8 Elements of the Japanese Gardens

  • In Japan there are many beautiful gardens that you can visit to witness some traditional landscaping. Throughout history many different styles of Japanese gardens were developed, these gardens were built for several purposes, from offering exquisite views to allowing quite contemplation. If you enter a Japanese garden you will notice several different common aspects which I will discuss in these articles.


    Japanese garden 1

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    Water is a prominent features in Japanese gardens, this may either be in the form of a stream or river, a waterfall or even a lake or pond. In fact all Japanese traditional gardens contain water, even in the form of sand in a dry rock garden. Streams in Japanese gardens are usually aligned in terms of Buddhist ideals, either from north to south or from east to west. Below is an example of a garden in Nikko with a still lake, surrounding my blooming shrubs.


    Japanese garden 2

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    Originally stone lanterns featured in only Buddhist temples, however eventually were also incorporated in Shinto shrines too, since then they have been used in tea gardens to lead up to the tea house, but are often now used for decoration.


    Japanese garden 3

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    The lotus is a flowering water plant, that is sacred in Buddhism and so is included in many gardens. The leaves are used in festivals, such as to drink sake through, and the root can also be sliced and eaten. The flowers of the lotus plant are often striking and are a breathtaking sight across a pond in bloom. Below is a lotus in bloom in Ueno-park.

    Tea Gardens

    Japanese garden 4

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    Tea gardens first emerged in the 1300’s and have since evolved to be a central part of the Japanese tea ceremony. If you visit a tea garden you will notice that the approach is made of several parts; a moist green path and a water basin in order to cleanse your mouth and hands. The garden is designed to put the visitor in a meditative state of mind ready to engage in a tea ceremony. Below is a tea house from the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

    In part one I discussed four aspects of traditional Japanese gardens; water, lanterns, lotus flowers and tea gardens. In this article I will show several other common aspects of traditional Japanese gardens.

    Sand and rock gardens


    Author’s photo

    Some gardens in Japan are quite individual, more than any other is the sand and rock garden. In these gardens plants and water are replaced by gravel, stone and sand. In these sand and rock gardens individual aspects represent specific mountains in Japan or Buddhist concepts. Sand and gravel usually represent water or a river while upright rocks can represent specific mountains.



    Author’s photo

    Waterfalls are often a part of Japanese gardens and are usually a replica of a naturally occurring waterfall as part of the Japanese landscape. The flow of the waterfall is generally placed in order to face the moon to reflect it’s light in the water below, which is striking when viewed at night.

    Water basins


    Author’s photo

    When travelling around Japan you will notice water basins of various sizes and designs. Generally a flowing water basin is placed outside of shrines and temples in order to cleanse yourself before entering. Water basins are also featured in Japanese gardens, often as part of the tranquil walk towards a tea house to cleanse before a tea ceremony. The water will usually come into the basin along a bamboo pipe and a ladle is provided in order to collect the water to clean the hands and mouth.



    Author’s photo

    Again, if you have spent any time travelling around Japan you will notice the presence of bridges in Japanese gardens, around palaces and over the rivers which criss cross the country. Bridges in gardens have both a practical and aesthetic purpose. As water is prominently featured in Japanese gardens bridges, or stepping stones, are required to cross these. Japanese gardens therefore often featured two or more bodies of water connected by bridges. Bridges could be constructed of wood or stone and could either be flat or curved across the water. The bridge below is from Odawara Castle and is painted red, following a Chinese aesthetic.

    Perhaps when you travel around Japan you will now notice these aspects of Japanese gardens.

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