Over the course of the past decade or two the popularity of Japanese garden designs has grown considerably in the western world. Maybe this is due to our increasingly hectic lifestyles and the desire to own a relatively low maintenance garden, or maybe it is a fascination with a garden style that is totally different in structure and appearance. The likely reason for the rise in interest in the Japanese garden is its inherent atmosphere of harmony and tranquility.
The origins and history of Japanese gardens is fascinating but too complex to describe fully in this feature. In short the typical Japanese garden emerged from religious beliefs and the desire to achieve a balance of yin and yan in daily life. Each Japanese garden would be created for a different purpose such as tea drinking ceremonies, or for recreation, imparting pleasure through aesthetic appeal. But one design, the ‘Zen’ garden, originated specifically to encourage contemplation and meditation, this is possibly the most tranquil Japanese garden style of them all. One interesting feature of the Zen garden or ‘Rock garden’ is that the element of water is replaced by white sand
Generally Japanese gardens portray idealized landscapes in miniature. This is not necessarily in a literal way for frequently the design is highly abstracted or stylized. All Japanese gardens contain water in some form, maybe as a pond or a small stream, or, as in the zen garden this is symbolized by the white sand. Water is the balancing element to stone therefore water and stone placed together represent a harmonious condition. Stones or rocks may even be placed in the water to represent sacred islands that are the home of the ‘Eight immortals’, integral to certain Japanese belief systems.
In the west it is not necessary to understand all the complex symbolism incorporated into a traditional Japanese garden to enjoy its unique style and serene atmosphere. But it is natural to be curious to discover the origins of such a deeply spiritual system of garden design. Also a little understanding will help you make sense of your own garden if you have been inspired by the Japanese system of gardening.