What Is the Purpose of a Japanese Garden?

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It is interesting to note that most innovative gardening ideas today come not from the West but from Japan itself.  The Japanese are masters at gardening. Their gardening tradition has been evolving for over 1000 years, and it is way more developed than you can even imagine.  It has various unique styles, and each of these styles has a specific purpose to it, from beautiful strolling gardens to grounds of meditation. The world can learn so much from their gardening techniques and concepts.

Japanese gardens are infused with tradition, history, culture, and, of course, beauty.

a beautiful Japanese Garden
a pond with trees, stones, and a clear blue sky

Part of the beauty of these gardens is derived from the symbolic expression of religious Buddhism and Shinto beliefs. Japanese gardens are known to be designated places of relaxation and sometimes even spirituality. An actual appreciation and understanding of these gardens is essentially a complex task. The visual elements, which may look like the design in terms of textures, colors, and form mean nothing when compared to the philosophical, religious, and symbolic elements that each of them possess.

In Japan, gardening is a broad and holistic topic that goes beyond just horticulture to include aspects of art, architecture, science, engineering, history, and Philosophy. Therefore Japanese gardens are like none other in terms of their appearance, purpose, and creativity.

Some important elements of a Japanese garden include bamboo, rock, water, moss, lanterns, bridges, plants, Pine, Lotus, Irises, and properly pruned trees. Find out more about the purpose and concept behind these magnificent gardens in the article below.

Basic Rules in the Design of Japanese Garden

Traditional Japanese gardens have some basic guidelines when it comes to design. These are strictly enforced and have to be complied to. The major ones are:

Natural: it should make the garden look as if it grew by itself, putting barely any evidence of manmade work

Asymmetry: It should create the impression of being completely natural.

Odd numbers: Such as three, five or seven; that enhance the effect of the asymmetry.

Simplicity: The basic concept of ‘less is more’ should be adhered to

Triangle: This is the most common shape for compositions made of stones, plants, etc.

Contrast: To highlight the tension between various elements

Lines: To create both, tranquility as well as tension

Curves: to soften the effect

Openness: to imply that there is some interaction between all elements

Using Perspective to Alter Depth, Distance, and Size: To alter the sense of depth, distance, and size of the garden from the viewers’ perspective

Pruning and Shaping: Intense and calculated pruning, manipulating, and shaping trees and shrubs help to bring about that golden sense of age in the Japanese garden.

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Major Purposes of Japanese Garden

Bringing harmony

The core purpose of a Japanese garden is to create harmony and serenity in our everyday, fast-paced lives. It is a space that is meant to be calming through connecting with nature. It is a celebration of nature as well as man’s talent and creativity.

Even though it may look completely natural, it is interesting to note that every little part of a Japanese garden is carefully thought out, nothing in there is unplanned.

Outlet of creativity

Purpose of a Japanese Garden
a Japanese Garden

A Japanese garden is a great way for man to express his creativity. It is also a great learning curve for the garden designer and the one who’s maintaining it. Furthermore, the landscape created can then be enjoyed and appreciated by others, providing them with inspiration to unleash their own inner creativity.

Ground for Meditation

One of the most powerful elements of a Japanese garden design is minimalism. These small, well-planned, and manipulated gardens with space are a popular feature of Japanese culture. It is used as a premise for meditation, another practice that is important in Japanese culture.

The garden is seen as the tool for meditation, with the concept that you look into the garden to center yourself. Its minimalism enhances stillness, causing your mind to wanders off.

Religion

Japanese garden facts

While a Japanese garden is sometimes believed to be a ‘religious place,’ that is not true. However, traditionally, the garden may be rooted in spirituality, but these days that’s almost rare. The western perception of Japanese gardening has exaggerated the roles that religion and symbolism play in the gardens.

The simple truth is that Japanese people have gardens for the same reason that everyone else does, i.e., to enjoy some nature in their otherwise mechanical lives.

However, that being said, some Japanese gardens are religious; for example, if it was in a temple area, then it would be safe to assume that it was religious. The setting is, therefore, an important factor to take into account while trying to decipher whether the garden is religious or not.

Another factor that will help you determine whether the garden is a religious one or not is the ornaments and structures in and around it. For instance, statues of Buddha would only be found in a garden linked to religion.

History

It all started in the 600’s when Prince Shotoku sent scholars, diplomats, and students to China to study and learn. They came back inspired by traditional Chinese gardens and had learned tips and tricks from them. Around 700 A.D., the first original Japanese Gardens were found in the capital city of Japan, which is Nara. Even though these were influenced by Chinese ideas, the gardens were unique and a reflection of their own culture and traditions.

These gardens date back to ancient history; many of them are still that old, and many were destroyed over time. The various times in history that they were mostly developed include the Asuka periodNara period, Heian period,  Kamakura and Muromachi periods, the Momoyama period, Edo period, Meiji period, and Modern era. The garden of the Askua and Nara periods were demolished in the past, and they can only be seen in paintings today.

Zen Buddhism was at its peak in the Kamakura and Muromachi periods. Therefore, many Zen gardens were seen in several Zen Buddhist temples. During the Momoyama period, a timeless classic Japanese garden was introduced, commonly known as the tea garden today.

Elements Of a Japanese Garden

Each of these elements is different from the other in its appearance and meaning, i.e., what it symbolizes.

Water

types of Japanese gardens
types of Japanese gardens

Water is a potent element in many Japanese gardens. It accentuates the beauty of nature and depicts serenity, calm, renewal, and wonder. Small ponds symbolize the ocean or sea. In Japanese gardens that have raised platforms, such as the Sansuigarden, many degrees are given so that water can circulate. It is found in various forms, such as in ponds and streams. It gives a fresh feel and helps to keep the air crisp and clean during the summer months.

Bridges

Bridges are considered to be a special object in Japanese gardens, a place where one can stay and soak in the beauty of the surroundings. These bridges are indeed a reflection of artistic feelings.

Bridges are built from various materials such as wood, bamboo, earth, and stone. Their shape is in sync with the environment around it, and they can be rounded, arc-shaped, or even zigzag, depending on its surroundings.

Plants

Plants are a powerful element in Japanese culture used to express various emotions, from joy to sorrow. The Japanese are passionate about their plants as they are a source of communication for them. Plants are essentially linked to their thoughts and the universal forms of life.

The care given to plants in a Japanese garden is a top priority and is like that given to bonsai trees; plants are shaped in relation to the symbolic nature that one imagines

Stones

Japanese garden philosophy
Japanese garden philosophy

Stones are an important aspect of Japanese tradition and philosophy. They are considered to symbolize duration and fullness. Stones create solace and are reassuring in nature. They help produce hills and valleys, giving birth to cascades, streams, and ponds.

They are the ones that harbor the garden to the ground and give it its charisma and character.

Depending on their shapes and sizes and with strict rules enforced, the stones are placed in the gardens. Sometimes they are replicated in pairs, and sometimes they are in complete contrast to each other. The type of stone to use is of utmost thought and importance while designing a Japanese garden.

Lantern

After the emergence of the tea ceremony, the lantern gained popularity as an important element in the layout of a Japanese garden. A stone lantern is known to represent the four natural elements: fire, water, earth, and wind.

It was initially supposed to guide the visitors during celebrations at night. Its light was not only seen as literal but also symbolized the light of knowledge, taking away the darkness.

Serviceberry

Popular in the spring, the serviceberry is beautiful to look at with lots of white flowers. In fall, its gold and scarlet foliage and minuscule blueberries add to its beauty. However, winter is indeed the perfect season for its silvery bark, providing the perfect background. In Japanese culture, it is depicted as a symbol of youth.

Pine

The pine is known to add to the intimacy of the Garden. It creates a peaceful, cozy parting that stops visitors from getting distracted by the outside world. These trees are groomed and pruned on the daily to keep their shape as perfect as the rest of its surroundings. While some have an airy silhouette with huge branches, others are more compact.

Japanese maple

Popular for its lacy leaves and stunning autumn colors, this one is a definite go-to in most Japanese gardens. During the harsh winter, they are brought indoors and then back out once spring arrives. However, they are slowly being replaced with Amur maples, which are a much tougher species and require much less maintenance; they are allowed to grow naturally and don’t need pruning.

Lotus

In Japanese culture and history, the lotus is a highly sacred plant. It is also popularly known as the “flower of Buddha” in Japan since it is considered a divine and sacred plant.

This beautiful flower blooms in summer in the prettiest shades of pink and white.

Iris

Another important element of the Japanese garden, Iris flowers bloom from late May to mid-July in delicate shades of pink, blue, and white.

The intricate and elegant nature of this plant is the perfect examples of the search of minimalist and sophisticated beauty in Japanese culture.

Shrub peony

These originated in China and were brought to Japan much later, sometime during the 8th Century.

Many of them are a product of hybridization. Their blooming time is spring and its flowers in beautiful shades of pink, lilac and yellow. However, unfortunately they only last a few days.

These plants are high maintenance and need a great dose of attention and care, especially in the winter. These flowers depict prosperity; this is because at one time only the affluent in Japan could afford to have them in their gardens.

Carps

In a country like Japan where the population is high, it leaves hardly any land available for flower gardens. The Japanese, therefore, innovative as they are, have discovered places to grow living flowers, the colored carps.

They first made their way into Japan several centuries ago. The Japanese have crossbred them for more than 100 years, producing carps of high value. Competitions are held, and the carps are judged according to the number of spots, variety of colors, the kind of patterns on their bodies, etc. Carp provides a pop of color to the shallow waters.

These living flowers are increasingly popular in Japan. Their lifespan is up to 50 years. They have an important place in Japanese culture; they symbolize strength and perseverance.

Types of Japanese Gardens

Three main styles of Japanese gardens are usually found in Japan, The Karesansui (Zen Garden), Tsukiyama (Hill and Pond Garden), and the Chaniwa (Tea Garden). Each of these is very different to the other.

Zen Garden

A Buddhist monk named MusōSoseki originally formed this type of garden. It essentially depicts the spiritualism of Zen Buddhism. Sand or gravel is used to represent the river or the sea in this kind of garden.

A popular element for this kind of gardenis boulders that come in different shapes and sizes. Many techniques are used when designing a Zen garden. These gardens usually give you ample space and the perfect atmosphere in which to do meditation and yoga.

Hill and Pond Garden

benefits of Japanese Garden
Hill and Pond Garden

This classic Japanese garden symbolizes a small version of natural scenery that mostly consists of ponds, hills, stones, and trees. Fish, bridges, moss, paths, flowers, small plants, and streams are also potent features of this type of garden.

The word ‘Tsukiyama’ is the Japanese name of this garden basically means the creation of manmade hills. This kind of garden is scenic in nature and perfect for taking a walk along its garden paths. A hill garden is usually bigger in size than a Zen garden. While they both have their own distinct charms, they have in common is their calming nature.

Tea Garden

Tea garden is a kind of Japanese garden that has been designed for people’s pleasure and for them to drink tea while strolling in the garden. This is the kind of garden that is perfectly fit for a tea ceremony. Its features include a stone lantern, a stone basin for guests to wash their hands when they arrive, stepping stones, and a bamboo pipe through which water flows consistently.

A tea garden can be divided into two sections, inner garden, and outer garden. The outer garden has a path, which leads to meet the inner garden. A gate separates both these gardens. It is a tradition to wash your hands before entering into the inner garden.

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A Japanese garden is unique and increasingly popular all over the world. While it has a bunch of purposes, all of equal importance, its main purpose is to provide people with a calm and serene environment to reach that point of Zen in their otherwise stressful lives. A creative outlet and a source of inspiration for many, it requires much hard work and careful planning. It is also the perfect place for meditation and sometimes has religious or spiritual connotations as well.

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