Japanese Garden Elements • Your Inspiration For Your Home

The rules for water allocation are presented in the first Japanese garden manual, Sakuteiki, or “The Creation of Gardens”, in the 11th century.

Sakuteiki believed that the waters had to come from either the east or south-east in the garden and flow to the west, as the ancient Chinese deity Japanese had been home to the Green Dragon (seiryu), and the White Tiger, the deity of the east was home to the west. The water flowing east and west takes evil away, and the garden owner will be safe and long-lived.
According to Sakutei-ki, the water from the north, representing water in the budgetary cosmology, is another favorable provision to the South, representing fire, which is opposed to it, yin and yang, and thus good fortune is attained.

Sakutei-ki recommends a few miniature landscapes, the ‘ocean-style’ that features wave erodes, the large river-style that recreates the trip of the big river, a snake that snakes ‘swamp pond-style.’ the Sakutei-ki recommend some mini-landscapes with potential lakes and streams. The following is a large swamp of water plants: the ‘style mountain stream’ of a lot of rocks, waterfalls and the ‘pink letter’ style. It’s a long, narrow, small landscape with a gentle relief and many scattered, flat rocks.

Small islands in the garden

Traditional Japanese gardens have small islands in the lakes. In the gardens of sacred temples, there is usually an island that represents Mount Penglai or Mount Horai, the traditional home of the Eight Immortals.
Sakutei-ki describes the different types of artificial islands that can be created in lakes, including the “mountain island,” made up of irregular vertical rocks mixed with pine trees, surrounded by a beach of sand or gravel, the “rocky island, composed of “tormented” rocks that seem to have been battered by the waves of the sea, together with small trees, old pines with unusual shapes, the “island of the clouds”, with white sand in rounded white shapes simulating a cluster of clouds, and the “misty island”, under the island of sand, without rocks or trees.


Rocks, Sand and Gravel

Rock, sand and gravel are some essential features of the Japanese garden. A vertical rock can represent Mount Horai, the legendary home of the Eight Immortals or Mount Sumeru of the Buddhist teaching, or a tent jump from the water.
A flat rock could represent the earth. Sand or gravel can represent a running river or a beach. Rocks and water symbolize yin and yang, too. In Buddhist doctrine, hard rock and soft water balance each other, and even if water is hot, the rock may be washed down.

Toufuku-ji-hojyo. Rock composition

Unequal volcanic rocks (kasei-gan) are generally used to represent mountains or as steps. Medium, circular sedimentary rock (Suisei-gan) is used near lakes or intersection points. Big metamorphic rocks are normally positioned in waterfalls or streams.Traditionally, rocks are classified as high vertical, low vertical, arched, reclining, or flat.

The rocks should be different, but not in color from each other, they should not have bright colors that are lacking in subtlety.

Rocks with layers or crystals would have cracks in the same direction, and the rocks should all be tightly attached to the earth, providing the impression of firmness and toughness. The rocks should be grouped in careful clusters of two , three, five, or seven, the groups of three being the most appropriate.In an array of three, the larger rock is typically the moon, the rock is lower than the planet, and the medium-sized rock is the human being, the link between heaven and earth.

Often one or more stones, called SuteiShi (“unnamed” or “discarded”), are positioned at apparently random positions in the garden to indicate spontaneity, although their positioning is deliberately selected

sand garden

In ancient Japan, sand (sun) and gravel (jari) were used around Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples.
Later, it was used in Japanese rock gardens or Zen Buddhist gardens to represent water or clouds. White sand is clear, but it may also be red, brown, or blue-black sand.

Architecture in the Garden

In the Japanese gardens of the Heian period, built on the Chinese model, the buildings take up as much or more space as the garden. The garden was planned to be viewed from the main building and its terraces, or from small pavilions constructed for this purpose. The buildings were less visible in the backyard gardens.Rustic tea houses were enclosed in their little gardens, and little benches and pavilions, which stood along the paths of the garden, offered a spot for relaxation and meditation.

In the later architecture of the garden, the walls of the houses and the tea rooms could be opened to provide carefully framed views of the garden. The greenhouse and the house were one of them.

Byodo in-en uji


Bridges first appeared in the Japanese garden during the Heian period. In the garden of Kyoto, Byodo-a wooden bridge linking the Phoenix Pavilion with a small island of stones, representing Mount Penglai or Horai Monte, the ancestral island of the Eight Daoist Immortals, the bridge symbolizes the road to heaven and immortality.
The bridges may be built of stone (Ishibashi) or timber, or of earthen trunks on the edges, lined with moss (Dobashi) as they could be arched (soribashi) or flat (hirabashi).

Ritsurin wooden bridge

Sometimes, if they were part of the temple garden, they were painted red, according to Chinese tradition, but most of them were unpainted.
Throughout the Edo era, when the large walking gardens were popular, streams and pathways were constructed, with a series of bridges, typically in a rustic stone or wooden design, to lead tourists on a tour of the garden ‘s best panoramic views.

Stone Lanterns and Drinking Fountains

Hiroshima shukkeien Lantern

Japanese stone lanterns date back to the Nara and Heian periods. Originally they were used only in Buddhist temples, where they lined the roads and entered the temple, but in the Heian era they even started to be seen in Shinto shrines.Traditionally, during the Momoyama period, tea masters were introduced into the tea garden, first the large ones, and later in the gardens, used exclusively for decoration.

In its complete and original shape, the dai-doro, like the pagoda, reflects the five components of Buddhist cosmology.

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The ground part represents chi, the earth, the next part represents sui, or water; ka or fire is represented by a portion that encloses the lantern with light or flame, while Fu (air) and Ku (void or spirit) are represented by the last two parts, from above and pointed to the heavens.
The fragments represent the notion that they return to their initial elementary state after the death of our human bodies..

Stone fountains, (tsukubai) were originally placed in the gardens for visitors to wash their hands and mouths before the tea ceremony. The water is supplied to the fountain by a bamboo tube, or Kakei, and they usually have a wooden ladle for drinking the water. In tea gardens, the fountain ( tsukubai ) was placed close to the ground, so the drinker had to bend down to get his water.

Gates, Garden Fences and Enclosures

The first structure found when visiting a single Japanese family residence is the gate, MON, and its associated fence.

Japanese Gateway to the Garden

In Japan, the house and garden are meant to have some integration, and the perimeter of the property will usually have an opaque wall or fence that blocks the view of most of what is inside. The garden in a traditional Japanese context is similar to a slowly developing work of art. It is not a place to relax or play. Relaxation is meant to happen inside, or at the edge of the house, while sitting in the drawing room, zashiki or on the terrace, engawa. The garden is primarily intended for visual enjoyment, and the surrounding architecture is placed in such a way that it forms and frames the garden scene and provides ideal viewing locations from which to appreciate different aspects of the garden.

One word for the fence is khaki, which originally meant a solid enclosure made of stone, earth and/or wood. In the strictest sense, persimmons are essentially a demarcation of territory and do little to obstruct the view of the area contained within. It can be easily overcome or crossed and will not prevent intruders.
The name for the Japanese fence is hei. They were initially walls built of earth or stone, and they were only used primarily for temples and aristocratic buildings. Earlier, samurai homes even used to have these walls, but they weren’t seen in regular houses. Hei are fences similar to a bandage and do not allow an outside viewer a glimpse inside. Therefore, they are effective barriers, unlike persimmon, which are largely symbolic.

The Mas Imazumi Gate

This classic Japanese gate was dedicated to Mas Imazumi – a master of Bonsai Bay Area for many decades. The door was designed and built by Hiroshi Sakaguchi, who practiced, what the men in his family have been doing for over 600 years, the ancient craft of carpentry that uses no visible glue, nails or screws.

Torii gates

Torii Gates

A Torii gate is a traditional Japanese arch usually found at the entrance of Shinto shrines (Jinja), marking the border between profane and sacred space. It consists of two columns supported by two parallel beams, often colored in shades of red or vermilion, and is a door to the spiritual world.

Pond with water lilies

Trees and Plants

Nothing in the Japanese garden is natural or left to chance, every plant is selected according to esthetic principles, whether to cover unwanted views, to act as a backdrop for other features of the garden, or to create a picturesque setting, such as a landscape or a postcard.

The trees are carefully selected and arranged for their fall colors. Moss is often used to suggest that the garden is very old. The flowers are also carefully selected for their flowering season.

garden Soraku-en

Formal flower beds are uncommon in old gardens, but they are more common in new gardens.Some plants are selected for their religious significance, such as the lotus, holy to the Buddhist teachings, or the pine, which reflects immortality. The trees are cut with precision to provide attractive scenery and to avoid blocking other views of the garden.

Their growth is also controlled by a technique called Niwaki, to give them more picturesque shapes, and to give them an older look. Sometimes they are required to bend in order to create colors or clearer reflections in the light.

Jardin Kenroku,pines shored up in anticipation of snow

It was similar to the topiary gardens created in Europe at the same time, except that the topiary in European gardens tried to make the trees look like solid geometrical objects, while o-karkikomi tried to make shrubs as if they were shapes, or in a stream of natural forms.
He created an artistic work of light on the surface of the bramble bush, and, according to garden historian Michel Baridon, “also brought into play the sense of ‘touching’ things that is still so successful in Japanese design today.

The species most used in these gardens are bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) to delimit the space of the garden, evergreen trees and shrubs such as pine (Pinus nigra) or Japanese cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), and others with deciduous leaves such as Japanese cherry (Prunus incisa), flowering cherry (Prunus serrulata), maple (Acer palmatum) or ginkgo (Gingko biloba) (Icho),. along with azaleas (Tsutsuji), camellias (tsubaki), oak (Kashiwa), Japanese apricot (ume), cherry (sakura), maple (momiji), willow (yanagi), Japanese cypress (hinoki), Japanese cedar (sugi), pine (matsu) and bamboo (take).

Fishes and other Animals

Colored carp in ponds

The use of fish, particularly nishiki-goi (carp colored), or goldfish as a decorative element in gardens was taken from the Chinese garden. Goldfish developed in China over a thousand years ago by selective breeding of Prussian colored carp mutations.In the Song Dynasty (960 – 1279), yellow, orange, white and red colors had already developed. Goldfish was introduced to Japan in the 16th century. The Koi developed from common carp in Japan in the 1820s.

Koi are common carp (Cyprinus carpio), which are selected for their color mutations, are not a different species, and will return to the original coloring within a few generations, if they are allowed to reproduce freely. In Japanese gardens, turtles and cranes also appear almost always as sculptures in the Garden.

Aesthetic Principles

Adachi Art Museum Garden

Japanese gardens soon largely followed the Chinese model, but gradually Japanese gardens developed their own principles.
The principles of sacred gardens, such as Buddhist temple Zen gardens, were different from those of pleasure or walking gardens, for example, Buddhist Zen gardens were designed to be seen, while sitting, from a platform with a view of the whole garden, without entering it, while walking gardens were meant to be seen walking through the garden and stopping at a number of points of view.

These were made clear by a series of landscape gardening manuals, beginning with Sakuteiki (Notes on Gardening) during the Heian period (794-1185). They still, however, contain similar elements and use the same techniques.

Some basic principles are:

It’s miniaturization. The Japanese garden is a miniature, idealized vision of nature.
Rocks may represent mountains, and ponds may represent the seas. The landscape is often made to appear bigger by putting large rocks and trees in the foreground and smaller ones in the background.

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Hiddenness. (Miegakure, literally “hiding and revealing. ‘) The Buddhist Zen garden is meant to be seen at the same time, but the walking garden is not meant to be seen at the same time, it has to be seen as an unrolled parchment and landscapes appear.The functions are hidden behind hills, trees or bamboo groves, walls or structures, to be discovered when the visitor arrives through a winding path.

Borrowed Landscape” (Shakkei). Smaller gardens are often designed to include a view of functions outside the garden, such as hills, trees or temples, as part of the landscape. This makes the garden look bigger than it really does.

Asymmetry. Japanese gardens are not positioned on straight axes or with a single viewpoint that dominates the view.

Buildings and structures of the garden are typically positioned to be viewed from a diagonal and are deliberately incorporated into landscapes that correspond with right angles, such as buildings with natural environments and vertical elements, such as cliffs, trees, bamboo or horizontal structures, such as ponds.
According to historians David Garden and Young Michigo, the essence of the Japanese garden is the idea that a garden is a work of art. “While influenced by nature, it is an imitation rather than a copy; it should be real, but it is not real.”

Landscape gardener Seyemon Kusumoto wrote that the Japanese generate “the best of nature’s work, in a limited space.

Differences between Japanese and Chinese Gardens

Korakuen Garden at Koishikawa

Japanese gardens during the Heian Period were modeled on Chinese gardens, until the Edo Period there were clear differences.

Architecture. -The Chinese gardens have buildings in the middle of the garden, which occupy a significant part of the area. Buildings are situated adjacent to or above the main body of water. The garden buildings are very elaborate, with a lot of architectural detailing. Later, in Japanese gardens, the buildings are well isolated from the water source, and the buildings are plain, with very few decorations. The architecture of the Japanese garden is largely concealed.

Viewpoints: The Chinese gardens are planned to be seen from the ground, from the houses, galleries and pavilions in the middle of the garden.

Later Japanese gardens were planned to be viewed from the outside, like the Japanese rock garden or the Zen garden, or along a winding road.

Lingering Garden in Shuzhou. Dramatic stones

Use the rocks. In the Chinese Garden, particularly during the Ming Dynasty, the rocks were chosen for their extraordinary shape or resemblance to animals or mountains, and were used to create a dramatic effect.
Often they were the stars and the centerpieces of the garden. Later, in Japanese gardens, the rocks were smaller and more natural, integrated into the garden.

Seascapes. Chinese gardens were inspired by continental Chinese landscapes, lakes and mountains, especially Chinese ones, while Japanese gardens often used miniature landscapes of the Japanese coast.

Japanese gardens often include white sand or pebble and rock beaches that appear to have been worn away by the waves and tides, which rarely appear in Chinese gardens.

Byodo-in Temple

Chisen-shoyu-teien or garden pond. The chisen-shoyu-teien, literally “the spring lake-boat trip garden”, was imported from China during the Heian period (794-1185). It is also called the shinden-zukuri style, like the architectural style of the main building.It had a large residence, adorned with two large wings leading south to a large lake and garden.Could wing ended up in a pavilion from which you could enjoy the view of the lake. Visitors took small boat tours of the bay.These gardens had large lakes with tiny islands, where musicians performed at parties and rituals, and worshipers could see the Buddha through the mist.

Few original gardens of this era exist, but reconstructions can be seen at the Heian-Jingu and Daikaku-ji Temples in Kyoto.

Joruriji-hondo a garden of paradise in KIoto

The Garden of Paradise. The Garden of Paradise appeared at the end of the Heian Period, created by the nobles belonging to the Amida sect of Buddhism.It was supposed to symbolize Paradise or the Pure Land (Jodo), where the Buddha sat on a platform to gaze at a lotus pond.These gardens included an island in the lake called Nakajima, where the Buddha’s hall was located, connected to the shore by an arched bridge.The most famous surviving example is the garden of the Phoenix Corridor in Byodo.In the temple, built in 1053, in Uji, near Kyoto.

Other examples are Joruri-ji Temple in Kyoto, Enro-ji in Nara Prefecture , the Hokongoin in Kyoto, Motsu-ji Temple in Hiraizumi , and Shiramizu Amidado Garden in Iwaki City.

The Zen rock garden of Ryoan

Dry Karesansui or Rock Garden. The Japanese Karesansui or Rock Gardens became popular in Japan in the 14th century, thanks to the work of a Buddhist monk, Muso Soseki (1275-1351) who built the Zen gardens of the five main monasteries in Kyoto.These gardens are made of white sand or gravel raked instead of water, carefully placed rocks, and sometimes moss-covered stones and sand.Their aim is to encourage meditation, and they are to be seen while sitting on the porch of the residence of Hōjō, the abbot of the monastery. The most prominent example of this is the Ryoan-ji Temple in Kyoto.Ihoan tea house in Kodai ji in Kyoto

Tea house gardens were created during the Muromachi (1333-1573) and Momoyama (1573-1600) periods as the setting for the Japanese tea drinking ceremony, or chanoyu.

Ihoan tea house in Kodai ji in Kyoto

The garden style takes its name from the roji or the road to the tea room, which is meant to inspire the guest to meditate in order to prepare him for the ceremony. There is an enclosed patio with a gate and a covered gazebo, where visitors are waiting for the invitation to enter.They then walk through a small door into the inner courtyard, where they wash their hands and rinse their mouths before entering the shrine of Shinto or the tea house itself.

The path is still kept moist and dark, so it appears like a quiet mountain path, there are no flashy flowers to deter the visitor from his meditation. The first tea houses did not have windows, but later the tea houses had a window built into them that could be opened to get a view of the garden.

Kenrokuen Garden in Kanazawa

Kaiyu-shiki-teien or walking gardens (go-round gardens) appeared in Japan during the Edo period (1600-1854), in the villas of nobles or warlords.These gardens were designed to complement the houses in the new sukiya-zukuri style of architecture, which was inspired by the tea house.These gardens were made to be seen through a path around the lake in a carefully composed scene.Two techniques have been used to provide interest; the Shakkei, or “borrowed landscape,” which takes advantage of views of landscapes outside the garden, such as mountains or temples, incorporating them into the view so that the garden appears larger than it really is, and the other the miegakure, or “hide-and-seek,” which uses trails, bamboo fences, or buildings to hide views from the visitor and open them when in the best view.The Edo time of the Gardens most frequently provides reproduction of famous landscapes or scenes influenced by literature.The Suizen-ji-en Joju Garden in Kumamoto has a miniature version of Mount Fuji, and the Katsura Villa Garden in Kyoto has a miniature version of the Ama-no-Hashidate sandbank in Miyazu Bay in Kyoto.

The Rikugi-en Garden in Tokyo creates small landscapes influenced by eighty-eight popular Japanese poems.

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Tsubo-niwa courtyard garden. These small gardens were originally found in the inner courtyards of the Heian Period and in palaces, and were designed to give an idea of nature and some privacy to the residents in the back of the building.

They were as small as a tsubo, or about 3.3 square metres. During the Edo period, the merchants began to build small gardens in the space behind their shops, which overlooked the street and their residences at the rear. Such small gardens were intended to be viewed, and they generally had a stone light, a water fountain, stairs, and a few key plants.Tsubo-niwa is also used in several Japanese homes, hotels, restaurants and public buildings.

A good example of the Meiji era can be found in the village of Murin-an in Kyoto.

ermita garden

Hermitage Garden, guy. A hermitage garden is a small garden that is usually built by a samurai or government official who wanted to retire from public life and devote himself to study and meditation.It is placed into a rustic home, which we enter through a winding road, indicating that it is in the depths of a woodland.This may include a small pool, a Japanese rock garden, and other elements of traditional gardens, in miniature, planned to generate tranquility and inspiration.

One example is the garden of the Shisen-dō in Kyoto, designed by a learned bureaucrat and banished by the shogun in the 17th century. It’s a Buddhist temple now.

The literature and art of the Japanese garden

Gardening Manuals

The first Japanese gardening manual was the “Sakuteiki” (“Garden Documents of Decisions”), possibly published in the 11th century by Tachibana no Tohshitsuna (1028-1094).
Citing the oldest Chinese springs, it explains how to organize the garden, from the placement of the rocks and streams to the correct depth of the ponds and the height of the waterfalls. While it is based on the ideals of the former Chinese Garden, it also presents concepts that are unique to Japanese gardens, such as islands, beaches and rock formations that resemble Japanese seascapes.

In addition to providing guidance, Sakuteiki also warns of what happens if the laws are not followed, the author advises that if a rock, which was in fact in a horizontal location, rises up in a garden, it would bring bad luck to the garden owner.
And if a large rock pointing to the north or west is placed near a gallery, the owner of the garden will be forced to leave within a year.

Another important work on the Japanese garden, bonseki, bonsai and associated techniques was in Rhymeprose, a miniature landscape garden (around 1300) used by the Zen monk Kokan Shiren.Done explained how meditation on a miniature garden purifies the senses and the mind and leads to an understanding of the correct relationship between man and nature.

Senzui Narabi ni Yagyo no Zu (Illustrations for the Layout of Mountain, River and Hillside Field Landscapes), published in the 15th century, and Tsukiyama Teizoden (Building Mountains and Making Gardens) from the 18th century were other influential garden manuals that helped describe the design of the Japanese landscape.

The tradition of Japanese gardening was historically approved under “sensei” Sensei is the Japanese term for a master, a sage or a learned person.
The first words of Illustrations for the design of mountain, water and hill country landscapes (1466) are “If you have not received oral transmissions, you should not make gardens” and its closing warning is “You should never show this writing to outsiders. You must keep it secret.”

Keishun garden tea house in Kyoto

Gardens in Literature and Poetry.The story of Genji, a classic Japanese novel from the Heian period, describes the role of the Japanese garden in court life.The characters visit festivities in Kyoto ‘s former Imperial Palace Park, take boat trips to the harbor, listen to music and observe the formal dances under the trees.

Gardens were always the subject of poetry throughout the Heian era. One poem in the anthology of the era, the Kokin-Shu, described the Kiku-shima, or the island of Chrystanthemums, which is situated in the Osawa Pond in the large Saga garden of the time.

I had thought that only one chrystanthemum could grow here. Who has planted the other one so deep in Osawa Pond?
Another poem of the Heian period, in the isshu Hyakunin, described a waterfall of rocks, simulating a waterfall, in the same garden:

The waterfall long ago stopped roaring,

But we keep hearing

The murmur of his name

Philosophy, painting and the Japanese garden. In Japanese culture, the decision garden is a great art, equal to the arts of calligraphy and painting. Gardens are considered three-dimensional in Taoist and Zen Buddhist textbooks.Usually, however, groups are found in the organization of rocks , soil, and plants.For eg, the lotus flower has a special message; its roots lie in the mud at the bottom of the pond, symbolizing the suffering of human life, but the flower is pure white, symbolizing the purity of spirit that can be attained by observing the teachings of the Buddha.Japanese rock gardens were supposed to be mental puzzles for the monks who lived next door to learn and solve.They followed the same principles as Suiboku-ga, the black and white paintings of Japanese ink of the same era, which, in accordance with Zen Buddhist principles, sought to achieve maximum effect with minimum essential elements.One of the painters who inspired the Japanese garden was Josetsu (1405-1423), a Chinese Zen monk who came to Japan and developed a new form of brush ink art, moving away from the romantic misty landscapes of the previous period.He used asymmetry and white space regions, similar to the white space generated by sand in the Zen Gardens, to set aside and highlight a mountain or tree branch or other feature in his art.

He was the official painter of the Shogun and inspired a generation of garden painters and designers.

Yukitsuri-Trees prepared so that the snow does not break their branches

Japanese gardens have always adopted the ideals of perspective of Japanese landscape art, and includes a backdrop, a middle ground and a background. The open room between the various planes is of great importance and is filled with dirt, grass or sand. 
Landscape planners employ a number of visual tricks to give the ground the appearance of being larger than it actually is, away from the garden, by use small trees and shrubs to generate the impression that they are far apart.

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