There is no strict definition of a Japanese Garden. Most western people associate a Japanese Garden with ponds and lanterns but a Japanese Garden does not need to include neither water nor lanterns. Water is important in a Japanese Garden but it does not have to be real water. Stones and gravels can be used to symbolize water.
One way of describing a Japanese Garden is; nature as art, another popular description is; the combination of natural beauty and man-made perfection. The early development of Japanese Gardens was influenced by the Chinese Gardens, the Asuka, Nara and Heian periods. A lot of the designs of the gardens are based on the two main religions in Japan, Shinto and Buddhism.
The design of Japanese Gardens are in many cases based on three basic principles:
- reduced scale
- shakkei, which translates to borrowed scenery or borrowed view
Mountains and rivers are miniaturized using stones, sand and gravel. Raked sand symbolizes rivers or water. Shakkei is a technique to make a small garden seem more spacious, for example by planting shrubs to block the view of nearby structures, the viewer is encouraged to look up toward the mountains, and to think of them as part of the garden.
A number of different styles of Japanese Gardens exist but no official classification has been defined. The three most basic types are:
Karesansui (waterless rock and sand garden) This type of garden appeared in the Muromachi period (1333-1568) and is influenced strongly by Zen-Buddhist.
Chisen-Kaiyu-skiki (hill and pond garden) A pond or a space filled with raked gravel fronts a hill.
Hiraniwa (flat garden) Often used in courtyards, which need an open flat space for ceremonies.
Tea gardens (Cha Niwa or Roji) The tea garden is usually part of a larger garden. The tea garden is the anteroom to the teahouse. One does not drink tea in the tea garden, it is function is to get the tea drinkers into the right mood before they enter tea house.