Japanese Garden Style – It is difficult for people from western countries to appreciate the garden art of Japan. It is an art born of religion and woven into the cultural history of the country over two thousand years.
The generic term ‘Japanese garden’ incorporates many different styles, but it is their underlying principles that are now copied throughout the world. The essence of the Japanese garden lies in the recreation of nature within its boundaries. The classic example, with which most people are familiar, is the kind of rock and raked sand composition that can be seen in gardens such as that at Kyoto.
In simple terms, the rocks from islands within the sea of raked gravel, with the gravel breaking as waves on the rocks. Even here plants play an integral part. Trees and shrubs are ‘tamed’ in the Japanese garden, but the aim is to retain the natural characteristics of each plant, not an artificial form.
Western gardens attempt to imitate this but, unless undertaken by a Japanese master, they rarely come close to the real thing. Nevertheless, the idea of a ‘dry’ garden, with its contrasting surfaces of rock, stone, cobbles and gravel, lends itself to gardens all over the world.
However, water, too, almost always plays a part in the Japanese garden: from lakes and pools, that are again as natural as possible, to a clever manipulation of spouts and bamboo flumes.
The real lesson to be learned from Japanese garden makers is simplicity, whether revealed in the beautifully designed buildings and adjoining decks, the impeccable detailing of channels and gullies, or in an arrangement of stepping stones set among any number of different plantings.
The true Japanese garden is a place of quiet, of meditation, and of great calm. In the western garden we ignore these elements at our peril.