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Concept of Japanese Gardens Research Paper

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Updated: Aug 12th, 2019


According to the Oracle think Quest website, Japanese forms of art have often been taken to be the rigid preservation of historical habits where value is placed on the continuity of these forms of art. The Japanese gardens are classified into forms of art that are also considered as an important souvenir to their cultural, political, religious and social practices.

As a matter of fact, it is through these gardens that we come to understand that there is a way in which ideas and values are incorporated into the Japanese people’s tradition over periods of time through the use of art and design. For the Japanese a garden is not just a collection of flowers, and trees, and orchards; gardens have an almost symbolic historical and cultural value as well (Oracle think Quest np).

The main cultural differences between Japanese gardens and the western world type of gardens is that the western world believe in gardens which you can walk through whereas Japanese gardens have often been designed in relation to architecture and culture. Japanese gardens have often been a presentation of the natural world and nature’s beauty and stones have taken the center stage as importance in their artwork and have often been known to signify continuity (Bring 40).

In these gardens, beauty is achieved through the means of the plantings. Plantings refer to the natural trees, flowers and other forms of shrubs that are planted into these gardens as a way of giving them the outlook of a natural sceneries and environments. The Japanese garden designers can also achieve beauty from the type of the materials used and how these materials inter twine to give a good representation of real nature objects such as the oceans, lakes, hills, mountains and the like.

It is also good to note that objects in a Japanese garden tend to portray stability and motion. This is because such objects are arranged and relate in such a manner that the artwork to depict either stability or motion is clearly portrayed. Also, the plants used are normally of a great variety both in physical size and species.

This is done so as to alleviate any form of monotony and any possible form of boredom that might arise. Indeed, Japanese gardens are meant to be a place where the troubled soul can find peace and relaxation and is also seen as a place of social settings. The Japanese garden tries to keep the appreciator subtly engaged; to achieve this they employ the sense of sight in using varied colors and textures, smell and sound by employing chimes (Bring 40).

History of Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens can be traced back to around 592AD during the kingdom of Empress Suiko. Scholars state that the Japanese gardens evolved from Zen rock gardens and then to tea gardens and finally to walking gardens.

It is however important to note that there is evidence to support the fact that the art started even before 529AD. Gardens that existed before this period had artificially made hills and decorated pools just like those present today. Major mileage on these gardens begun during the period known as Nara at the time that Japan began trading with China.

Due to the Japanese gardens, numerous cultural changes occurred in Japan and China. It was because of the trade between Japan and China that both countries begun exchanging their cultural practices, social behaviors, political interests and their art and designs. There was also a mixture of Chinese culture with Japanese cultures when it came to the art of creating gardens. The way these gardens looked was determined by various myths (Tschumi et. al. 87).

However, changes in Japanese cultures were not done to these styles for a very long time. It was up to the period of Kamakura that was between the years 1185 and 1392 that changes in the Japanese culture were mostly implemented. During these years, these changes occurred due to the fact that the Buddhist priests begun creating gardens for meditation purposes. This meant that all the decorations carried out to the gardens were done out with the sole purpose of suiting the meditation mood (Tschumi et. al. 87).

During this period, Conder also tells us that gardens were made from mainly plants, stones and constant water supply. These gardens also mainly symbolized the Japanese religion and were seen as places where the Japanese people could get spiritual moments with their gods. Though, these gardens were also used for social activities and relaxation purposes. This went on until the Higashiyama periods between 1392 and 1573, a time when gardens were constructed wholly of stones that were designed in a monochrome style (Conder J, 58).

Gardens known as flat gardens were also developed during this period. Like the Buddhist gardens, these also employed stones to depict various aspects of the natural environment. Later on, walking gardens sprung up and these were pleasantly and beautifully made. Walking gardens had small foot paths which to date is a feature that is still a part of Japanese gardens (Bring 54).

Today, one of the major purposes of the Japanese garden is to enhance the quality of the Japanese people. This is achieved be the means of skillfully controlling art and design of nature in such gardens and thus taking it to Japanese homes creating socially favorable environments in such homes (Oracle think Quest, np).

Characteristics of Japanese Gardens

According to Rodriguez, those who build Japanese gardens have both spiritual and philosophical aspects in mind, unlike in the western type of gardens that are built solely for their visual appeal. Rodriguez adds that those designing Japanese gardens have the following considerations at heart:

Borrowed Views

Garden designers in Japan tend to try to include views from far away places into their works. These views include views of far away forests, far away mountains, lakes and other scenery through the use of graded ornaments or planted trees and are normally accompanied by places that a viewer can seat and enjoy the various artificially made and then framed scenes (Rodriguez, 122).


Japanese garden designers achieve this characteristic through the use of small symbols to represent larger natural features. These small symbols are also called place holders and the whole process is referred to in Japan as symbolization. A good example where symbolization is used is in the use of coarse sand that most often symbolize large rocks found in an Island and are used generally to represent the ocean (Rodriguez, 122).

Reduced Scale

Japanese designers tend to use reduced scale in order to achieve representation of views existing in nature in a clearer scale. Mountains are represented on scale such that they become hills, while rivers are in turn represented on scale as streams. However, it is good to note that most of the times; such representations are done by the designers in abstract manners (Rodriguez, 122).


This basically deals with the fact that the Japanese gardens’ designs represent a specific theme of their being a place, individuals can find rest and relaxation from day to day activities. Due to this, the designers ensure that the gardens are in isolated areas free from hustles of daily life. This can be achieved through fencing or any other relevant methods (Rodriguez, 123).

The following are some of the listings and descriptions of the elements that have been used since time immemorial in the design of Japanese gardens:


Japan is an island nation. For this reason, the citizens of Japan hold water as a precious part of their natural resources, and it has great symbolic and cultural value. The use and appreciation of water goes beyond just utilization. To them, water is close to sacred and has thus been used in Japan gardens to play significant roles both symbolically and in real life.

It is the work of the Japanese garden designers to ensure they coordinate and combine water pools in their artistry design with gravel sand. In this manner, they achieve depictions of miniature oceans and seas. Such created models act to serve as a reminder of the importance of water in their culture.


The rock structures form the foundations of Japanese gardens. It is not an amazing fact that rocks are considered very important elements in the construction of Japanese gardens. Their importance is indicated by the fact that laid down procedures exist in the selection and placement of rocks into the gardens. Japanese garden designers usually set stones in groups of either three rocks or in odd number groupings and these groupings are checked for a balance in texture, form and color.


Ornaments play important roles in beautifying Japanese gardens and can be made out of gravel and to create stone lanterns and sculptures. Ornaments are also useful in drawing people’s attention to specific views or scenes. It is imperative that given ornaments should be matching with corresponding designs.


Japanese gardens are planted with all year round type with different types of plants to suit the different seasons since the gardens are normally used throughout the year. Mostly, flowers and some types of trees are preferred as planting though many people use different types of plantings as per their taste and preferences.

Significance of Japanese Gardens

According to the garden fountains website, the gardening fundamentals of Japanese gardens depend on conventional designs and symbols, and the gardens are but models of popular sceneries.

Strict rules are followed while these works of art are under production; the size and arrangement of the whole artwork is keenly and seriously considered. These gardens range from very elaborate forms of art and design referred to as shin, to the intermediate forms of art and design referred to as gyo, and finally to the simplest form of art and design referred to as so (gardenfountains.com, np).

As explained on the Japan interface website, Japanese gardens often held up an important spiritual aspect from time immemorial. They were considered to be the dwelling places for the gods. This was and still is portrayed through the dense plantings and water that encircled the gardens. However, with the introduction of Buddhism in the sixth century, the art and design of Japanese gardens also changed so as to incorporate a Buddhist view of paradise.

In the fourteenth century, the gardens became a symbol of the whole universe in a limited space through use of rocks, gravels and other materials. At such times, Japanese gardens were seen as forms of pictorial delicacies of studied composition unlike the western gardening concept that advocated for delight found in an array of different colors (Keane, 123).

Japanese Garden Art and Design

Japanese garden designs are basically for the primary purpose of capturing and expressing the beauty of natural surroundings in a particular area. Despite the change in Japanese gardens due to modernization, their art and design still reflect the cultural, social, political and spiritual values of the Japanese people.

According to the indigenous religion of the Japan people, the work of natural objects like stones, hills and trees are to call upon the divine spirits and early gardens were believed to have been constructed around this spirits so as not to interfere with them. Despite this, the roles of the building materials have slightly changed with the passing of years (Oracle think Quest, np). A good example is the symbolic use of stones.

Between 645AD and 781AD, stones were used to represent mountains existing at the center of the universe. This is because their god known as Buddha was supposedly known to live in the center stone with his disciples dwelling in the surrounding rocks. However, this changed during the Nara period between 781AD and 1185AD when the Japanese begun placing rocks according to powers the said rocks were believed to hold (Varley, 93).

The power held by each rock at that time was dictated by their colors and shapes. After this came the Muromachi period that was between 1186AD and 1573AD when temple gardens were the most preferred type of gardens and they were used as spiritual symbols. At this time therefore, gardens contained stone groupings used to symbolize the three gods namely the goddess stone, the Buddha stone and the child’s stone, which according to them, was a show of long lasting happiness and harmony (Oracle think Quest, np).

Up to this time and date, a garden designer can look at rocks in the following different perspectives: as an object for making a sculpture, in a religious manner or in an artistic manner. In the modern world of the Japanese art and design, stones are used in Japanese gardens to display various types of patterns, to bring out specific types of cultural themes, or to represent a given set of constellations (Tschumi et. Al., 152)

According to Sadao, the designs are broadly categorized into three types namely; Tsukiyama Gardens, Karesansui Gardens, and Chaniwa Gardens.

Tsukiyama Gardens

These can also be termed by the name hill gardens because the name Tsukiyama when translated means the creation of artificial hills. They consist of important features such as streams, stones and ponds. Other features include vegetation such as flowers and trees and features such as bridges, hills, and at times oceans.

In hill gardens, paths help in creating some form of reality view in the garden that is common in Japanese and Chinese landscapes. The hill gardens are of different sizes and this makes their viewpoint differ as per their sizes whereby smaller ones are viewed through one angle while larger gardens might even be viewed using circular viewing path points (Sadao, np).

Karesansui Gardens

These can also be termed by the name dry gardens as they are so in the actual sense. They are a representation of natural landscapes in abstract through the utilization of gravel, stone or sand. However, there are times when small quantities of moss patches are utilized in order to bring out the depiction of natural features such as mountains, cliff tops, oceans and the like. The dry gardens are mainly used for meditation purposes and are motivated by Zen Buddhism practices (Sadao, np).

Chaniwa Gardens

These can also be termed by the name tea gardens due to the fact that they are mainly built to accommodate tea ceremonies. Due to this, the gardens are built in a special way such that they host a tea house within which the tea ceremony is held. Also, they are designed in such a manner that is simple and according to the tea ceremony requirements.

Basically, they are built through the use of stone lanterns, stone basin used by guests for the purposes of purification before the tea ceremony and stepping stones that become the composure of a path to the tea house (Sadao, np).


In conclusion, it can be stated that the Japanese garden design and art work portrayed a deep rooted culture of the Japanese people. It was based on principals that pointed to their historical heritage, their livelihood, their social culture, their political pride and above all, their religious practices. These gardens form a central part in the livelihood of the Japanese people and sometimes act as their shrines where religious activities are carried out social places where visitors are entertained.

Works Cited

Bring, M. Japanese Gardens: Design and Meaning. New York, NY: McGraw Hill, 1981.

Conder, J. Japanese Gardens. Boston: Dover publications. Print, 2001.

Gardenfountains.com. ‘Japanese Gardens: Significance and Symbols’. Web.

Japan Interface.’ The essence of Japanese Gardens’ japaninterface.com. Web.

Keane, P., M. Japanese Garden Design. New Jersey, NJ: Tuttle Publishing. Print, 1996.

Oracle think Quest. ‘The Art of Japan’. Thinkquest.org. Web.

Rodriguez Gene. ‘Characteristics of Japanese Gardens’. life 123, inc. web, 2010.

Sadao, H. Infinite spaces; the art and wisdom of the Japanese garden. Boston: Tuttle Publishing. Print, 2000.

Tschumi et. Al. Mirei Shigemori : modernizing the Japanese garden. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press. Print, 2005

Varley, H. P. Japanese culture, 4 ed. Maple-Vail Book Manufacturing Group: New York. Print, 2000.

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