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The Basics Of A Traditional Japanese Garden Design

Updated on February 11, 2016

A Traditional Japanese Garden


The art of Japanese gardens has been one of the most important parts of the Japanese culture for many centuries. The Japanese garden is a miniature and a microcosm of nature. The Promenade or stroll garden is meant to be seen one landscape at a time. Features are hidden behind hills, tree grooves or bamboo, walls or structures, to be discovered when the visitor follows the winding path lined by flowering plants and mosses. These gardens utilize elements such as islands, hills, ponds and streams to create a replica of natural scenery.

Basic Elements Of A Japanese Garden

  1. Waterbodies such as ponds, streams and waterfalls. Japanese gardens always have water, be it an irregular shaped pond, or two or more ponds connected by a channel or stream and a cascade, a miniature version of a waterfall. The ponds are a central element and represent real or mythical lakes or seas. In recreational gardens, they are used for boating and enjoyment from pavilions built out over water.
  2. Stones, gravel and sand. Large stones symbolize mountains and hills. They also serve as building material for bridges and walkways. Smaller pebbles and gravel are used to line the ponds and streams.
  3. Islands. The islands range in size from single stone outcroppings to large stretches of land, big enough to support buildings.
  4. Bridges. Also known as moon bridges, they are used to connect islands and cross streams or ponds. They are built of stone or wood and range from a single large stone slab laid across a stream to elaborate wooden structures.
  5. Hills. Artificial man-made hills are miniatures of mountains. You can get a panoramic view of the garden from the hilltop.
  6. Water basins. They are also known as Deer Chasers, which keep the deer away by making a special sound when filled up. They vary from simple depressions of uncut stone to elaborate structures and are provided with a bamboo dipper for scooping up water. They are used for ritual cleansing, especially ahead of tea ceremonies.
  7. Vegetation. Mosses are used extensively. Maple, cherry trees, Pine trees, bamboo, plum trees, the Oak, the Japanese Apricot, Willow, Ginkgo, the Japanese Cypress, and the Japanese cedar are held in particular esteem for their beauty. The trees are carefully trimmed into exquisite architectural shapes. They are sometimes constrained to bend to prevent them from blocking other views of the garden, to provide shade or reflection in the water. During winter, straw, ropes and burlap are used to protect the trees and other vegetation from the snow. Straw wraps are used to protect the shrubs against bug infestation.
  8. Lanterns. They are made of stone, are often paired with water basins and placed on islands or next to significant buildings, where they provide illumination and create a pleasing ambiance.
  9. Paths. Strolling gardens feature circular paths constructed of stepping stones, crushed gravel or sand.

Stone Lantern


Basic Rules In The Design Of Japanese Gardens

  • The design should be simple and make the garden look as if it grew by itself. Asymmetry and the use of elements in multiples of odd numbers, that is one, three, five, or seven ponds, bridges, water basins or lanterns, adds to this effect.
  • Triangle is the most common shape for structures made of stones or plants.
  • Curves are used in the design to soften the effects.
  • Openness is essential to indicate the interaction between all elements.
  • Borrowed scenery. This practice can include incorporating nearby buildings, mountains, and trees to add to your garden.

Water Basin Or A Deer Chaser


For Your Own Japanese Garden

  • Use a simple bamboo fence to block views from the world outside. Make the entrance with an attractive arbor and a gate.
  • Moss makes the perfect ground cover in moist and shady areas. Place stone steppers among the moss to allow passage without damage to the cushioning surface.
  • Create a private patch with a teahouse or a pavilion made of bamboo or wood.
  • Opt for stone lanterns shaped as pagodas.
  • Keep the structure simple and small.


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    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 

      3 years ago from sunny Florida

      Nicely shared. I lived in Japan for four years and the gardens were such a lovely place to visit. It was such a tranquil area to just pause for a bit and let the hustle and bustle drop away for a while.

      thanks for sharing this.

      Angels are headed your way this evening ps


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