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Japanese gardens (日本庭園 nihon tei-en) have long been one of Japan's primary art forms often incorporating ideas of Japanese philosophy and religion. There are many types of Japanese gardens ranging from strolling gardens for the emperor to religious retreats for monks. Japanese gardens can be standalone strolling gardens but they can also be only part of a temple or museum. During the 1900s Japanese Gardens began to appear in many Western countries. However, many experts argue that these are far inferior to the ones found in Japan.



The history of Japanese gardens dates back to the time when the Emperor of Japan ordered the immigrants (toraijin 渡来人) from Baekje to build Mount Meru (須弥山 Shumisen). At that time in Japan, a "garden" was a flat open space. In the 7th century, a Japanese nobleman built a pond on the flat land. At the same time, the Japanese emperor also had a mountain built. Both of these are thought to have been influenced by the toraijin. Within the 7th century, this garden developed into an island within a pond. When the capital was moved to Kyoto in the 8th century, the richness of the natural environment influenced the development of gardening even further. The court nobles (Kuge 公家) had all become first-rate gardeners. Tachibana no Toshitsuna (橘俊綱), a Kuge of the time, wrote in his book "Sakuteiki" (作庭記) that "nature is not something that man can overcome, but something that man can blend into". This is a uniquely Japanese way of thinking, and Japanese gardens are rooted in this way of thinking. Later, when the samurai came to power, they too began to build gardens, including in Kamakura which became the capital. The Kuges did not quit making gardens either, and Saionji (西園寺) had a very large garden including many buildings which was highly praised by Fujiwara no Teika (藤原定家). In the Muromachi period (1336-1573), landscape painting was introduced and Kuges and monks began to build gardens in their Shoin (書院). In this garden, current techniques such as karesansui (枯山水) were introduced, making it completely identical to the present typical Japanese garden. In the late Muromachi period, the tea ceremony developed, and a space called "roji" (露地, also called Tyatei 茶庭) was created for that.

Garden elements[edit]

Japanese gardens tend to avoid an emphasis on artificial ornaments and instead use natural objects to highlight the natural landscape.

There are several types of Japanese gardens. First of all, Japanese gardens can be classified into three categories based on what they represent: Jōdo style gardens (Pure Land garden), Hōrai style gardens, Syukkei style gardens; Jōdo style gardens are based on Pure Land Buddhism and represent the Western Paradise. Hōrai style gardens are based on the ideas of Mount Penglai and Xian, and represent several mountains where a hermit lives including Mount Penglai. Each island may have a motif of a crane or turtle, a symbol of longevity. Syukkei style gardens do not represent an imaginary world like these two, but a world that exists in reality. For example, the motifs are Matsushima, Amanohashidate, and Mt Fuji.


Japanese gardens usually feature water in two main ways ponds and streams. In Buddhism and Taoism, water and stones can symbolize Yin and Yang, due to that reason ponds and streams are surrounded by stones. Most ponds are irregularly shaped and placed based on where they would attract the most luck and the ponds are usually connected by streams. Small inaccessible islands covered in trees or bushes are usually placed inside bigger ponds. Ponds usually are filled with koi but frogs and birds are sometimes also may also be seen as they are said to contribute to the garden's soundscape.


The typical plants in Japanese gardens are pine trees and Japanese maple trees. Pine trees, in particular, are an essential plant for Japanese gardens. Also, evergreen trees with high vitality are used for Karikomi. Karikomi (刈り込み, 刈込) is the art of cutting tall or medium-sized trees into round pieces and integrating them into nature to match the landscape.

Moss is also an important element of Japanese gardens. There are different kinds of mosses, but the most commonly used one is juniper haircap. Moss is often found on the stones and on the ground, but of course in a karesansui garden, moss is not used on the ground.




Most Japanese gardens feature buildings where one can enjoy views of the garden. Unlike the building in western gardens these are not gift-shops or restaurants that interfere with the garden's natural landscape but are instead traditional villas or tea-houses where one can have a small snack while enjoying a garden. Some gardens were made with intent of viewing it from inside a building such as a temple or palace though many gardens were planned so that the building only functions as part of the gardens composition. Most buildings are placed in the center of the garden usually overlooking ponds. Some gardens will charge an additional fee for entry to these buildings but they'll usually come with complimentary tea or snacks.

Borrowed Scenery[edit]

Some gardens are designed to incorporate nearby landscapes or structures that are not located in the garden itself but enhance the views from within the garden and overall beauty of the garden as "borrowed scenery" or shakkei (借景). Borrowed scenery are often natural features, for example Senganen Garden in Kagoshima was designed to offer views of the volcanic Sakurajima, the garden of Shodenji Temple in Kyoto incorporates the surrounding mountains, and Bandoko Garden in Wakayama incorporates the surrounding sea and cliffs. Borrowed scenery can also be man-made. Korakuen Garden in Okayama and Genkyuuen Garden in Hikone incorporate views of nearby castles and Isuien Garden in Nara utilizes Todaiji Temple's main hall. Some gardens in Tokyo feature skyscrapers as unintentional "borrowed scenery" as skyscrapers were built around them in modern times.


Various traces of rake (箒目)

In a karesansui garden, a broom is used to make patterns on the sandy ground. This is called a trace of rake (箒目 Hōki-me). This pattern often represents water, and if the spread sand is wide, it indicates the sea or a pond. The sand used for the trace of rake is often white or similar in color. For example, In Kyoto, sand was originally made from crushed granite from the Shirakawa River, and now that extraction there has been banned, white granite from other places is used. The size of the sand grains is about 10 mm, and sometimes pebbles as small as 3 cm are used. For Mori-zuna (盛砂, sand heaped up in conical shape), finer sand is utilized; Kōgetsu-dai in Jishō-ji Temple is an example of it.

There are many different types of trace of rake. The image on the right depicts a typical variety of trace of rake.

Strolling gardens[edit]

Map of Japanese gardens

The most iconic type of Japanese garden is the strolling garden, these gardens occupy large plots of land and were built for the recreation of the ruling class. They are usually found in castle towns and are in close proximity to castles or palaces. Japan's top 3 gardens are all strolling gardens

  • 1 Kairaku-en Kairaku-en on Wikipedia - One of Japan's top three gardens. Unlike most other strolling gardens Kairaku-en was built for the leisure of samurais rather than the ruling class. It is particularly famous for its plum blossom season that takes place place in late February and early March.
  • 2 Kenroku-en Kenroku-en on Wikipedia - One of Japan's top three gardens. Created as the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle, Kenroku-en was built by the former Daimyos of Kaga Domain during the 1600s. It is said to contain the six attributes of a perfect landscape: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas.
  • 3 Korakuen Kōraku-en on Wikipedia - One of Japan's top three gardens. Built outside of Okayama Castle by the daimyo for recreation, and one can see the castle from the garden as "borrowed scenery". The garden is famous for its spacious lawn and red-crested cranes which have been bred and raised in the garden since its inception. On New Years and other specified days from September to December, visitors can witness the cranes walking and flying around the garden.
  • 4 Genkyuen Garden
  • 5 Katsura Imperial Villa Garden Katsura Imperial Villa on Wikipedia Built by members of the Imperial Family, the villa and garden opened in the 1600s. The number of visitors is limited and it is only accessible by guided tour, the tours are offered both in English and Japanese. Visitors used to have to send a physical letter to the villa in order to book a tour, now tours can be booked online. Children younger than 12 may not enter.
  • 6 Koishikawa Korakuen Koishikawa-Kōrakuen on Wikipedia
  • 7 Ninomaru Garden Nijō Castle on Wikipedia
  • 8 Rikugien Garden Rikugi-en Gardens on Wikipedia
  • 9 Ritsurin Koen Ritsurin Garden on Wikipedia Built for the daimyo of Sanuki Province, at 16 hectares, it is the largest Japanese garden.
  • 10 Sengan-en Sengan-en on Wikipedia
  • 11 Shūraku-en Shūraku-en on Wikipedia
  • 12 Suizen-ji Jōju-en Suizen-ji Jōju-en on Wikipedia
  • 13 Tensha-en Tensha-en on Wikipedia

Temple gardens[edit]

  • 1 Ryoan-ji Ryōan-ji on Wikipedia — home to Japan's most famous zen rock garden.
  • 2 Saihō-ji Saihō-ji (Kyoto) on Wikipedia — also known as Kokedera ("moss temple"), famous for its moss garden, it only admits a limited number of visitors a day, who are required to reserve at least a month in advance, and are required to participate in Buddhist religious activities such as chanting and copying scriptures before being allowed to view the garden.

Modern gardens[edit]

Yuushien Garden, Matsue


Map of Japanese gardens outside of Japan


  • 1 Japanese Garden, Toowong, Toowong, Queensland. Designed by the Japanese architect Kenzo Ogata with the theme of mountain-pond-stream with a combination of both Japanese and Australian plants.
  • 2 Japanese Garden, Auburn Botanical Garden, Auburn, New South Wales. There isn't anything too special about this place – except that it's located inside one of Sydney's most visited botanical gardens hence attracts hundreds of visitors.


  • 3 Japanese Garden, Montreal Botanical Garden, Montreal/Hochelaga-Maisonneuve. A 2.5-ha contemporary garden, designed by Ken Nakajima, inspired by traditional Japanese landscaping.



  • 5 Pune-Okayama Friendship Garden (Pu La Deshpande Garden), Sinhgad Rd., Pune. The largest Japanese garden outside of Japan, spanning more than 10 acres, it was designed to replicate one of Japan's top three gardens, Korakuen Garden in Okayama, as a part of their sister city relationship.


  • 6 Japanese Garden, Singapore, 1 Chinese Garden Road. A garden designed in the traditional Japanese style, and incorporating a pair cycads planted by then Crown Prince Akihito and his wife during an official visit in 1970. free.


  • 7 Baltalimanı Japanese Garden, Baltalimanı, Istanbul. Built with support of Shimonoseki, one of Istanbul's sister cities, the garden features a tea room, ponds, waterfalls, as well as a cherry lane.
  • 8 Prince Mikasa Memorial Garden, Çağırkan, east of Kaman. In a seemingly unlikely location out in the barren Anatolian steppe, the garden was built by the Japanese who have been unearthing an archaeological site next door. It features all traditional design elements, but the plants are mostly natives: they had to be selected carefully so as to withstand the harsh continental climate of the area.

United States[edit]

See also[edit]

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