Overview Of Japanese Style Garden
Japanese Style Garden is traditional garden that creates miniature idealized landscapes, often in a highly abstract and stylized way. The gardens of the Emperors and nobles were designed for recreation and aesthetic pleasure, while the gardens of Buddhist temples were designed for contemplation and meditation.
Japanese garden styles include karesansui, Japanese rock gardens or zen gardens, which are meditation gardens where white sand replaces water; roji, simple, rustic gardens with teahouses where the Japanese tea ceremony is conducted; kaiyū-shiki-teien, promenade or stroll gardens, where the visitor follows a path around the garden to see carefully composed landscapes; and tsubo-niwa, small courtyard gardens.
Japanese gardens were developed under the influences of the Chinese gardens, but gradually Japanese garden designers began to develop their own aesthetics, based on Japanese materials and Japanese culture. By the Edo period, the Japanese garden had its own distinct appearance. Since the end of the 19th century, Japanese gardens have also been adapted to Western settings.
Types of Japanese Style Garden
Early Japan (before 794) – One of the earliest garden forms in Japan were sacred places in the midst of nature, which humans marked by pebbles. Predating the introduction of Chinese culture from the mainland, this early garden form can be recognized at some ancient Shinto shrines, for example at the Ise Shrines, whose buildings are surrounded by wide pebbled areas. The widespread adoption of Chinese culture and Buddhism from the 6th century on heavily influenced Japanese garden design. During this era, gardens were built at imperial palaces for the recreation and entertainment of the emperor and aristocrats. They introduced ponds and streams as their focal points, contained many Buddhist and Taoist elements and attempted to reproduce famous landscapes.
Heian Period (794-1185) – During the relatively peaceful Heian Period, the capital was moved to Kyoto where the aristocrats devoted much of their time to the arts. They began building Shinden Gardens at their palaces and villas, large gardens which were used for elaborate parties and for recreational activities such as boating, fishing and general enjoyment. Designed after Chinese concepts, the gardens featured large ponds and islands connected by arched bridges under which boats could pass. A gravel covered plaza in front of the building was used for entertainment, while one or more pavilions extended out over the water.
Kamakura and Muromachi Periods (1192-1573) – At the beginning of the Kamakura Period a shift of power from the aristocratic court to the military elite was completed. The military rulers embraced the newly introduced Zen Buddhism, which would exert a strong influence on garden design. Gardens were often built attached to temple buildings to help monks in meditation and religious advancement rather than for recreational purposes. Gardens also became smaller, simpler and more minimalist, while retaining many of the same elements as before, such as ponds, islands, bridges and waterfalls. The most extreme development towards minimalism was the Karesansui Dry Garden which uses nothing but rocks, gravel and sand to represent all the elements of the garden landscape.
Azuchi-Momoyama Period (1573-1603) – Tea gardens (Chaniwa) had already appeared in previous periods for holding the tea ceremony, but they reached the height of their development during the Azuchi-Momoyama Period when the contemporary tea masters refined and perfected their design and imbued them with the spirit of “wabi” or rustic simplicity, for which they are recognized today. Tea gardens are simple and utilitarian. A stepping stone path leads from the entrance to a tea house. Stone lanterns provide lighting and a decorative element, while a wash basin (tsukubai) is used for ritual cleansing. Many tea gardens can be found in Japan today, although many of them are incorporated into larger garden designs.
Edo Period (1603-1867) – During the Edo Period, garden design departed from the minimalism of the Muromachi Period as the ruling class rediscovered its likings for extravagance and recreation. The product were large strolling gardens with ponds, islands and artificial hills that could be enjoyed from a variety of viewpoints along a circular trail. Many strolling gardens also included elements of tea gardens.
Modern Gardens (1868 to present) – In the Meiji Period, Japan entered an age of rapid modernization and Westernization. Western style city parks were built, and many of the formerly private strolling gardens were opened to the public. Politicians and industrialists were the force behind the construction of new private strolling gardens which often contained Western gardening elements such as flower beds and open lawns. Many of these gardens were built in the new capital of Tokyo, for example the Kiyosumi Teien.
The Elements of Japanese Style Garden
Japanese gardens utilize elements such as ponds, streams, islands and hills to create miniature reproductions of natural scenery. The following are some of the most commonly employed elements:
Stones, Gravel and Sand – Since ancient times, stones have played an important role in Japanese culture. In Shinto, prominent large stones are worshiped as kami, while gravel was used to designate sacred grounds, as seen at some ancient shrines such as the Ise Shrines or Kyoto’s Kamigamo Shrine. In today’s gardens, large stones symbolize mountains and hills, set decorative accents and serve as the building material for bridges and pathways. Smaller rocks and gravel are used to line ponds and streams. Meanwhile, dry gardens are comprised entirely of stones, with larger stones symbolizing mountains, islands and waterfalls, while gravel and sand replace water.
Ponds, Streams and Waterfalls – Ponds are a central element of most gardens and often represent real or mythical lakes or seas. Sometimes they provide a habitat for carps (koi) which introduce additional color and life to the garden. In dry gardens, ponds, streams and waterfalls are symbolized by raked gravel, sand and upright stones. In recreational types of gardens, ponds can be used for boating or enjoyment from pavilions built out over the water or from plazas and embankments on shore, which often served as the site for aristocratic poetry or moon viewing parties in past centuries.
Islands and Bridges – Islands are another long standing component of Japanese gardens, and range in size from single stone outcroppings to large islands big enough to support buildings. They often represent real islands or have religious symbolism, such as those built to resemble turtles and cranes, symbols of longevity and health, or Horai, a sacred mystical mountain in Taoism. Bridges are another common feature that is used to connect islands and cross streams or ponds. They are built of stone or wood, and range in complexity from a simple slab of uncut rock laid across a stream to elaborate, covered wooden structures that span more than ten meters.
Vegetation – Trees, shrubs, lawns and flowers of all kinds are used in Japanese gardens. Plants, such as maple and cherry trees, are often chosen for their seasonal appeal and are expertly placed to emphasize these characteristics. Conversely, pine trees, bamboo and plum trees are held in particular esteem for their beauty during the winter months when other plants go dormant. Mosses are also used extensively, with over a hundred species appearing at Kokedera alone. Plants are carefully arranged around the gardens to imitate nature, and great efforts are taken to maintain their beauty. Trees, shrubs and lawns are meticulously manicured, and delicate mosses are swept clean of debris. During winter, straw, burlap and ropes are used to insulate and protect the trees and shrubs from the freezing snow, while straw wraps protect against bug infestations.
Hills – Larger gardens, especially the strolling gardens of the Edo Period, make use of large man made hills. The hills may represent real or mythical mountains, and some can be ascended and have a viewpoint from where visitors are treated to a panoramic view out over the garden.
Lanterns – Lanterns come in a variety of shapes and sizes and have been a common element of Japanese garden design throughout history. They are usually made of stone and placed in carefully selected locations, such as on islands, at the ends of peninsulas or next to significant buildings, where they provide both light and a pleasing aesthetic. Lanterns are often paired with water basins, which together make up a basic component of tea gardens.
Water Basins – Many gardens contain stone water basins (tsukubai), which are used for ritual cleansing, especially ahead of tea ceremonies. The basins vary from simple depressions in uncut stone to elaborate carved stone creations, and are usually provided with a bamboo dipper for scooping up water. These days they often appear as a decorative addition more than for a practical purpose. Water basins are an essential element of tea gardens and are often paired with lanterns.
Paths – Paths became an integral part of Japanese gardens with the introduction of strolling and tea gardens. Strolling gardens feature circular paths constructed of stepping stones, crushed gravel, sand or packed earth, which are carefully prescribed to lead visitors to the best – albeit controlled – views of the garden. Winding paths also serve to segregate different areas, such as an isolated grove or hidden pond, from each other so that they may be contemplated individually.
Borrowed Scenery (shakkei) – It is the concept of integrating the background landscape outside the garden into the design of the garden. Both, natural objects such as mountains and hills and man-made structures, such as castles, can be used as borrowed scenery. In modern times, skyscrapers have become unintentional borrowed scenery for some gardens in the cities.
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