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Japanese Garden Design, Elements, Plants, History, Facts

Japanese Garden Design, Elements, Plants, History, Facts

Introduction of Japanese gardening:

Today, let us discuss the Japanese garden design and its elements, plants, and the history of Japanese Gardening.

Japanese garden, in landscape design, a style of the garden whose major design aesthetic is a simple, minimalist natural setting designed to inspire reflection and meditation. A Japanese garden plan was developed to promote peace and tranquility and they derive their beauty by mixing & blending natural materials from the five ‘key’ elements of sand, rocks, water, traditional ornaments such as Japanese lanterns, water basins etc, and plants & their surroundings. Part of the beauty of the Japanese gardens comes from the symbolic appearance of religious Buddhism and Shinto beliefs.

Ancient Japanese garden art inspired past garden designers. By the Edo period, Japanese gardening had its own distinct appearance. The traditional Japanese gardens are designed for peaceful contemplation. They draw heavily on Buddhist, Shinto and Taoist philosophies & strive to provide a spiritual haven for visitors. The major focus of an Oriental garden is nature. The basics of a Japanese garden mimic or symbolize natural elements. Thus, geometric shapes and artificial stone are not common in the Asian landscape plan. The more natural & harmonious a garden is, the more conducive it is in contemplation.

History of the Japanese garden:

The design of these unique gardens began during the Asoka period. Japanese merchants witnessed the gardens that were being built in China & brought several of the Chinese gardening techniques and styles back to Japan. Today, the tradition of Japanese garden art is still popular around the world, with many eastern & western practitioners expressing themselves through the medium.

History points out that Japanese gardening was developed throughout special periods of time such as in Asoka period, Nara period, Heian period,  Kamakura & Muromachi periods, the Momoyama period, Edo period, Meiji period and Modern era.

Japanese gardens primary appeared on the island of Honshu, the large central island of Japan. They were also influenced by the rich mixture of flowers and special species of trees, particularly evergreen trees, on the islands, and by the four distinct seasons in Japan, including hot, wet summers and snowy winters.

Importance of Japanese gardening:

  1. The Japanese are very good at gardening. Their gardening tradition has been under development for more than a thousand years, and it is far more developed and refined than most Westerners could ever imagine.
  2. Japanese gardens are not merely a particular category within the broader category of horticulture. Japanese gardens are the broader type category. In Japan, gardening is an extremely diverse topic that includes aspects of Art, Architecture, Science, Engineering, History, and Horticulture & Philosophy.
  3. The major purpose of a Japanese garden is to bring serenity and nature into our crowded lives. They remind us of the natural landscape, but in fact, they are cautiously controlled by man. They are nature-inspired, but they do not develop naturally.
  4. In several ways the Western image of Japanese gardening is inaccurate. The roles of religion & symbolism have been greatly exaggerated. The Japanese people have gardens for the equivalent reason we do to bring nature into their lives. Taste, simplicity, quality, and natural patterns are all especially important. Overblown imagery is not.
  5. The design and construction of a Japanese garden are just the first steps in a long journey. The remainder of that journey consists of “guiding” the garden through pruning & grooming. A hundred years is a short time in the life of a Japanese garden.
  6. Ultimately, the main purpose of a Japanese garden is to enhance the quality of human life. By skillfully guiding nature and bringing it into our homes, we can make environments truly worthy of human affection.

Read: Organic Vegetable Gardening Ideas, Tips, Care, Design.

The elements of the Japanese Garden:

A Typical Japanese Garden.
A Typical Japanese Garden.


Water has a place of selection among the components of a Japanese garden. It contributes to the expression of nature and symbolizes renewal, calm, wonder & continuity in the hereafter. In a Sansui Japanese garden, one containing elevations, various degrees are provided so that water can circulate. Water is found in several forms. It accumulates in the ponds, runs in the streams and tumbles in the cascades. The circulating water contributes to keeping the air fresh throughout the summer. The ponds and the cascades are given a precise orientation with respect to the sun to find out how it will be reflected by the water. Some Japanese legends have calculated up to the hill to an emperor, water to courtiers & the stones to valiant officers preventing the courtiers (the water) from intervening in the life of the emperor.

Japanese gardening has water, either a pond or stream or, in the dry rock garden, represented by white sand. In Buddhist symbolism, water and stone are the yin and yang, two opposites that complement & complete each other. A traditional Japanese garden will generally have an irregular-shaped pond or, in larger gardens, 2 or more ponds connected by a channel or stream, and a cascade, a miniature version of Japan’s famous mountain waterfalls.

Stones and sand:

Stones are given particular attention in Eastern philosophy. A symbol of duration and of the omnipresence of the forces of nature, they anchor the garden to the ground & give it its specific personality. The stones are laid out in accord with strict rules, depending on their shapes and sizes; they often are twinned by pairs & by style contrast (a male rock opposed to a female rock). Stones create relief, produce hills and valleys giving birth to cascades, streams & ponds. The type of stone to use is one of the most important elements, in the design of a Japanese garden.

Rock, sand & gravel are an essential feature of the Japanese garden. A vertical rock may represent Mount Horai, the legendary residence of the Eight Immortals, or Mount Sumeru of Buddhist teaching, or a carp jumping from the water. A flat rock may represent the earth. Sand or gravel can represent a beach and a flowing river. Rocks & water also symbolize yin and yang, in Buddhist attitude; the hard rock and soft water complement each other & water, though soft, can wear away rock.


Lanterns come in a mixture of shapes and sizes and have been a common element of Japanese garden design throughout history. They are generally through of stone and placed in carefully selected locations, such as on islands, at the ends of peninsulas or next to significant buildings, where they provide both light and a pleasing aesthetic. Lanterns are often paired with water basins (see more details below), which together make up a necessary component of tea gardens.


Bridges are restricted place in a Japanese garden, where one will linger & take in the beauty of the landscape; watch the carps swimming in their watery elements, and like the softness of the breeze. Bridges may be built of wood, bamboo, earth, and stone. Whether they are rounded, arc-shaped or in zigzags, they always stay in harmony with the surrounding nature.

Bridges first appeared in the Japanese garden through the Heian period. Bridges could be through of stone (Ishibashi), or of wood, or made of logs with earth on top, covered with moss (dobashi); they could be either arched (soribashi) or flat (hirabashi). Sometimes if they were the element of a temple garden, they were painted red, following the Chinese tradition, but for the most part, they were unpainted.

Water basins:

Many gardens have stone water basins (tsukubai), which are used for ritual cleansing, especially ahead of tea ceremonies. The basins vary from very easy depressions in the uncut stone to elaborate carved stone creations and are usually provided with a bamboo dipper for scooping up water. These days they often come out as a decorative addition, more than for a practical purpose. Water basins are a necessary element of tea gardens and are often paired with lanterns.


The Japanese show a natural capability to interpret the charm of plants and flowers in order to express their joys and pains. Their communion with nature manifests itself through an elaborate symbolism & that is why their interest in the plant realm has become a real passion.

Plants are connected with moving thoughts and the universal forms of life. The care given to plants in a Japanese garden is that given to bonsai trees: living plants are shaped to the exact form needed for the symbolic or graphic result one desires.

Some of our favorite plants for Japanese-style gardens:

  • Pinus thunbergii
  • Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’
  • Rhododendron (Satsuki Group) ‘Gumpo White’
  • Phyllostachys aureosulcata f. spectabilis
  • Ginkgo biloba
  • Prunus ‘Shogetsu’
  • Iris ensata
  • Polystichum polyblepharum

Characteristic Features of the Japanese Garden:

Japanese gardening is explained by the waterfall, of which there are 10 or more particular arrangements; the spring & stream to which it gives rise, the lake, hills, built up from the earth excavated from the basin for the lake; islands; bridges of several varieties; and the natural guardian stones. The selection & effective distribution of the stones are a prime consideration in garden design. After endless experiments and deep pondering, the best & most subtle compositions were handed down by means of drawings.

In modern Japanese gardens, flowers are evergreens popular. Simplicity, restraint, & consistency are sought rather than gaiety, showiness, or the obvious variations of the seasons. Evergreen foliage is preferred to the changing aspect of deciduous trees, although maples & a few others are used. As in the case of stones, trees must be distributed in the garden in harmony with their natural origin & habit of growth.

Interesting facts about traditional Japanese garden designs:

Japanese garden designs can be particularly varied. You’ll find even so certain overriding principles that are features of the Japanese gardens. Having a Japanese garden within your house can be a huge responsibility. This is since it takes a good deal of time & effort to preserve even the most simplest of Japanese gardens.

One of the elements of Japanese gardens is bonsai trees. These are stunning, delicate, miniature trees of changeable sorts. Bonsai trees want special attention to detail and excellent care to grow & preserve. As you find out a lot more about Japanese gardens, and bonsai trees in certain, the much further you will begin to value their uniqueness.

A Koi fish pond is also among the major elements in a Japanese garden. Even though the exact breed of fish originated from China it was the Japanese culture that took them in and produced them part of their very own. The Koi fish pond acts as the centerpiece for the Japanese garden. The soundless swim with the colorful fish brings even extra serenity to the garden.

Typical Japanese gardens incorporate rock gardens or formations. The rocks are basically utilized to decorate the garden. The rock proposes is determined by the size of the garden. Numerous kinds of rocks are used in creating rock formations and they’re placed in a method that enhances the overall garden.  Bonsai trees, Koi fish and rock formations designs constitute three regular characteristics of any Japanese garden. But, there are other decorative elements that are normally found in Japanese gardens which you can add to your garden to give it an Asian really feel.

And lastly, one more critical quality of a Japanese garden is the garden furniture. The furniture needs to function accurately using the overall atmosphere and the look of the garden. The furniture will boost the garden, but permit the owners to devote time to it. For nighttime activities in the garden, sparsely placed Japanese garden lanterns are the mainly effective lighting options for Japanese gardens.

Read: Container Vegetable Gardening Ideas, Tips, Techniques.

A list of the main famous gardens you could visit in Japan:

There are so several Japanese gardens one could visit during any time of the year. But to see some particular feature such as autumn colors, cherry blossoms, irises, azaleas, plum blossoms, and bamboo forests in a single garden you have got to come here either in spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Below are the places where the best & most beautiful Japanese gardens are located.

1) Korakuen (Stroll Garden)

2) Kairakuen (Landscape Garden)

3) Kenrokuen (Stroll, Tea and Landscape Garden)

4) Ryoan-ji temple (Zen Garden)

5) Suizenji Koen (Stroll Garden)

6) Tenryu-ji temple (Stroll Garden)

7) Tofuku-ji temple (Zen Garden)

8) Entsu-ji temple (Landscape Garden)

9) Kinkakuji/Golden Pavilion (Stroll and Landscape Garden)

10) Katsura Imperial Villa (Pond and Stroll Garden)

11) Adachi Museum of Art (Japanese Modern Garden)

Types of Japanese Garden:

Traditionally, three major styles of Japanese gardens can be found here in Japan. These three different types (Karesansui, Tsukiyama, and Chaniwa) of Japanese gardens characterize different meaning based on their style of looking. We would get familiar with other types of Japanese gardens which are really profound.

Karesansui (Rock/Dry/Zen Garden):

The Zen garden is mostly designed for achieving enlightenment. This kind of gardens developed in the Muromachi period.  It characterizes the spiritualism of Zen Buddhism. It was created by a Zen Buddhist monk called Muso Soseki. Instead of using water in this kind of garden, sand or gravel is used to represent a river or sea. Simply a peaceful garden like this would amaze you & let you know the real beauty of the Japanese garden.

You have no idea how artistic they were during the Kamakura & Muromachi periods. One of the major elements for the Zen garden is boulders that come in various shapes and sizes. A single boulder represents an inland which looks absolutely stunning with those shrubs & small trees planted nearby. Various techniques are employed in scheming a successful Zen garden. A Zen garden provides you with enough space & great atmosphere to do meditation and yoga for a while sitting on the observatory deck.

Tsukiyama (Hill and Pond Garden):

This Japanese style garden represents a small of natural scenery that includes ponds, hills, stones, trees, fishes, bridges, moss, paths, flowers, small plants & streams. In fact, you would like to compare the beauty of Hill garden and Zen garden while both of them are relatively distinctive and have a spiritual connection.

The word Tsukiyama refers to the formation of artificial or man-made hills. This is a typical style of Japanese garden that can be enjoyed while taking a stroll along the garden paths and from the temple’s veranda. Generally, a hill garden becomes bigger than a Zen garden, though, it is possible to create one even in a small area applying gardening techniques.

Chaniwa (Tea Garden):

They have a tea house where the ceremony is held and a stone basin where guests can purify themselves before participating in it. The course with stepping stones is a common sight, which leads the guests to the tea house. The Tea Garden has a very intimate atmosphere and is meant to give a meditation moment for the guests.

The tea garden is a kind of beautiful Japanese garden that has a tea ceremony house along with the garden. This garden can be categorized into 2 sections: inner garden & outer garden. The outer garden follows a path which would lead to achieving to its inner garden. Both inner and outer gardens are divided by covering gate.

Stroll Garden:

Stroll garden initially was developed in the Edo period, since then it has become one of the most beautiful styles of gardens that we see throughout Japan. There is no inner or outer garden can originate here, but a path which is made only for a leisurely stroll. You are to follow a clockwise path when you start walking through the path.

It features a small central lake & pond with a path going around it. The two elements are boulders and trees could add extra beauty to this garden and generally, they are featured, & you can witness this in Suizenji Park, Kumamoto. One of the advantages of this style of garden is you have an opportunity to reveal the entire garden beauty from different directions.

Five books that get to the heart of the Japanese garden:

“A beautiful garden resonates into the depths of our soul, fresh as the early morning every time we care to be fully present in it.”- From Japanese Gardens: Tranquility, Simplicity, and Harmony

  1. Landscape Gardening in Japan

Josiah Conder 1st published in 1893 – “A landscape garden in Japan is more than a simple representation of natural views, it is at the same time, a poetical conception.”

  1. A Japanese Touch for Your Garden

Kiyoshi Seike, 1980 – “The perfect garden is like to an unrolling picture scroll that prompts surprise at every turn”

  1. Zen in Your Garden, Creating Sacred Spaces

Jenny Hendy in 2001 – “Faced with more & more technological modernism, the desire to step back into the natural world grows and the garden is often regarded as a sanctuary.”

  1. The Art of the Japanese Garden

Michiko Young, David Young in 2011 – “Just as languages have parlance, Japanese gardening is not a consistent body of techniques & practices. The grammar employed depends upon the method of gardening.”

  1. Japanese Gardens: Tranquility, Simplicity, and Harmony

Kimie Tada, Geeta K. Mehta in 2008 – “We looked at captivating gardens where the hard work of man, nature & time complement each other.”

Read: Koi Fish Food, Feeding Methods.

Last Updated: February 7, 2019
Author: Jagdish


  1. Hi,

    I am keen on developing a Japanese Garden. Could you guide me on someone who can design and preferably execute the project.

    Thanks & Regards

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