Japanese Garden

The Charm of Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens are one of the traditional arts of Japan, which use natural materials to create a harmonious and tranquil space for reflection and meditation. Japanese gardens have various types and styles, reflecting the history, culture, religion and aesthetics of Japan. In this article, we will introduce the basic elements, main types and famous examples of Japanese gardens.

The Basic Elements of Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens have five basic elements: water, rocks, plants, architecture and borrowed scenery. These elements are chosen and arranged according to certain principles and techniques, aiming to express the natural beauty and mood of the landscape.

  • Water: Water is the source of life and the main means of representing the scenery in Japanese gardens. Water can take the form of ponds, streams, waterfalls, fountains and so on, or it can be replaced by white sand or gravel to form dry landscapes. Water can symbolize natural phenomena such as oceans, rivers, lakes and so on, or it can imply abstract concepts such as purity, flow, change and so on.
  • Rocks: Rocks are the skeleton and soul of Japanese gardens, which can support and adorn the whole garden. Rocks can take the form of mountains, islands, bridges, lanterns and so on, or they can be combined into shapes with religious or mythical meanings such as Mount Sumeru, Dragon Gate, Crane Island and so on. Rocks can symbolize qualities such as solidity, eternity, stability and so on, or they can evoke the imagination and association of the viewers.
  • Plants: Plants are the color and change of Japanese gardens, which can decorate and balance the whole garden. Plants can take the form of lawns, flower beds, potted plants and so on, or they can be trimmed into styles with special meanings such as pine trees, bamboo groves, mosses and so on. Plants can symbolize themes such as seasons, life, nature and so on, or they can express the feelings and moods of the viewers.
  • Architecture: Architecture is the function and highlight of Japanese gardens, which can provide places for viewing and resting. Architecture can take the form of tea houses, arbors, pavilions and so on, or it can blend with the style and features of the garden. Architecture can symbolize backgrounds such as culture, history, humanity and so on, or it can increase the interest and flavor of the garden.
  • Borrowed scenery: Borrowed scenery is the skill and wisdom of Japanese gardens, which can enlarge and enrich the whole garden. Borrowed scenery means using the scenery outside the garden, such as mountains, clouds, buildings and so on, as part of the garden, forming a unified and harmonious picture. Borrowed scenery can symbolize spirits such as openness, inclusiveness, integration and so on, or it can enhance the level and momentum of the garden.

The Main Types of Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens have four main types, which are pond-strolling style, pond-viewing style, dry-landscape style and tea garden style. These four types have different features and styles, reflecting different eras and schools.

  • Pond-strolling style
    Pond-strolling style

    : Pond-strolling style means having a pond as the center, setting up multiple viewing points and paths, allowing viewers to stroll along the water or bridges around the whole garden, enjoying different views and angles. This type of garden originated in the Heian period, prevailed in the Edo period, and is the oldest and most common type of garden in Japan. Representative works include Kinkaku-ji, Ginkaku-ji, Koraku-en and so on.

  • Pond-viewing style: Pond-viewing style means having a pond as the center, setting up one or more fixed viewing points, allowing viewers to view the whole garden from buildings or platforms, enjoying the reflections and changes on the water surface. This type of garden originated in the Muromachi period, prevailed in the Edo period, and is the most elegant and exquisite type of garden in Japan. Representative works include Sanzen-in, Ryoan-ji, Chion-in and so on.

    Pond-viewing style
    Pond-viewing style
  • Dry-landscape style: Dry-landscape style means not using water or plants, but using white sand or gravel instead of water, and using stones or wood instead of mountains or islands, creating an abstract and Zen-like space. This type of garden originated in the Song dynasty, prevailed in the Muromachi period, and is the most simple and profound type of garden in Japan. Representative works include Daitoku-ji, Nanzen-ji, Rinzai-ji and so on.

    Dry-landscape style:
    Dry-landscape style:
  • Tea garden style: Tea garden style means designing a small garden for tea ceremony, usually located in front of or beside the tea house, setting up a path made of stepping stones, guiding guests into the tea house. This type of garden originated in the Muromachi period, prevailed in the Edo period, and is the most spiritual and humanistic type of garden in Japan. Representative works include Tofuku-ji, Daikaku-ji, Wabi-suke-tei and so on.

    Tea garden style
    Tea garden style

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