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.