The development of Japanese gardens is closely associated with religious beliefs and Japan’s history. There are three classic types of Japanese garden: palace and temple gardens, Karesansui gardens and tea gardens.
Palace and temple gardens
Japanese garden design began more than a thousand years ago. In the middle of the Heinan period (8th century), Japanese gardens were, however, heavily influenced by Chinese garden design, which aimed to clarify cosmic order and the cycle of the seasons. Back then, Japanese palace and temple gardens were generously sized pond landscapes. They were very luxuriant, colourful and characterised by a large variety of plants.
In the 10th century, the relationship to China broke off. A new religious attitude was also starting to be felt in Japan’s gardens. In the 14th century, the Zen monks reduced the variety of materials and turned to abstract shapes. The result was the Karesansui garden, in which subjects from Taoism and Buddhism are represented in an abstract way with gravel, stones and just a few plants.
Tea gardens began to develop at the start of the 17th century. They surrounded a tea house and ensured absolute isolation from the outside world. When they followed a special path to the tea house, guests «escaped» from the real world and used this time to come to inner peace and get in the proper frame of mind for the tea ceremony. A bench and a purification stone for cleaning hands and later also a stone lantern for ceremonies after dark were the main elements of the tea garden. Cultivated areas with thick bamboo or shrubs contributed to creating an impression of a secluded world.
Today, private gardens in Japan are generally quite small. Details of nature are recreated, which typically results in green gardens full of plants. Trees and high-growing bushes are combined with azaleas and other flowers. Here, natural stone for walkways and boulders play a major role.