What is a Japanese garden? How should it be designed?

Japanese gardens are considered one of the most distinctive features of traditional Japanese art. They can be found in every city and village across the Rising Sun and all over the world. With many unique elements that are combined in harmony, Japanese gardens symbolize the ultimate beauty of nature that everybody cherishes. In this post, we’ll show you some aesthetic principles and how to design a Japanese garden.

What is a Japanese garden?

Japanese gardens are basically a traditional type of gardens whose design is accompanied by Japanese philosophical and aesthetic ideas. This means they emphasize the natural landscape and avoid artificial ornamentation. Aged, worn materials and plants are often used by garden designers to represent a faraway and ancient and faraway natural landscape, as well as to symbolize the unstoppable advance and existence’s fragility. Although Japanese garden designs s were strongly influenced by the Chinese gardens and philosophies such as Buddhism and Daoism, there are still many distinct features between them.

Aesthetic principles of Japanese gardens

The early gardens in Japan largely followed some Chinese models, but they gradually developed their own aesthetics and principles. Here are 3 common elements that you can find in nearly all Japanese gardens today:

– Concealment

Japanese gardens are designed so that you can only see each part of the landscape at a time, just like unroll a scroll of a map. Features are typically hidden behind bamboo or tree groves, hills, structures or walls, to be discovered as you follow the winding pathway.

– Miniaturization

This means all Japanese gardens are the idealized view or miniature nature. For example, ponds can symbolize seas, and rocks can symbolize mountains. Sometimes, they are designed to appear larger by adding smaller trees and rocks at the background, and larger ones at the foreground.

– Asymmetry

Different from Chinese gardens, the landscape in Japanese gardens is typically not placed on a straight ax, or with a single dominating feature. Buildings and other elements are often constructed to be viewed from a diagonal, as well as composed carefully into the scene which contrasts right angles like. For instance, buildings often come with horizontal components like water, and vertical features like trees, bamboo, or rock.

How to design a Japanese garden

As said earlier, Japanese gardens are designed to create a miniature view of natural scenery by utilizing elements such as hills, islands, streams, and ponds. Below are some of the most common features that you should include when designing a Japanese garden:

1. Gravel, stone, and sand

Stones have always been playing an essential part in Japanese culture. In most gardens, people often use large stones to represent natural hills and mountains, set a decorative accent or serve as the constructing material for pathways and bridges. Smaller gravel and rocks are utilized to line streams and ponds. Meanwhile, if the gardens are built in dry areas, they often consist of only stones which symbolize waterfalls, islands, and mountains, while sand and gravel replace water.

2. Pond

Ponds are often a central part of most Japanese gardens and typically symbolize mythical or real seas or lakes. Sometimes they offer the habitat for koi fishes, which introduce extra life and color to the area. In recreational gardens, this element can be utilized for boating or entertainment from pavilions constructed from embankments and plazas on shore or over the water.

3. Bridge and island

Ranging in different sizes from large ones to support buildings to small stone outcropping, islands are also a long-standing element of Japanese gardens. They often symbolize a real island or have religious meaning, such as health and longevity. To cross ponds or streams and connect islands, people often add bridges made of wood or stone which can span up to 10 meters.

4. Plants

Flowers, lawns, shrubs, and trees of all kinds can be also used to add natural elements in a Japanese garden. Cherry and maple are the popular options due to their seasonal appeals which can highlight the landscape. Conversely, plum trees, bamboo, and pine trees are selected for their beauty in the winter season when other plants turn dormant.

Plants are arranged carefully around the garden to imitate nature and require a lot of efforts and time to maintain the beauty. Lawns, shrubs, and trees are manicured fastidiously, while delicate mosses can sweep debris. In winter, straw wraps can be used to protect your plants from bug infestation, while ropes, burlap, and straw help to insulate from freezing snow.

5. Hill

Large Japanese gardens often take advantage of large artificial hills. These elements might symbolize mythical or real mountains in nature, and some of them could be ascended to provide visitors with a viewpoint to see the whole garden.

6. Lanterns

Lanterns are available in a variety of sizes and shapes and have been used commonly in Japanese for centuries. They are often made of stone and put in special locations to provide light and pleasing aesthetic features. Lanterns are typically combined with water basins to create an ideal setting for tea gardens.

7. Water basins

Stone water basin is another common feature, which is often used in ritual cleansing traditions before tea ceremonies. However, these days, we usually use it as a decorative part by paring with lanterns.

8. Paths

With the introduction of tea gardens and strolling, paths have increasingly been becoming an essential component of many Japanese gardens. Strolling gardens are often designed with circular pathways constructed of crushed gravel, packed or sand earth, and stepping stones, which are prescribed carefully to guide visitors to the most optimal, yet controlled, view of the garden. What’s more, winding paths can also work as an element to segregate various areas, such as a hidden pond or an isolated grove, from each other to make sure that they might be individually contemplated.

9. Buildings

Many types of Japanese gardens are designed to be seen from inside a structure, such as a temple, villa, or palace. In contrast, a garden meant to be enjoyed and entered from within, often utilizes buildings as an element of its composition, including guest houses, tea houses, and pavilions.

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