The Art of Japanese Gardens


Japan is the home of many arts and traditions. Over the centuries, Japanese gardens have become a distinctive feature of the country’s culture and symbols. They can calm even the busiest mind and help a person feel relaxed.

A traditional Japanese garden is a place where you can be at peace, remain silent and even meditate. Gardeners try to imitate nature with a curvy and asymmetric landscape. Trees, flowers, rocks, and even water, are manipulated in such a way that any observer will believe it was all done by the hand of Mother Nature. In reality, clever Japanese garden designers have discovered long ago that you can make a reproduction of an idealized landscape through different gardening techniques such as Niwaki (special tree pruning technique).

One of the key features of all gardens in Japan is that they seem different each season. Thanks to the different types of trees and flowers that grow in these magical places, the landscape changes its appearance. In spring, people go to Hanami (cherry blossom viewing) events and in autumn they admire the red leaves of the maple tree during Momijigari events.

At first, Japanese gardens followed the Chinese model, but later they developed their own principles and aesthetics. There were even scrolls with pictures and information just like landscape gardening manuals. Some of the basic principles of Japanese garden design include:

  • Miniaturization – The japanese garden is a small and idealized version of nature. Even a single small rock can represent a big mountain.
  • Concealment – The promenade gardens are meant to be enjoyed one landscape at a time. Just like an ancient scroll with beautiful illustrations.
  • “Borrowed” scenery – Japanese gardens are often designed to imitate real landscapes or to incorporate elements outside the garden.
  • Asymmetry – You can’t find a landscape in a Japanese garden with straight lines and trees in a row. Everything is designed in such a matter, that it looks like it’s been done by nature. However, if you look closely, you will notice how almost any building can be seen from a diagonal, and how the tall trees are in contrast with moving water or ponds. It’s the juxtaposition between horizontal and vertical features.

There are different types Japanese gardens. They are characterized by their elements and the landscape they imitate.

The chisen-shoyū-teien (pond gardens)  were introduced from China back in the Heian Period. They have a large, lavish residence with two long wings, each ending with a pavilion. From there the guests could enjoy the view of the lake and the surrounding nature.  There were also small islands inside the lake where musicians played music and entertained the visitors. Unfortunately, there are no preserved pond gardens, but there are reconstructions. One of them can be seen at the Daikaku-ji Temple in Kyoto.

The Paradise gardens were created by Japanese nobles from the sect of Amida Buddha. These distinctive Japanese gardens were seen as a representation of paradise, where the Buddha sat on a platform in the lotus pose, contemplating about life. The landscape of these gardens includes a lake with and island, always called Nakajima, where the Buddha hall is situated. Visitors could go there thanks to the arching bridges that connect the island with the other side. The most famous example of these mesmerizing gardens is the garden of the Phoenix hall of Byōdō-in in Kyoto.

Kaiyuushiki (strolling-style) gardens have a lot of traditional elements in their design. The visitor of these parks can walk on paths around a large central pond. Japanese garden landscape design often includes artificial hills, islands, bridges, pavilions, and other features in order to reproduce famous scenes from all over the land of the rising sun.

Karesansui, or Japanese rock gardens, became popular in the land of the rising sun thanks to the Buddhist monk Musō Soseki. As their name suggest, these gardens include rocks, stones and sand covered in moss in their landscape. The main purpose of the Japanese rock gardens is to promote meditation and help ease the mind from the surrounding world. The best example can be found at the Ryōan-ji Temple in Kyoto.

There are also Roji, or tea gardens. They act as a setting for tea ceremonies and are named roji after the path that leads to the tea house.

Other type of Japanese garden is the Tsubo-niwa country garden. They are as small as 3.3 square meters and are designed to offer a glimpse on nature and some privacy to the owner. They were often made by merchants next to their homes and were meant only to be observed without actually entering. Some of the landscape elements include a stone lantern, stepping stones, a water basin and maybe a few paths. Nowadays, the tsubo-niwa gardens can be found in a lot of Japanese homes, residences and even public buildings. If you want to have one of these in your home, you don’t need to have a green thumb.  As long as you follow the ancient aesthetics of the Japanese gardens, your own tsubo-niwa will be calming  and original.





Desiree Thomson
Desiree Thomson works as marketing manager at a London Christmas tree company. She loves her job because she gets to meet all sorts of people and learns from their experience and knowledge. Desiree is interested in green living, blogging and yoga.