Japanese Gardens Design Principles – In early Japanese gardens design principles included the idea that rocks already in situ should he respected for their own inner stillness, and that rocks, islands and ponds represented nature and should always he placed asymmetrically. Symmetrical elements represented humans.
The representation of a mountain is essential and refers to the Cosmic Mountain at the center of the universe. The Island of Immortality can he represented by an island or a rock. Rocks are arranged in groups of three. In old Japanese gardening books this is explained as representing three forces – horizontal, diagonal and vertical – which correspond to the structure of the universe – heaven, earth and mankind.
The aim is not to overpower nature but to enter into a partnership with it. The garden is a place for divine spirits and when harmony is achieved, the good spirits will be drawn into the garden while the hostile ones will leave it in peace.
Everywhere in the garden there should be devices to ward off evil spirits. Trees and stones should be grouped in odd numbers – threes, fives and sevens. Devils are thought to walk in straight lines so garden pathways are made to twist and turn.
In the Japanese garden non-living features are paramount and plants are not the prime ingredients. One of the most important items is water – the Japanese word for gardener means ‘He who makes the bed of streams’. Others are stone, sand, gravel, bamboo, aged trees and space.
There is a 15th-century Japanese diagram that shows how a landscape should be deliberately designed to look natural. It has 16 pieces of land and water arranged around a central ‘guardian stone’. The design is asymmetrical but carefully balanced, and each piece has a distinct function and importance. The pieces include mountains (near and far), rocks, beaches, islands, a lake and a cascade.
Every item is balanced by something else. Tall plants grow next to bushy ones. Sharp angles are balanced by gentle bends. Any stream should be as natural possible, moving from the east, going underground and flowing into the ‘ocean’ at the west. A stylized form of well head symbolizes freshness.
Some Japanese gardens have no water but are made up simply of rocks and gravel. This is because in the 15th century the Japanese Civil War put a stop to all gardening except in Buddhist monasteries. Here the monks kept up the tradition but in a very simple form. Sand represented the ocean and was raked daily to create wave forms. Uncut and weathered stones represented gods, mountains and animals.
Japanese gardens are always separated from the surrounding land. Bamboo can be used for boundary fencing and for fencing to divide various parts of the garden. It should be tall and solid enough to conceal distracting views when contemplating the stones. Stepping stones laid on gravel are deliberately spaced to slow you down and leave behind your daily cares.
A typical feature of Japanese gardens is a small bamboo pipe pivoted on a stand. When the pipe is filled it tips forward and then drops back on to a ‘sounding stone’ with a clack. This device was originally designed as a bird and animal scarer to protect crops.