the Far East gardens have always represented a “barometer” for national
prosperity. The most remarkable ones appeared in peaceful and affluent
times. Surprisingly, Japanese gardens are an exception from that common
rule. They do not belong to the luxurious possessions which ought to convey
how rich their owner was. They are an inseparable part from the Japanese
house, a vital necessity and at the same time, a means of communication
with nature. Actually, the garden complements the home and its most captivation
views are to be contemplated through the doors and windows.
The Japanese create their
art of gardening over a small area. But there is a peculiar fusion between
the garden and the house.
of the interior represent an “appendix” of the garden through the scenery
images on boxes, pads, mats, screens, etc.
The Japanese use dimensionally
suitable materials (sand, stones, moss, etc.) for the construction of their
tiny yards. Horticulturists even grew appropriately sized trees. Japanese
mastery in the art of arranging flowers evolved to a real science. All
fine arts in Japan – from painting to fabric coloring and ceramics, re-create
The art of gardening was
brought to Japan either from China or Korea. Only a few ancient preserved
texts certify the existence of ancient gardens in Japan. However, all of
these texts feature a classical image of a pond, an island and small bridges.
Gardens were favorite places for literary discussions which were held among
the blooming morello, cherry, peach-trees, pine-trees and willows. But
tradition enjoined the new rulers to move to another place when coming
into power, and therefore, horticulture in Japan couldn’t keep a permanent
line of development. It was not until the proclamation of Nara as the official
capital of Japan that seven consecutive rulers extended and enriched the
imperial gardens with ponds and islands, typical of Japanese mastery.
This time frame marks the
beginning of the first from the three distinct periods in the history of
Japanese gardens which correspond to the European Middle Ages.
The Nara period was inspired
by the Chinese emperor Sui Yang Ti’s order to construct a vast imperial
palace and garden with five artificial lakes, four artificial seas (13
miles in circuit) and filled with examples of all living creatures known
to the Empire. A Japanese emissary who visited the site was deeply impressed.
A few years later a marvelous equivalent was created near Nara. “During
this period, Japanese merchants traveled to China frequently, importing
many facets of Chinese culture and appreciating the rugged coastline of
their own country, inspiring early garden makers to edge the lakes in the
gardens of the aristocracy with rocks, pebbles and sand. This style of
garden became so typical that the word shima meaning island was also used
to mean garden for the next hundred years, according to Bibb"
At the end of the 8th century
Heian (now Kyoto) became the capital of Japan and what is known as Japans
Classical period began. The new capital was soon adorned with spacious
gardens with cascades, rocks, shady pine-trees and various flowers – chrysanthemums,
orchids, wisteria, etc. The country prospered, the arts flourished, the
nobility devoted themselves to arts philosophy and self indulgence. Buddhism
and the contemplative art of garden design obsessed the aristocrats. The
trade with China was restored in 894 AD. It was an opportunity for a “uniquely
Japanese interpretation to be imposed on imported Chinese ideas and perhaps
added to a sense of melancholic lassitude, which was permeating Japanese
nobility at that time. As the aristocracy became increasingly preoccupied
with philosophical matters and employed Buddhist monks as garden designers
it was no surprise that Buddhist metaphors came to be widely employed at
The geometric style in the
construction of parks dominated during that period. The central garden
was located in the South and, inevitably, it contained its picturesquely
formed “hill” and freely outlined water area with an island. One of the
two bridges connecting the island with the land was arced in order to allow
the swift passage of ships.
“Design the pond with respect
to its position in the land, follow its request, when you encounter a potential
site, consider its atmosphere, think of the mountains and water, of living
things and reflect constantly on such settings.” (from the
The Sakuteiki is the earliest
known garden manual featuring the main principles of Classic gardening
construction as well as detailed plans for the construction of ponds, paths,
gravel and describes the geometric taboos against certain practices. The
Japanese created their own beliefs concerning natural objects.
The military sentiment which
seized the whole country from 1186 to 1335/39 set the beginning of the
third period – Kamakura. The rough way of life advocated by the newly introduced
Zen Buddhism from China taught the Japanese to prefer simplicity. The newly-constructed
gardens, peculiar with their unique rock arrangements, were built not just
for their aesthetic value but also for the philosophic ideas they provoked.
These were peaceful, contemplative gardens with restful views designed
The laws of decorum and harmony,
of active and passive, of light and shades, of male and female drives,
as well as the nine spirits of the Buddhist Pantheon, all these facets
of Chinese philosophy and folklore strongly influenced the very basis of
Japanese garden’s ideology, and therefore, its construction.
The next, Muromachi period
in Japanese garden history is characterised by the development of Zen Buddhist
ideas and formalization of the Tea ceremony. Waterworks gained increasing
popularity due to the moving of the government to the hilly Kyoto. On the
other hand, the refining of the Zen aesthetics led to the creation of the
dry landscape or Kare-sansui garden. Zen monks (Sesshu 1420-1506) designed
more and more abstract gardens, even gave names to the rocks in their strife
not to represent natural sights but “the inner secrets of nature and human
existence.” These trends reached their zenith with the construction of
the famous Royan-ji garden in Kyoto which represented a group of fifteen
stones in a sea of gravel.
About 1570 began the Momoyama
period characterised by the creation of numerous splendid gardens including
the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Rustic simplicity was applied to the Tea ceremony.
A great garden artist from that time , Enshu, is believed to have developed
the trends of clipping bushes into tight designs known as O-Karikomi and
setting fixed routs for walking through the garden.
In the next two periods,
the Edo (1603-1867) and the Meiji (1868-1912), the Samurai lost their prestige
and the monks were deprived of their functions of garden builders. Edo
(now Tokyo) became the new seat of the government. Most gardens were small
at that time, since they belonged to people from the merchant class who
created gardens of its own without concern of traditional rituals and symbolism.
The Meiji period brought the American influence which resulted in the construction
of public parks, flower beds and lawns.
Fortunately, these ideas
tend to be merged into the rich tradition of Japanese garden design.