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Garden Guide in Japan

Garden design is an important Japanese art form that has been refined for more than 1000 years. Gardens in Japan have evolved into a variety of styles with different purposes, including stroll gardens for Edo Period lords, dry landscape gardens for religious use by Zen Buddhist monks and, in the 21st century, the beautiful and ecological Paradise Garden.

Other than strolling gardens, dry gardens and paradise gardens, you can also enjoy a day out at a tea garden, and experience the Japanese tea ceremony there. Keep reading below and find the details about various gardens in Japan.

Highlights

  • Japanese people view gardens as a means of expressing peace and tranquility through the fine art of landscaping.
  • Japanese gardens utilize elements such as ponds, streams, islands and hills to create miniature reproductions of natural scenery.
  • No matter what time of year you visit Japan, the gardens will be teeming with picturesque landscape.
  • Japan attracts thousands of visitors each year to visit gardens.

Four Types of Gardens in Japan

Traditionally, there are four main styles of Japanese gardens. These four different types represent different meanings, based on their style, their elements and their architectural design. Let’s read about each type of Japanese garden below:

The dry garden represents the spiritualism of Zen Buddhism. It was formed by a Zen Buddhist monk called Muso Soseki. Instead of water, sand or gravel are used in this type of garden to represent a river or the sea. A peaceful garden like this would simply amaze you and let you know the real beauty of Japanese gardens.

The tea garden is a type of beautiful garden with a tea ceremony house in it. Its main features are ishidoro (a small stone lantern), tsukubai (a stone basin where guests can wash their hands), nakakuguri (a middle gate), tobi-ishi (stepping stones) and kakei (a bamboo pipe through which water flows constantly). 

The stroll garden was originally developed in the Edo period. Since then it has become one of the most beautiful styles of gardens that you can see throughout Japan. It features a small central lake or pond with a path around for you to walk on.

The paradise garden is also known as Pure Land Garden and imitates Buddha sitting on a raised level surface or island, in the middle of a lotus pond, contemplating.

Garden Location Type Main Views
Kenroku-en Garden Kanazawa Strolling Garden Cherry and plum blossom, Kanazawa Castle, oldest fountain
Garden in Ryoan-ji Temple Kyoto Dry Landscape Garden Magnificent temple, stone water basin in the rear garden.
Garden in Kokedera Kyoto Paradise Garden Lush green paradise in Kyoto, beautiful temple, pond, tea houses.
Korakuen Garden Okayama Strolling Garden Okayama Castle, tea house, seasonal flowers and trees.
Joruri-ji Garden Kizugawa Paradise Garden Magnificent pagoda, Nine Sitting Statues, Kissho Tennyo Statue.
Motsu-ji Garden Hiraizumi Paradise Garden Historical buildings, huge ponds, standing rock.
Sankeien Garden Yokohama Tea Garden Pagoda, waterfalls, ponds, and other historical buildings.

Kenroku-en Garden in Kanazawa (Strolling Garden)

Kenroku-en is one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan. It was built in the Edo period (1603-1868) for the Maeda Daimyo clan. It used to be the outer garden of Kanazawa Castle. The garden has a large pond and several panoramic views around it. The oldest fountain of Japan can be found there.

Teahouses are also available in the garden, where visitors can drink tea and eat traditional Japanese sweets while admiring the scenery. By the pond is a stone lantern, designed in the image of the Japanese koto (harp), which has become the symbol of Kenroku-en Garden.

Garden in Ryoan-ji Temple, Kyoto (Dry Landscape Garden)

Ryoan-ji is maybe the most famous rock garden of Japan. This garden was built on the grounds of a villa of the Fujiwara clan in the Heian period (794-1185), located in northwest Kyoto City. The iconic temple and its gardens are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should be part of any visit to Kyoto.

It featurs a deceptively simple layout of fifteen stones of various sizes set atop white sand, the meaning of which has been a riddle since its conception.

A further riddle can be found in the small garden at the back of the temple. A small stone water basin sits low down, forcing all those who drew water for the tea ceremonies to crouch low, practising humility.

Garden in Kokedera, Kyoto (Paradise Garden)

The garden of Saiho-ji is acclaimed by many as Kyoto's most beautiful garden and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is especially famous for its moss garden, which is the reason why it is also commonly known as Moss Temple or Koke-dera.

Kokedera offers the unique opportunity for visitors to participate in some of the temple's religious activities. The garden itself contains three tea houses: Shonan-tei, Shoan-do, and Tanhoku-tei. The most popular times to visit are either during the rainy season (in Kyoto, early June to mid-July), when the rains make the moss particularly lush, or in late autumn, when the turning of leaves contrasts with the moss.

Korakuen Garden in Okayama (Strolling Garden)

Okayama Korakuen Garden is considered one of the Three Great Gardens of Japan, alongside Kanazawa City’s Kenroku-en Garden and Mito City’s Kairakuen Garden. It is arranged with wide lawns, representing open-mindedness, which aren’t usually found in Japanese gardens.

Visitors are treated to a spectacular backdrop that features Okayama Castle and the surrounding mountains just outside the park grounds. At the heart of the park lies Ryuten Rest House, which features a stream running through it. Through the flow of the waterway – directed to pass underneath the building – visitors are able to enjoy the movement of the water flowing through the area.

Joruri-ji in Kizugawa (Paradise Garden)

The garden at Joruri-ji is a representation of Gokuraku Jodo or the Western Pure Land. The pond in the middle is modeled after the Sanskrit character “A” and is surrounded by the main hall, housing the Nine Sitting Statues of Amida in the west, and the three-story pagoda enshrining Yakushi Nyorai in the east.

The garden is an untouched, rare example of Jodo-style gardens and is backed by natural environment, joining together to boast beautiful scenes through each season. It is designated as a Special Place of Scenic Beauty in Japan. A visit to this place is a must!

Motsu-ji Garden in Hiraizumi (Paradise Garden)

The temple garden of Mōtsū-ji has been doubly recognized as a Special Historic Site and a Special Place of Scenic Beauty, a tribute to its extraordinary cultural value. The garden was made around a large pond with two islands.

One of the most beautiful scenes in the garden is that of the small island off the peninsula on the southeast side of the pond where a standing rock, more than 2m high, is tilted at exactly the right angle to balance the broad expanse of the water. The garden is best enjoyed by walking along the 500-meter long path that leads around the pond's circumference.

Sankeien Garden in Yokohama (Tea Garden)

Sankeien contains many historical houses and buildings that are recognized as being culturally significant by the government. These buildings were brought to the park from locations all over Japan and include a three storied pagoda, located high up on a hill, deep inside the garden.

This pagoda, originally constructed in Kyoto in the mid-1400s, was relocated to Sankeien in 1914.

As you stroll through the park you will find bridges, streams, small waterfalls, bamboo groves, ponds, and a house. The house is huge; a sprawling, flat dwelling with dozens of spacious, interconnected tatami rooms, where you can enjoy a tea ceremony, overlooking a private green lawn.

A Guided Garden Experience

It’s very worthwhile to go on a guided tour to explore these Japanese gardens. Asia Highlights will help you with all the essentials to get into the gardens and you will be guided along. Our guides are experts, and even if you have little interest in gardens, they will make the visit interesting and insightful.

Asia Highlights can make an individualized tour to suit everyone’s demands. The walk through these gardens is suitable for people of all ages.

Appreciate Japanese Gardens with Asia Highlights

Wandering around a Japanese garden without an expert is meaningless and almost a waste of time. Asia Highlights is here to help you understand and appreciate Japanese gardens! We are an experienced travel company, so you can leave the hassle with us and enjoy your vacation. Drop us an email with your inquiry!

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