The primary structure of a Japanese garden is determined by the architecture that contains it; i.e. the framework of durable elements such as buildings, verandas and terraces, paths, tsukiyama (artificial hills) and stone compositions. It is ideal for setting in small areas or places without sufficient light or ventilation for a traditional garden.

There is a wide range of Zen thinking in the Japanese garden. Here are some key elements as examples:

Gates (torii), fences, straw ropes and cloth banners served as signs to mark the steps.

Bridges(hashi), passing over the bridge was analogous to passing from one world to another. When the Zen influence came to the fore, bridges took on the more Taoist meaning of passing from the world of man to the world of nature, a transition from this plane to a higher one.

Waterfall (Mizu) Buddhism has always considered water the most suitable metaphor of human existence, which gushes, takes strength in its downhill run to disappear placidly into the sea (reborn still like rain). In garden ponds, create a “negative” space in the garden where nothing else resides.

Plantations. Although Zen actually narrowed down the plant palette when it arrived, there are still some Zen ideas in the plantations. Large bamboos are often found in temple gardens as reeds are a perfect example of the principle of mushin or “empty heart” (empty heart provides strength through flexibility). Plums are a recurring Zen theme, they bloom leafless, often while the snow is still on the ground (symbolizing resilience and reborn). Pine is known as mutsua sound similar to the word ‘waiting’, so it is set in the garden as a symbol of strength and patience

Shrines they were more of a mental construct than a physical location, a place that existed in the mind instead of a place that could be seen. The sanctuary is a place of spirit. It is also a place where humans and the spirit meet.

Sand or gravel represents water. Raked or not raked, which symbolizes sea, ocean, rivers or lakes.

The act of raking the gravel in a pattern reminiscent of waves or rippling water has an aesthetic function. Zen priests also practice this roundup to aid their concentration. Achieving the perfection of the lines is not easy. The rakes are according to the desired ridge patterns and limited to some of the stone objects located within the gravel area. However, models are often not static. Developing model variations is a creative and inspiring challenge.

Stones are the main elements of design in the Japanese garden. For the Japanese they are considered more important than trees, perhaps due to the strong desire for eternity and stones represent the eternal elements in nature. In Japanese garden design, stones are used in combination with other stones or sand to imply a natural scene or to create an abstract design. The shapes of natural stones have been divided into five categories called five natural stones. The Japanese used the characters of wood, fire, earth, metal, and water to represent stone elements and they are applied to five classes of stone shapes:

  1. Taido: wood. Vertical high. It involves tall trees. Also called body stones, placed in the back of a grouping.
  2. Reisho: metal. Low vertical. It implies the stability and firmness of the metal. Often grouped with tall verticals. It is sometimes called soul stones.
  3. Shigyo: fire. Arching. Branches that have the shape of fire. These types of branches are called stone atmosphere and pee stones. Often placed in the front and to one side of other shapes.
  4. Shintai: water. Flat or horizontal. Called level base stones or stone of mind and body. Usually used for harmonization in rock groupings.
  5. Kikyaku: earth. Reclining. Often known as root or prostrate stones. Usually placed in the foreground to create a harmonious look.

The message in Zen Garden is that each divided area remains representative of the whole of nature; the fence helps us recognize division and the garden should remind us of it all. The gates in the fences are very similar to the bridge in profound meaning; the phrase “go through the gate” is a metaphor for becoming a monk.

Transition between one state of existence and the next.

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