Elements of a Japanese Garden

Japanese gardens are traditional gardens that use various plants and accessories to create beautiful landscapes that are miniature representations of natural scenery. Although first developed in Japan hence their name, these gardens have gained worldwide popularity and appeal.

Traditionally emperors and other wealthy noble men had gardens designed at their homes by master garden artists. These gardens were mostly for recreational pleasure. In Buddhist temples on the other hand, gardens were grown as peaceful and calm spaces for monks to meditate and contemplate about life and spirituality.

The first gardens in Japan were made by traders who having travelled to China, copied the beautiful style of gardening that they saw in these foreign lands. These gardens had a strong Chinese influence but over time the gardens in Japan evolved to reflect Japanese culture, religion, landscape, seasonal changes and materials that could be locally sourced.

In more recent times, gardens have been developed in public places like universities, office complexes and hospitals, a sharp contrast to earlier private gardens in homes and temples.

There are styles of garden each of which is popular for various reasons. These include;

  • Zen gardens/ rock gardens which are among the most popular
  • Rustic gardens
  • Promenade or stroll gardens

Elements of a Japanese garden

These oriental gardens are designed in a meticulous manner according to defined principles. Below are some of the main elements used when designing them.

  1. Water

Water is a hugely significant element of the design. Common water sources like streams, waterfalls and ponds are used and some cases for example when developing a dry rock garden, white sand is used to imitate water.  The location of water in a garden is important and also carries either cultural or religious significance. Famous lakes in Japan, some real others mythical are represented by ponds in the garden.

Some ponds that are large enough allow visitors to the garden to enjoy it by sitting on boats.

  1. Rocks and sand

Creation of life like landscapes are a key aspect of Japanese gardens. Rocks and sand are used to create landscapes that are so beautiful that they can sometimes be mistaken for picture paintings.
Common scenes in the garden like mountains, beaches, fish, water (in a dry rock garden) can all be represented by rocks. Stones are also used as material for bridges and as decorative elements along ponds and streams

  1. Garden bridges

bridge-in-japanese-gardenVarious materials including stone and logs are used to construct bridges that serve different purposes; for example in promenade gardens, they were used as a gateway to allow visitors to walk through and enjoy the gardens and they can also be used to connect different areas of the garden.




  1. Islands

Are used to replicate islands which can be either real or mythical, with the common factor that these Islands are revered within Japanese culture. Depending on the size of the garden, they can range in size from really small Islands to ones that are so large that entire buildings like tea houses or pavilions can be constructed on them.


  1. Lanterns:

These are mostly used for decorative purposes but were originally used to light paths and gates of the gardens

  1. Water basins:

    made out of stone, these accessories are used for ritual cleansing during tea cleansing.

  2. Plants

Various plants including cherry trees, bamboos, and moss and pine trees are some of the more popular plants used in gardens. This vegetation plays an important role in the design and beauty of the garden. Vegetation is carefully organised and planted in locations where they can be enjoyed the most.
The more that the rest of the world learns about Japanese culture and way of life, the more these are adapted worldwide. Japanese gardens and small sized trees are perfect examples of these as both have been adapted for and become popular in far flung places like America and Africa.


More about these beautiful gardens.



5 Books For Art Lovers


There has probably never been a better time to be a book lover with regard to how accessible books are these days. The creation of the Kindle made it possible to have books from any parts of the world at the click of a button regardless of whether the books are stocked by local book stores. Although I buy lots of electronic books, I must admit that I am still a bit old fashioned in that I like to be able to feel the pages of a book.  There are so many books aimed at art lovers and I decided to do this blog on some of my favorites.

Alternative Histories: New York Art Spaces, 1960-2010

(MIT Press) by Lauren Rosati

This 400 page book documents alternative art spaces and groups from the period between 1960 to 2010 in New York. It was published to accompany an exhibition that explored the same theme.

It includes pictures, interviews and essays of individuals who were active during the time and made important contributions in the artist scene in New York.

Art: A world History

by Elke Linda Buchholz, Susanne Kaeppele, Karoline Hille, Irina Stotland

A pocket sized book containing about 900 illustrations of famous art works, this book is a great reference book for anyone looking to learn more about art history or anyone that is a new art lover. It is great for anyone looking for more information about famous paintings or iconic artists including things like they were born, who their major influences were and where they died. Although the layout is great, because of the size it might be hard to read the print size for some people.

Art History, Combined Volume

by Marilyn Stokstad and Michael. W. Cothren

Although this book is sold as a text book for college courses, it is a good addition for any art lovers book shelf.

At 1240 pages, there is no doubt that this is a heavy book, luckily it also has an electronic version which might appeal to art lovers who do not have the space, or would prefer a more portable book. The electronic version of the book does not compromise on quality.

The book provides a lot of information on the subject of art but is written in such a way that even anyone without prior knowledge will find it an easy read.

Draw Paint Print like a great artists

is a book by the illustrator Marion Deuchars.

This an activity book aimed at adults or young adults who want to improve their art skills or any artist looking for inspiration. Marion introduces readers to the techniques used by famous artists like Frida Kahlo, Philip Guston among other well-known names. It also explores various styles of art.

The book is divided in to sections that cover different techniques about drawing, painting and even collage. Each section of the book contains projects based on the featured artist’s techniques as artists. The write up on each of the featured artists including their influences and their artist style is a nice surprise

A nice surprise is a brief write up on the artists featured in the book


Get unstuck, Discover new ideas. Advice and projects from 50 successful artists by Danielle Kysa

Similar to the book above, this one is another book aimed at anyone looking for artistic inspiration. It contains beautiful art, words and advice for any artist struggling in their art or looking for inspiration. It is always interesting to read about other people’s creative processes and the author provides us with this insight through the interviews from more than 50 contemporary artists.

A youtube Review of the activity book

Famous Japanese Gardens

Japanese gardens are popular worldwide because of their tranquility and beauty. This is evidenced by the fact that this style of design has been adapted to suit almost all four corners of the world. For any lover however, the chance to experience a Japanese garden in Japan can be a once in a lifetime opportunity.  Below are gardens that are popular tourist attractions in Japan.


Although its formal name is Rokuon-ji, it is also known as the temple of the golden pavilion, this is a Buddhist temple found in Kyoto, Japan. The temple is a popular tourist attraction and has been declared a World Heritage site.

Consisting of 3 floors, the temple is an example of the extravagantly beautiful style of design that was popular during the era it was constructed. One of its most famous features is the fact that the upper 2 floors are completely covered in gold leaves. The reflection of these gold leaves in the pond is also an exquisite site to behold.

Dating back to 1397, the temple has been destroyed by fire numerous times with the most recent being in 1950. Reconstruction was carried out in 1955 keeping largely to the original.

The garden in the temple is designed in a Japanese promenade style and consists of element commonly found in all Japanese including a pond which houses 10 small islands. There is also a tea house and visitors have the opportunity to enjoy match tea which is sold along with other souvenirs outside the garden exit.

Ryoan-ji The temple of the Dragon

This a zen garden located in Kyoto Japan. Although there is some contention as to when the garden was built and by whom, it is estimated to have been developed some time in the later part of the 15 the century.  It is an example of a dry landscape rock garden which was a common style used to design gardens that were mostly constructed for the aim of aiding in meditation.

The garden is meant to be observed by sitting on the veranda of the monastery. Smaller in proportion when compared to other Japanese gardens, it is shaped like a rectangle and contains 15 stones of various sizes. The walls surrounding it are made of clay.

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Although also commonly known as the Silver pavilion, silver was not used in the construction of the temple. The original designs of the temple had called for the use of silver foil as a finish but this was never done. It is still a remarkable price of design. The main temple is 2 floors high. Construction started in 1482.

The beautiful zen garden in the temple which was designed by one of Japan’s most respected landscape artists consists of a sand garden that is raked to represent mount Fuji. It also consists beautiful woodland and hills covered in moss.

Visitors can visit the gardens daily.

Ritsurin Garden (Takamatsu)

This strolling garden is located in Takamatsu city. Although originally constructed as a private retreat, it has been opened to the public since 1875.  Within the surroundings are bridges, hills, foot paths, lakes, ponds, streams and trees. The ponds and steams most of which are filled with Koi fish are favourites among tourists.


This garden was built in the 1700 under the rule of the fourth Lord of the Okayama castle. It is located near the Okayama castle in the Okayama prefecture. The garden which consists of tea houses, streams and ponds have been open to the public since 1884. It is designed in such a way that at every turn of the paths that cover the lengths of the garden, visitors are met with a different view.

Like many other gardens in Japan, it has not escaped damage by floods and bombings during World war 11, it has been restored to original designs based on paintings and other records.

Interesting Facts About Cherry Blossoms

cherry-blossom-flowersCherry blossoms are loved all over the world and each year, when in season, appearance is celebrated. They are a breath taking reminder that spring is has either arrived or is on its way. Below are facts that might interest anyone who like myself cannot get enough of these flowers.

Cherry blossoms produce flowers for a very short period of time during the year sometimes for as little as 2 weeks. The small delicate flowers are either pink or white or a mixture of both.

Most varieties of Cherry blossom trees that are cultivated for their flowers do not produce fruit.

Although cherry blossoms are popularly associated with Japan, it is believed that they are originally from the Himalayas. They thrive in the temperate zone and have thrived in various parts of the world including Japan, United States, China,India and Canada among others.

Cherry blossoms are the unofficial flowers of Japan. Although there are over 200 varieties in Japan, the variety that is the most popular is the Somei Yoshio, which has flowers that are mostly white with a few pale pink flowers.

In many countries, the time when the trees start to bloom is closely monitored by the public. In Japan, a tradition called Hanami is practiced where by people gather in parks and other viewing sports to enjoy the beautiful flowers.

The national cherry blossom festival is held every year in Washington to celebrate the first cherry blossom trees that were given as a gift by the mayor of Tokyo to mark the friendship between the 2 countries. This article by national geographic describes how the trees almost never made it to Washington. The first batch of trees had to be destroyed because they were infected by disease and how the second batch were almost not planted either.

Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington DC

Cherry tree can grow to various heights depending in the species. In their natural habitat some of them will grow as high as 75 feet while others peak at 25 feet. Dwarf trees are also popularly used for home gardens

In Japan, blossoms are not only enjoyed for their beautiful but have other uses as well; the flowers can be pickled and used to make a hot drink that is served on special occasions. The pickled leaves of the tree can also be used to wrap sweets. Apparently cherry blossoms are also used in the making of ice-cream.



Plants in Japanese gardens


In any style of garden, the vegetation is perhaps one if the features that can make or break the garden and Japanese gardens are no exception. Although any plants can be used to develop the garden, there are some popular plants that are associated with these gardens and make a good addition to any garden. Various types of vegetation is used to ensure that the garden is interesting during all the seasons of the year.

One of the interesting principles in Japanese garden art deign is that unlike in the western parts of the world, flowers are no the most important vegetation in the garden. Instead they can be used as accents and to add colour to specific areas of the garden.  Instead trees are the focal feature of the garden.  In these gardens trees and plants of different colour are used in the garden.


As mentioned above, trees provide important areas of interest in the garden.

  • They are often used to provide focal points in a garden.
  • Trees also provide the perfect backdrop for all the other elements in the garden.
  • Certain trees will flower in the spring for example cherry blossom trees,

The 2 main types of trees used are evergreen and deciduous trees because they can be enjoyed all year long.
Evergreen trees:  are a constant source of green color in the garden throughout the year. Examples of evergreen trees include coastal redwoods, Cedar and Canadian hemlock

Deciduous trees: During seasonal changes of the year these trees change to introduce interesting features to the garden for example Maples are popular because during the autumn their leaves turn a magnificent shade or red. Examples of deciduous trees include water oaks

Below is a video of the meaning of some trees in a Japanese garden.


Flowering shrubs and hedges

Popular examples of shrubs include Azalea, which should be planted in acidic soil, Hydrangea,Carmellia, Japanese irises, and Japanese bell flowers. Hedges which are usually trimmed into traditional shapes are common plants in Japanese gardens. The flowering quince is an example of the more common plants used as hedges.


Flowers and Trees in Japanese Garden

Ground cover plants like moss and ferns

Ground cover plants can be used to add texture to a garden.Since mosses do well in damp climates and cool shades, they might not be practical in places that experience drier summer months. This can off course be substituted by using other plants as ground cover as long as they grow in a compact fashion and are not demanding on the soil.

Although the vegetation above are commonly used, when creating Japanese gardens, they can be adapted to use plants that can thrive in the particular climatic location where the garden is located.

Using Koi fish in Japanese tattoos

Tattoos have been popular for centuries but recently the popularity of shows like NY ink have made them even more mainstream. Most people who get tattoos will get something that has personal meaning and value to them for example picture of a loved one, or an image that brings to mind a particular memory or point/ stage in their lives. Koi fish are some of the most common images use for Japanese style tattoos.

Koi fish are a common feature in Japanese gardens, both within the country and in other parts of the world. They are interesting and colorful additions to Koi ponds and water gardens.

History of the Koi fish

Although originally from China,Koi fish found their way to Japan through Chinese warriors who introduced them during their conquests in Japan. They are a type of carp that were domesticated in China that were bred primarily because of their physical appearance.  They can be found in a variety of colors including cream, yellow, red, white, and black, orange/gold. The fact that they can adapt to different climatic conditions had also increased their spread in different parts of the world.

There is no doubt that the fact that Koi is such a beautiful fish to look, is one of the reason why it is so popular in tattoos but the legend that surrounds it has also contributed to the meanings associated with it.

Legend of the Koi fish

According to this legend which has slight variations in the Chinese and Japanese versions, one fish managed to overcome and cross strong currents in a waterfall in the yellow river and was turned into a dragon as a reward by the gods because of its tenacity and perseverance.

Over the years it has had several meanings attached to it including;

  • Strength, courage and perseverance
  • Good luck
  • The ability to overcome obstacles in life
  • They can also be used to represent a transformation or stage in life that an individual has gone through or overcome.

The direction that the fish is swimming in a tattoo can be used to give further meaning to a tattoo for example a fish that is swimming upstream can be used to mean that one is in the process of overcoming a struggle while a fish swimming downstream can mean that one has already overcome an obstacle or to celebrate a victory or achievement of a goal.

From the above it can be seen that tattoos of Koi fish are not only beautiful to look at but can also have personal stories attached to them.