Gardens in Japan are of two distinct types: those that are experienced by walking round them and those that are simply viewed from a building or veranda.
Attempts to categorise gardens are inherently restrictive and frequently impossible. However certain design styles can be identified, whether the garden is an expression of one or several of them. These general styles have distinct characteristics, defined not only by appearance but also size and purpose of the garden. They are:
- Pond and island gardens
- Dry landscape gardens (karesansui)
- Tea Gardens (cha niwa)
- Stroll gardens (kaiyushiki teien)
- Courtyard gardens (tsubo niwa)
Although ‘gardens’ appears in these titles it is often the case that only part of a garden may be in that style. Stroll gardens in particular may contain several of the other styles.
Pond and Island gardens
This is the oldest type of garden to be found in Japan. The islands in the pond were considered sacred spaces, representations of heaven, often with bridges to them from the sides of the pond.
Dry landscape gardens (Karesansui)
These gardens are particularly associated with Zen temples and are so-called because sand or gravel is used to represent water. (Karesansui means literally ‘dry mountain water’). Gravel, raked in a variety of ways, is a common ground cover treatment, representing the ocean.
Tea gardens (Cha niwa)
Essentially the Tea garden is a path or Roji (literally ‘dewy path’), which leads the visitor from the outer ‘everyday’ world to the Tea house, often composed with stepping stones. They came to prominence in the 16th century under the guidance of Tea masters such as Sen no Rikyu.
Stroll gardens (Kaiyushiki teien)
These are gardens which are intended to be viewed as the visitor walks or strolls around them. They retain a link to the original ‘pond and island’ model of garden, frequently being centred round a large pond, often with a convoluted shoreline.
Courtyard gardens (Tsubo-niwa)
Tsubo niwa are gardens in relatively small spaces found between buildings. They can be among the residences of the aristocracy, in temples, as well as in the more secular settings of traditional merchants’ houses in cities such as Kyoto.