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Arts and Crafts
Haiku Poetry
Tea Ceremony
Traditional Theatre


In spite of some dramatic climate differences between the cooler north of Hokkaido and the subtropical south of Okinawa, much of Japan enjoys warm, temperate conditions with plenty of rainfall.

This largely temperate climate has provided the Japanese people with a wealth of flora and fauna. The importance of being in harmony with nature cannot always be easily understood by the western observer -although as a concept it lies at the very heart of Japanese spiritual life.

To the Japanese, people are just as much part of this natural world  so a well-ordered, man-made garden is not seen as artificial - it is more likely to be viewed as the perfect expression of man and nature working in harmony.

 The many immaculate gardens bear testament to this philosophy, many of which are centuries old having originated around Shinto shrines and that religion’s reverence of nature. The introduction of Buddhism brought with it the ideal of paradise which Japanese tried to reflect through nature. 

There is no simple definition of what constitutes a Japanese garden, nor is there a single style. To western eyes, two of the most striking elements are stone lanterns and beds of raked gravel, but neither on its own is enough to make a garden Japanese.  The Japanese have long been recognized for their exquisite gardens. Regarded as an art, the traditional Japanese landscape gardens can be broadly categorized into three types, Tsukiyama gardens (hill gardens), Karesansui gardens (dry gardens) and Chaniwa gardens (tea gardens). In a Tsukiyama Garden, elements such as water, hills, stones, bridges, and paths are employed to create a miniature version of natural scenery, often a landscape from China or Japan. Karesansui Gardens are more abstract. They attempt to recreate natural scenery using rocks, sand, gravel, and moss. Chaniwa gardens are built specifically for the tea ceremony and include a teahouse. Each area of the country includes famous gardens. Many of the spectacular ones are in the Kyoto area. If interested, make sure you get the proper permissions to view the gardens.


Tsukiyama Garden  is a term to denote a hill garden as opposed to a flat garden (hiraniwa). Tsukiyama gardens typically feature an artificial hill combined with a pond and a stream and various plants, shrubs, and trees. Such gardens can be viewed from various vantage points as you stroll along the garden paths, or appreciated from a particular temple building or house on the grounds. Representative examples can be found at Tenryuji Temple (pictured below) and Saihoji Temple, both in Kyoto. Tsukiyama literally means constructed mountain. The older term was kasan (artificial mountain). Tsukiyama gardens became particularly popular in the early Edo period. One common type of Tsukiyama garden is the tortoise and crane garden, which typically shows these fortuitous creatures on two separate islands, together with an isle of eternal youth. Representative examples can be found at Daigoji Sanboin Temple and Kodaiji Temple, both in Kyoto. 

Karesansui or Dry-Landscape Gardens   A common type of garden which suggests mountains and water using only stones, sand or gravel and, occasionally, plants. Water is symbolized both by the arrangements of rock forms to create a dry waterfall (karetaki) and by patterns raked into sand to create a dry stream (karenagare).  Like paintings, the gardens are meant to be viewed from a single, seated perspective. In addition to the aesthetic similarities to Chinese painting, the rocks in karesansui are often associated with Chinese mountains such as Mt. Houraisan  or Mt. Rosan. Given the multiple Chinese associations of karesansui gardens, they are the preferred type of garden for Zen temples (Buddhism having arrived from China in the 7c) and the best examples are found in the front or rear gardens of Zen abbots' residences, houjou. Exemplary Muromachi period examples include the gardens at the Daisen'in in Daitokuji  and at Ryouanji. While Muromachi karesansui tend to use plants sparingly, early Edo period gardens of this type often contrast an area of raked gravel with a section of moss and larger plants along the rear wall. The gardens at the houjou and Konchi'in at Nanzenji are good examples. The aesthetic consonance with abstract art largely accounts for the resurgence of karesansui gardens both in Japan and abroad in the 20c. A good example of a modern karesansui is Shigemori Mirei's 1939 east garden at the Houjou  of Toufukuji are usually attached to Zen Buddhist temples and consist of meticulously raked gravel and carefully laid out groups of stones. The abstract forms created are intended as objects of meditation - specific viewpoints are created from which the visitor is encouraged to survey the garden. The Ryoan-ji temple in Kyoto has a particularly fine example.

Tea Gardens or ’Chaniwa Gardens’ are usually the smallest form and act as a link between the tea-house and its revered tea-ceremony and the outside world. A small path leading to the tea-house at the centre is generally surrounded by carefully pruned and clipped plants with symbols of purity such as stone basins. Often these garden are found within larger stroll- or paradise-gardens

The Japanese more so than the Chinese are fond of "flower viewing," which is itself a national pastime.  They are also extremely fond of "moon-viewing," or the viewing of gardens under the special mystical powers of moonlight.  In fact, the Japanese deliberately create garden features which are beautiful by day but even more so by moonlight.  The third form of viewing popular in Japan is "snow-viewing," or the observation of the "winter display of nature.


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