Japanese gardening is an art form that has been changing and developing since its conception in the 6th century. Many styles of Japanese gardens have risen and fallen during this time, each style reflecting the cultural and religious preferences of the moment. This article will guide you through a few of the finest and most noteworthy Japanese garden styles.
In the 11th century, Pure Land Buddhism began to be practiced in Japan. One of the most widely practiced forms of Buddhism, Pure Land Buddhism focuses on achieving rebirth into a paradise called the Pure Land of the West. Followers of this religion in Japan began constructing gardens to represent this paradise. The most famous surviving example can be found at Byodo-in Temple near Kyoto, whose garden and pond were designed to evoke an image of paradise. The views at this garden are so stunning that they are even featured on the back of the 10 yen coin!
Zen Buddhism is a stripped-down, meditation-based form of Buddhism that emphasizes simplicity and present-moment awareness. As Japan began to embrace this religion in the late 12th century, Japanese garden design started to take on a more minimalist approach. Gardens were built alongside temples with the intention of helping monks in meditation.
The minimalism of Zen Buddhism is well represented by the famous rock garden at Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto. Here, the water and plant features of early Japanese gardens are replaced completely by stone. Fifteen rocks are dispersed around the garden on islands of moss in a ‘pond’ of gravel. This ‘dry’ garden style is designed to still the mind of the visitor and prepare them for meditation.
As garden design moved away from minimalism during the Edo period (1615-1687), many larger, more extravagant gardens were built. Because the purpose of these gardens was recreation, they often feature winding paths for visitors to stroll along and soak up the scenery.
Japan’s most celebrated strolling garden is Kenroku-en in Kanazawa. Kenroku-en translates to “garden of six attributes”, referring to the six attributes of a perfect garden: spaciousness, seclusion, artifice, antiquity, waterways, and panoramas. The garden clearly represents each of these attributes across its 25 acres, featuring several ponds, streams, bridges, artificially built hills, tea houses, and cottages. Additionally, Kenroku-en is designed to be enjoyed in every season. As the seasons change, the garden is filled with spring cherry blossoms, summer flowers and greenery, autumn leaves, and winter snowfall.
During the Meiji period, Japan rapidly industrialized and opened up to Western influence. Many gardens, such as Shinjuku Gyoen in Tokyo, have been built since then, combining Western and Japanese garden design. However, some newer gardens that adhere to traditional Japanese aesthetics also exist, such as those at the Adachi Museum of Art. The Adachi Museum Gardens have been ranked number one by the Journal of Japanese Gardening for twenty consecutive years. Viewed from within the museum building, the gardens are intended to act as a living Japanese painting and heighten the experience of viewing the paintings in the museum.
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