The Japanese Garden – Concept And Design Elements
This may be the only calming aspect that a person has in their daily, hectic lives. Japan is a highly overpopulated country, which means that many citizens do not have a large area for gardening. However, a good solution to this is to create a miniature garden using bonsai art.
Traditional Japanese gardens hold a place of fascination unlike gardens of any other region of the world. These gardens go beyond the obvious aesthetic beauty. They speak not just of blooms and roots, but of spiritual transcendence.
In design, Japanese gardens are composed of symbolic and literal recreations of nature. These gardens are not created to “wow” the visitor like gardens of other cultures. The seemingly simple design invites us to look closer to find the complexity both within the garden and within our own minds and spirits. The subtlety is apparent and the underlying complexity can be breathtaking.
Everything in these gardens is made with a spiritual purpose. The Japanese garden is a quiet place for meditation or reflection. A zig-zag designed bridge, for instance, ensures that the walker will take time to cross and that she will have an opportunity to contemplate herself and her surroundings. The inclusion of a Japanese maple tree, which changes colors dramatically through the seasons—culminating in a fiery crimson-orange during the autumn—prompts the visitor to think about the passage of time.
Basic Concepts Of A Japanese Garden
When one is creating the Japanese garden one must understand a few basic concepts. The main thing to remember is that all gardens that are authentic Japanese require three basic elements. These elements are water, stone and some green.
The Japanese believe that water is equal to life. The water must also flow from east to west, just as the sun rises and sets. Stones are a critical piece of the garden because they act as the peace element.
Emphasis Is On The Rocks And Water
The stone is placed by humans when making the garden, but it must look as if it has been there for decades. Green is another element in the garden, but the emphasis is placed more on the rocks and water than on the greenery.
Now that one knows the basic elements needed for a Japanese garden, they must find out how to create one. Creating a bonsai tree garden based on the Japanese form can be learned from books, the internet, and even a nursery from which one can buy bonsai trees and bonsai supplies.
If one looks on the internet, then they can find a variety of bonsai books that teach one how to keep these delicate trees alive while keeping the idea of the Japanese art form intact.
The elements of the Japanese garden exhibit the strength and serenity of Japanese culture. One can learn many things by understanding how to create a garden based on the elements of bonsai.
No matter if one incorporates the bonsai art or if they leave it out, one thing is for sure; gardening is an art all to itself that can help a person to get back to nature and what is important in this life.
Japanese Garden Design – Simple Peacefulness
There are many different types of Japanese garden designs, but in general, it can be said that Japanese gardens are composed of symbolic and literal recreations of nature. Nature is the ideal, and gardeners strive toward an accurate and respectful depiction of it.
These gardens are not created to impress the visitor with explosions of color like gardens of other cultures. In fact, a major aspect of Japanese garden design is the inclusion of “empty” space. The key to this type of garden design is a balance, and the empty space provides a “nothing” to balance the many “somethings.” The seemingly simple design invites us to look closer to find the complexity both within the garden and within our own minds and spirits. When one does take the time to explore the garden and all its meanings, it can be absolutely breathtaking.
Everything in these gardens is made with a spiritual purpose. A Japanese garden is a quiet place for meditation or reflection.
There are three traditional types of Japanese gardens.
The name translates as “hill garden.” These gardens are designed to give the impression of a great expanse of land, though most are relatively small. Small bodies of water, both moving (streams, waterfalls) and still (ponds), call attention to the dynamism of nature and of life. Along with the water, hills, stones, trees, flowers, bridges, and paths are used to create a miniature reproduction of natural scenery. It is said that the purpose of Tsukiyama gardens is to represent the natural world boiled down to its essential elements
Some Tsukiyama gardens represent actual famous landscapes of Japan or China.
Tsukiyama gardens vary in the way they are viewed. Traditionally, they have been designed to have a single viewpoint, such as the veranda of a temple. Many smaller gardens are still set up in this way. But larger and more modern Tsukiyama gardens have one or multiple paths that take the visitor around the garden.
Karesansui gardens reproduce natural landscapes in a more abstract way by using stones, gravel, sand and sometimes a few patches of moss for representing mountains, islands, boats, and, perhaps most importantly, bodies of moving water. Karesansuigardens are strongly influenced by Zen garden Buddhism and used for meditation: they are viewing gardens, not intended to be entered but contemplated from a set location. The use of sand or gravel to symbolize water is central to the karesansui garden, the raking of gravel round stones resembling the ripples caused by rocks in the water.
In karesansui gardens, an emphasis is placed on the beauty of “empty” space. Often, there will be little adornment aside from the small pebbles raked into waves and a few larger stones. This “emptiness” is designed to give the viewer a feeling of great calm.
Chaniwa gardens are designed for the tea ceremony. In this ceremony, called the sado, the drinking of tea symbolizes the recognition that every human encounter is a singular and unique occasion which never can or will recur again exactly. In many cases, the chaniwa is not really a full-fledged garden like the other types, but rather a narrow path of stepping stones leading up to the chashitsu, or tea room. The placement of the stepping stones that lead to the main tea room is a hallmark feature of this garden type. Chaniwa gardens also feature stone lanterns and stone water basins, called tsukubai, where guests purify themselves before partaking in the tea ceremony.
Chaniwa gardens are designed to give a feeling of detachment from the rest of the world so that the participants can concentrate solely on the tea and the others participating in the ceremony.
Japanese Water Gardens – Fluid Tranquility
Traditional Japanese gardens come in many varieties. One of the most important and intriguing aspects of Japanese gardens is the use of water. Ponds, streams, and waterfalls all have a place in many traditional gardens. Even in karesansui, or “dry gardens,” sand and pebbles are raked to represent water moving around islands.
Japanese gardens are places for quiet contemplation. Even if they are mere yards away from the rest of society, they are meant to be apart from the bustle of the hectic world. Water is important in that it has a calming effect on the viewer and adds to the feeling of seclusion.
Keeping it Real
In a Japanese garden, all water sources should appear to be an organic part of the surroundings. Man-made streams are designed with curves and irregularities to recreate the cut banks and point bars of naturally flowing bodies. You will never find a square pond in a traditional Japanese water garden, just as you will never find one occurring naturally. Because of this need for a natural appearance, there are no fountains in traditional gardens, but small waterfalls are fairly common.
Lanterns are often placed beside prominent bodies of water—be it a pond or a stream—in a garden. This juxtaposition of water and fire creates the yin and yang (actually the in and yo, in Japanese), an important idea in Japanese culture involving the balancing of opposites to create harmony.
Many gardens will employ a dry pond or stream. Dry Ponds and streams have as much impact as do the ones filled with water. After all, the water, whether real or symbolized with sand, rocks, and pebbles, is itself simply a representation of larger aspects of the nature around us and the souls within us.
In many Japanese ponds, decorative fish, called Koi, are kept. Koi are a domesticated variety of carp, which originated in China but has become an important part of Japanese life. While Koi are related to the common variety of goldfish, they are not simply “big goldfish,” as many people think upon seeing them. The word “Koi” refers to all varieties of the fish: the bright orange, the dull gray-brown, and the spotted. The Japanese word “Nishikigoi” refers more specifically to the decorative orange type. Koi and images of Koi are traditionally considered to be symbols of luck and good fortune.
The Dynamic World
Water symbolizes purity and the fluidity of life. Along with plants and trees which change in appearance with the seasons, water is used in gardens to remind us of the relentless passage of time.
A bridge crossing the water denotes a journey. Bridges are symbolic of moving from one world into another, a theme found throughout Japanese art. A common sight in traditional Japanese water gardens is a zig-zag designed bridge. This design ensures that the walker will take time to cross and that she will have an opportunity to contemplate herself and her surroundings.
The meaning of water in Japanese culture cannot be overstated. Ancient Japanese beliefs held that the gods resided within nature: in the trees, earth, water, etc. Bathing in a natural body of water was as close as one could get to the gods.
Water brings with it health, wealth, and wisdom. It also works to cleanse people of evil, bad luck, and the dirt of day-to-day living, spiritually speaking. There are many water rituals conducted even in contemporary Japanese culture. Inside every Shinto shrine is a basin of water that worshippers use to cleanse their mouths and hands before prayer begins.
A Japanese style water garden can work in almost any environment, no matter whether you have a few acres or just a few square feet. The key is balance and not letting one aspect of the garden overwhelm the others.
Table of Contents
- 1 The Japanese Garden – Concept And Design Elements
- 2 Japanese Garden Design – Simple Peacefulness
- 3 Japanese Water Gardens – Fluid Tranquility