A hallmark of Japan’s rich culture is garden design. Japanese gardens use many different elements to mimic natural scenery. For over 1,000 years, this art form has been an essential feature in Japan. The country is well known for its great variety of gardens and if you plan to visit, a trip to see their famous gardens is a must.
Types of Japanese Gardens
Often called a Zen garden, a Japanese rock garden combines the use of rocks, gravel, sand, trees, moss, and bushes to create a unique landscape. Every element is carefully placed, following specific rules and patterns put into place many years ago. Gravel or sand is raked into ripple patterns to imitate the appearance of water while rocks are used to build mounds that look like mountains. In ancient times, rock gardens were built outside Zen temples and were designed to encourage meditation.
Here are a couple of places where you can enjoy Japan’s rock gardens:
The Ryōan-ji (Temple of the Dragon at Peace) has one the most famous rock gardens in Japan. The monks who live at the temple carefully arrange the gravel and rocks every day in the 248 square meter garden.
Address: 13 Goryonoshita-chō, Ukyō-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture
Open every day 8am to 5pm from March to November and 8:30am to 4:30 from December to February.
Entry cost: 500 yen
The Jisso-in Temple incorporates modern features into its Zen garden, creating a unique viewing experience.
Address: 121, Iwakura-agura-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto
Open every day from 9am to 4 pm.
Entry cost: 500 yen
Other Elements of Japanese Gardens
Besides rock gardens, there are many other types of Japanese gardens. Here are some other elements you will see.
Streams, Ponds, and Waterfalls
Ponds and streams are often the focal point of many gardens and sometimes are a symbol of real or mythical bodies of water. They can be for viewing purposes only from a nice pavilion or can be used for boating.
Where to go: The Ninnaji Temple has a beautiful pond and rock garden. It is also famous for its cherry blossom trees.
Address: 33 Ouchi Omuro, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Open 9am to 5pm from March to November and 9am to 4:30pm from December to February.
Entry cost: Free to view the grounds except during cherry blossom season when the fee is 600 yen.
Some larger gardens built during the Edo Period have man-made hills that can represent real or mythical mountains. Some of them are made for visitors to climb up them to get a panoramic view of the garden.
Where to go: The Suizenji Garden was built in the 17th century and is designed for visitors to enjoy the garden by following a circular path. The garden makes use of hills as well as water.
Suizenji Garden suffered damage from Kumamoto’s earthquake in 2016 and closed temporarily. The earthquake damaged the torii (the gateway) and it also caused the water level of the pond to drop temporarily.
Address: 8-1 Suizenjikoen, Kumamoto-shi, Kumamoto-ken
Open 7:30am to 6pm from March to October and 8:30am to 5pm from November to February.
Entry cost: 400 yen
Islands and Bridges
Islands in Japanese gardens range greatly in size and some are big enough to support entire buildings. Some islands were built to resemble objects tied to religious beliefs. Bridges are built from stone or wood to connect the islands. Some bridges are very simple, such as a slab of rock, while others are more intricately designed.
Where to go: The Korakuen is ranked as one of Japan’s top three landscape gardens.
Address: 1-5, Kita-ku, Okayama-shi, Okayama-ken
Open 7:30 to 6pm from March 20th to September and from 8am to 5pm from October to March 19th.
Entry cost: 400 yen
A variety of plants and trees are also found in Japanese gardens. Maple, cherry, pine, bamboo, and plum trees are some of the most popular choices as far as trees go. A range of flowers and shrubs are also a feature at many gardens.
Where to go: The Adachi Museum of Art has annually been named the best garden in Japan since 2003 and is great to view any time of year as you can enjoy a different viewing experience depending on the season.
Address: 320 Furukawa-cho, Yasugi, Shimane
Open 9am to 5:30pm from April to September and 9am to 5pm from October to March.
Entry cost: 2,300 yen
Some other elements of a Japanese garden also include a variety of different kinds of stone paths, stone water basins used for ritual cleansing, as well as lanterns which are carefully placed to provide the best visual.
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