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Japanese Gardens Aesthetic Principles

Japanese gardens are time-honoured masterpieces that are smaller, idealized landscapes presented in a stylized yet abstract way. Gardens belongings to nobles and emperors were designed for aesthetic pleasure and recreation, while those designed for temples had a meditative and contemplative focus about them.

Styles of Japanese gardens include the karesansui or zen gardens, roji, which are rustic gardens, kaiyu shiki teien, stroll or promenade gardens, and tsubo niwa or courtyard gardens. These gardens were initially developed according to designs taken from Chinese gardens, however gradually Japanese designers began adopting their own designs taken from Japanese culture and materials.

Regardless of the style that a Japanese garden might take, it often employs similar techniques and principles. Some of these are:


A Japanese garden is designed as a miniature or idealized version of nature. Ponds represent seas, and rocks may represent mountains. The garden may be designed to look larger by the placement of big trees and rocks in the centre and smaller rocks in the backdrop.

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Japanese Gardens 2

Zen Buddhist gardens are designed so that everything is visible all at the same time, whereas promenade gardens are to be appreciated as one landscape. The experience is similar to walking through a series of painted, scrolling landscapes. Some features include bamboo structures or walls, tree groves, hidden features usually behind hills, and winding paths.

Borrowed scenery

Japanese Gardens 3

Also known as Shakkei, these are smaller gardens which are designed to include features located outside of the garden such as hills, temples, trees, usually as part of an entire scene. This gives the garden a larger than life experience.


Japanese Gardens 4

Unlike typical gardens, a Japanese garden does not a dominating feature or view, nor is it laid on a levelled axis. Garden features and buildings are placed to be viewed from different angles such right angles or on the diagonal. They often include vertical and natural features such as bamboo, trees, and rocks. Sometimes they also include horizontal features such as water.  According to leading garden historian Michigo Young, Japanese gardens operate on the principle that gardens are a work of fine art. They are inspired by nature, but created not as a copy, rather as an interpretation. Japanese gardens appears natural and organized, not wild and haphazard. They often generate the best scenes in a limited amount of space.

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Japanese gardens also employ garden elements. These are water, rocks and sand, fish, flowers and trees, gates, devices, and fences, water basins and stone lanterns.

Japanese gardens can be found all over Japan. Some famous ones include:

  • Koraku-en in Okayama
  • Kenroku-en in Kanazawa
  • Kairaku-en in Mito
  • Chinzan so garden in Tokyo
  • Murin-an in Kyoto

Some noteworthy Japanese gardens in the English-speaking world are:

  • Himeji Gardens in Adelaide, Australia
  • Nitobe Memorial Garden in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • Holland Park in London, United Kingdom
  • Hagiwara Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, California, United States of America
  • Jardain Japonais in Larvotto, Monaco