese gardens might fall into one of these styles:

  • Pond gardens, for viewing from a boat.
  • Sitting gardens, for viewing from inside a building or on a veranda.
  • Tea gardens, for viewing from a path which leads to a tea ceremony hut.
  • Strolling gardens, for viewing from a path which circumnavigates the garden.

The karesansui (or karesenzui, kosansui, kosensui 枯山水: "dry landscape") style originate from zen temples. These have no water and few plants, but typically evoke a feeling of water using pebbles and meticulously raked gravel or sand. Rocks chosen for their intriguing shapes and patterns, mosses, and low shrubs typify the karesansui style. The garden at Ryōan-ji, a temple in Kyoto, is particularly renowned.

Other gardens also use similar rocks for decoration. Some of these come from distant parts of Japan. In addition, bamboos and related plants, evergreens including Japanese black pine, and such deciduous trees as maples grow above a carpet of ferns and mosses.

Shakkei (借景), "borrowed scenery," is a technique used to integrate the garden with mountains, buildings, or other objects outside its boundaries. A middleground element, often carefully maintained plantings, blocks unwanted elements and frames the desired view. This middleground integrates the "borrowed" view into the garden's design. The viewer is encouraged to see all three areas - foreground, middleground, and background - as a single garden.


The Use of Stones, Water, and Plantings in Japanese gardens

Stone lanterns in Monte Palace Tropical Garden on Madeira

Though often thought of as tranquil sanctuaries that allow individuals to escape from the stresses of daily life, Japanese gardens are designed for a variety of purposes. Most gardens invite quiet contemplation, but may have also been intended for recreation, the display of rare plant specimens, or the exhibition of unusual rocks.

Kaiyu-shiki or Strolling Gardens require the observer to walk through the garden to fully appreciate it. A premeditated path takes observers through each unique area of a Japanese garden. Uneven surfaces are placed in specific spaces to prompt people to look down at particular points. When the observer looks up, they will see an eye-catching ornamentation--this type of design is known as the Japanese landscape principle of "hide and reveal" -- which is intended to enlighten and revive the spirit of the observer.

Japanese legend attests that stones are actual beings with spirits that need to be treated with reverence. Stones are used to construct the garden's paths, bridges, and walkways. Stones also represent mountains where actual mountains are not viewable or present. They are always placed in odd numbers and a majority of the groupings reflect triangular shapes.

Japanese Garden in Cowra, NSW showing the use of stone, water and plants

A water source in a Japanese garden should appear to be part of the natural surroundings; this is why one will not find fountains in traditional gardens. Man-made streams are built with curves and irregularities to create a serene and natural appearance. Lanterns are often placed beside some of the most prominent water basins (either a pond or a stream) in a garden representing the female and the male elements of water and fire. In Japanese tradition this is known as yin and yang. In some gardens one will find a dry pond or stream. Dry ponds and streams have as much impact as do the ones filled with water.

Green plants are the third element of Japanese gardens. Japanese traditions prefer minimal color so the use of flowers is generally parsimonious. Plants with colorful blooms are mostly used near a garden's entrance. Many plants in imitated Japanese gardens of the West are indigenous to Japan, though some sacrifices must be made to account for the differentiating climates. Some plants, such as sugar maple and firebush, give the garden a palet of color on a seasonal basis.

Noteworthy Japanese gardens

In Japan

A spacious Japanese garden: Hosokawa Gyobu Tei, near Kumamoto Castle
An egret rests on a stone lantern in the upper lake of the Japanese Garden in Cowra, NSW, Australia
A kaiyu-shiki or strolling garden

The Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of the government of Japan designates the most notable of the nation's scenic beauty as Special Places of Scenic Beauty, under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. As of March 1, 2007, 29 sites are listed, more than a half of which are Japanese gardens, as below;

(Bold faces specify World Heritage sites.)

In other countries







United States of America

See also

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External links

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