Japanese Gardens 101 - Part 2: The Types of Japanese Gardens
This month we continue our garden discussion with a brief description of some of the common Japanese garden types.
Early Graveled Courtyards
Japanese gardens have their beginnings in areas of the forest marked off from the surrounding trees only with a rice-fiber rope and covered with pebbles, gravel and sand. These "gardens" were designed for ceremonial activities associated with ancient Shinto practices. These courtyards are not just empty spaces but sacred areas that link worshippers of the common world to the spiritual world.
Pond Gardens for Boating
As the name indicates, this type of garden was intended to be viewed from the vantage of a boat on a large pond. The garden's design lends itself to the low-level angle of those sitting in boats and the varied perspectives as the boat moves around. The idea of boat gardens were first introduced from China as early as the 6th century and soon became popular with the Imperial Court and powerful clans during the Asuka (552-645) and Nara periods. Aristocrats of the Heian period biult even larger ponds, which nicely complemented the Shinden-style of architecture, the most prominent architectural style of the era. Shinden style features a low slung main building flanked by outlying pavilions. Boating gardens continued to grow in popularity after the Heian period. Kinkaku-ji in Kyoto is a good example.
Pond Gardens for Strolling
During the Kamakura Period, larger boating gardens gradually gave way to smaller pond gardens meant for strolling about. These gardens featured paths beside the pond, with small islands often added in the ponds. Visitors could enjoy different views as they followed the hilly path that circled the pond. The main objective of this design was for strollers to enjoy different scenic perspectives from different vantage points located throughout the garden. Sometimes artificial hills were added to provide different perspectives. A good example of this is Rikugien in Tokyo.
Introduced in the sixth century from China, Buddhism soon became the dominant religion of Japan, coexisting with the indigenous beliefs that later became known as Shinto. In the eleventh century, a new sect of Buddhism known as Jodo, or Pure Land, became popular. This sect taught that the only chance for salvation was through fervent prayer to the Amida Buddha, which would enable true believers to be reborn after death in a paradise across the western ocean known as the Pure Land.
Influenced by this thought, paradise gardens seek to create a paradise in the real world. These gardens feature a temple enshrining the Amida Buddha located on an island on a pond, representing the ocean that separates ordinary mortals from paradise. Visitors to the garden paid their respects to the image from across the water.
During the Muromachi and Momoyama periods (1573-1600), high-ranking warriors used two types of buildings: castles during war and more luxurious mansions during peaceful times. Eager to display their wealth and power, feudal lords of these times created elaborate gardens. These gardens were often set lower than the adjacent mansion and viewable from everywhere in the open, Japanese-style room. Many of these gardens experimented with combining "wet" and "dry" elements by including a pond as well as dry, graveled areas. The feudal lords also collected large rocks, often confiscated from other gardens, which were used to create bold rock compositions. Another innovation of the Momoyama period was the use of evergreen shrubs clipped into abstract shapes that suggested, rather than represented, features such as hills. By the latter part of the Momoyama period, warrior gardens became somewhat more subdued, and some designers introduced paths so that gardens could be explored by foot. Although the idea of walking in a garden was not new, it was Momoyama innovations that gave rise to the stroll gardens of the succeeding Edo period. The garden surrounding Nijo Castle is a good example of Warrior gardens.
Dry Landscape Gardens (Karesansui) and Stone Gardens (Sekitei)
In karesansui (dry landscape) gardens, rocks and gravel, sometimes supplemented with moss and other forms of vegetation, are used to suggest water and mountains. This abstract and inventive way of expressing nature without using water is one of the most highly regarded aspects of Japanese garden design. A typical dry landscape garden is composed of white sand representing rivers and the sea, with rocks, stones and trees representing mountains and islands. The sand will often be raked into sometimes intricate patterns and sometimes simple, straight lines. The gardens strove to convey the deeper meaning of life by reducing the materials used. The stones represented the eternal framework of the universe, and the gravel symbolizes the transience of the ordinary world. Because of their simplicity, these gardens were often used at Zen Buddhist temples as an aid for monks to train and meditate. Ryoan-ji is a good example.
Moss Gardens (Koke-niwa)
Gardens with abundant live moss can be found all over Japan. Over one hundred different types of live moss have been found growing in the shadow of pine, cedar, cypress and maple trees. Many temples and palaces are famed for their beautiful moss gardens. The moss garden of Saiho-ji (more commonly known as Koke-dera or Moss Temple) is the best example of this quintessential garden type. Though often used at Zen temples, this garden type provides an interesting contrast to the tightly controlled dry-landscape gardens.
Compact or Residential Gardens (Tsubo-niwa)
In the Heian period, residences were built according to an architectural style called Shinden-zukuri in which a central house was surrounded by smaller buildings that were linked by wooden walkways. The small spaces produced between these houses and corridors were dubbed tsubo-niwa, which meant tiny court gardens. People later planted flowering trees in these pocket gardens and named each space with the name of the flower they planted there. Today, this name refers to small courtyard gardens found at modern Japanese residences and businesses.
Tea Gardens (Roji)
A tea garden leading to a tea house is called a roji. The literal translation of roji is "dewy path". In the early days of the tea practice in the Muromachi period, the tea house was set outdoors and a path laid to its door. Through the use of carefully placed stepping stones, basins, lanterns and plants, the guest is represented with a series of constantly changing "small views" which encouraged one to enter a state of meditation that will carry over into the tea ceremony itself. Because guests must pass through the tea garden to reach the tea house, the roji functions as an entryway to another world apart from one's mundane daily life; the ritualized yet serene world of tea practice. The plants, rocks and other materials used along roji should look as natural as possible. This is achieved by using a mixture of moss, evergreen trees, shrubs, and perhaps bamboo. In keeping with the philosophy of the tea ceremony, flowers, as well as anything else that is too beautiful, should be avoided so as not to disrupt the feeling of austere simplicity. The most important part of the roji are the stepping stones, which should never take one in a straight line.