Originating around early Shinto shrines, Japanese gardens have been influenced by the Shinto love of nature and the Buddhist ideal of Paradise. Although classic Japanese gardens can be roughly divided into four types: paradise gardens, dry-landscape gardens, stroll gardens, and tea gardens – they share many components and principles, and have continued evolving through the centuries. The common aim was to create a microcosm: stones, water, bridges, and other elements were combined to form an idealized and symbolic miniature landscapes.
Paradise and dry-landscape gardens were designed to be viewed from a single point or side, while stroll gardens and tea gardens were made to be walked though.
1. PARADISE GARDEN:
Motsu-ji garden in Hiraizumi is a beautiful preserved garden, designed to evoke the Pure Land, or Buddhist paradise. Use is made of “borrowed landscape” – trees or mountains outside the garden that appear to be part of it. Stones are arranged to create islands and rocky shores.
2. DRY-LANDSCAPE GARDENS:
Attached to Zen Buddhist temples, these gardens of carefully chosen stones grouped amid an expanse of raked gravel provide an object for meditation. A classic dry-landscape garden is at Ryoan-Ji temple in Kyoto where the plain, earthen walls enhance the abstract arrangement of the stones.
3. STROLL GARDEN:
The views in a stroll garden, change with virtually every step, with vistas concealed and revealed. These gardens were popular in the Edo period when they were made by daimyo (feudal lords). Kenroku-en in kanazawa included four ponds and uses “borrowed landscape” skillfully.
Pruning is prized as an art, bringing out the inherent qualities of a tree. A beautifully pruned tree often forms a focal point in a stroll garden.
4. TEA GARDENS:
Dating from the Momoyama Period (1568-1600), a tea garden consists of a short path with trimmed plants on either side, leading to a tea house. The path links the real world to the world of the tea ceremony. Some gardens have rustic posts and bamboo fences. Stone basins were first purely functional, for washing hands and mouth, but then came to symbolize the ceremony.
Slightly raised and spaced apart, the stones in the path are sprinkled with water before the ceremony to welcome guests; the Japanese thus call the tea garden rojo (dewy path).
SEASONS IN A JAPANESE GARDEN
The Japanese awareness of the seasons is an integral part of their garden design. A careful balance of shrubs and trees is one of the essential ingredients for harmonious gardens. Evergreen trees and bamboos are often planted for year-round greenery; deciduous trees are chosen for their shape when bare as well as when clothed with foliage to ensure year-round interest. In tea gardens, where every detail is symbolic, fallen blossoms or leaves may be arranged by the path to suggest the season. Some gardens are planned for a spectacular effect in one season. Many are best visited in spring or fall.