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Japanese gardens harness elements such as ponds, streams, hills, and islands to create stunning and miniature replicas, yet unique natural scenery. There are a variety of elements combined to make the distinguished Japanese gardens.

Sand, Gravel, and Stones
Stones have been a significant part of Japanese culture since ancient times. Well known and large stones are worshiped as kami (shinto gods) in Shinto religion, while gravel identified with sacred grounds. This can be seen at some ancient shrines, Kamigamo Shrine (Kyoto) or the Ise Shrine for example.

Today, hills and mountains are symbolized using large stones. Stones also set decorative accents, and are used to build pathways and bridges. Ponds and streams are bordered with smaller rocks and gravel. Uniquely, dry gardens incorporate only stones. Waterfalls, mountains, and islands are symbolized by large stones, while sand and gravel replace water.

Ponds, Streams, and Waterfalls
Ponds are a central feature in most gardens. Real or mythical lakes and seas are often represented by ponds, while providing a habitat for koi fish. This also introduces additional color, aesthetic, and life to the garden.

Ponds may be used for boating or pavilions built over the water in recreational gardens. These have often been locations for Moon viewing parties as well as aristocratic poetry in past centuries.

Bridges and Islands
Bridges are built of stone or wood and can range from large, elaborate structures to simple slabs of rock.

Islands range in size from single rock formations to large enough to support buildings. They usually illustrate real islands or have religious symbolism, such turtles and cranes, or Horai, a sacred mountain in Taoism.

Japanese gardens, of course, embrace various flowers, lawns, shrubs, and trees of all kinds. Many are chosen for their seasonal appeal and are skillfully placed to focus on these qualities. Specifically plum, pine, and bamboo trees are held in great interest during the winter months while other vegetation is dormant. Mosses are vastly used as well.

Great endeavors are taken to maintain a plant’s exquisiteness while also being skillfully arranged around the gardens. Lawns, shrubs, and trees are diligently maintained and mosses are swept clean. In the winter season, trees and plants are protected against bug infestations and are also insulated from the snow using straw, burlap, and ropes.

Large man made hills, used especially in bigger gardens, represent real or mythical mountains. Some hills present visitors a panoramic and striking view of the garden.

Lanterns come in many shapes and sizes and have been a common component of Japanese garden design throughout history. They are usually made of stone and are placed deliberately in selected locations, such as on islands, next to significant buildings, and at the ends of peninsulas, where they provide both light and a pleasing aesthetic. Lanterns are often paired with water basins, which together make a basic feature of tea gardens.

Water Basins
Many gardens contain stone water basins (tsukubai). These are used for ritual cleansing, especially ahead of tea ceremonies. Basins are usually provided with a bamboo dipper for scooping up water. Nowadays, they often appear as a decorative addition more than for a practical use. Often paired with lanterns, water basins are an essential element of tea gardens.

With the introduction of strolling and tea gardens, paths became an integral part of Japanese gardens. Strolling gardens feature circular paths constructed of stepping stones, sand or packed earth, and crushed gravel. These are intentionally positioned to lead visitors to the best views of the garden. Winding paths also serve to set apart different areas from each other, so that they may be contemplated individually.

Many types of gardens were built to be viewed from inside a building, such as a palace or temple. Gardens meant to be entered and enjoyed from within use buildings as a part of the garden's composition, including tea houses, guest houses, and pavilions.

Borrowed Scenery
Borrowed scenery (shakkei) is the concept of integrating background landscape outside of the garden into the garden’s design. Natural objects, such as mountains and hills, as well as man made structures, such as castles, can be used as borrowed scenery. In modern times, skyscrapers have mostly become an unintentional borrowed scenery for some gardens in the cities.

photo of Japanese gardens one photo of Japanese gardens two photo of Japanese gardens three

Best Gardens in Japan

photo of Motsuji Temple

Tohoku | Iwate | Hiraizumi

Motsuji Temple

Motsuji Temple is mostly known for its Pure Land Garden that has been well preserved since the 12th century.

photo of Hama-Rikyu Garden

Kanto | Tokyo | Central Tokyo

Hama-Rikyu Garden

Hama Rikyu is a large landscape garden that is located alongside Tokyo Bay.

photo of Kairakuen Garden

Kanto | Ibaraki | Mito

Kairakuen Garden

Kairakuen garden is one of the three most beautiful landscape gardens in Japan.

photo of Rikugien Garden

Kanto | Tokyo | Northern Tokyo

Rikugien Garden

Rikugien Garden is considered one of the most beautiful landscape gardens in Tokyo.

photo of Koishikawa Korakuen Garden

Kanto | Tokyo | Central Tokyo

Koishikawa Korakuen Garden

Koishikawa Korakuen is one of the best and oldest Japanese gardens in Tokyo.

photo of Sankeien Garden (Yokohama)

Kanto | Kanagawa | Yokohama

Sankeien Garden (Yokohama)

Sankeien Garden is a Japanese style garden located in the southern part of Yokohama.

photo of Kenrokuen Garden

Chubu | Ishikawa | Kanazawa

Kenrokuen Garden

Kenrokuen Garden is one of Japan’s top 3 landscape gardens and is located outside of Kanazawa Castle.

photo of Korankei

Chubu | Aichi | Nagoya


Korankei is located in Aichi prefecture and is a popular location for viewing autumn leaves in Nagoya.

photo of Shukkeien Garden

Chugoku | Hiroshima | Hiroshima City

Shukkeien Garden

A scenic garden commissioned by Asano Nagaakira which remained as a private villa until 1940 located in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan

photo of Kokoen Garden

Kansai | Hyogo | Himeji

Kokoen Garden

Kokoen Garden is located on the west side of Himeji Castle and consists of 9 different gardens.

photo of Yoshikien Garden

Kansai | Nara | Nara City

Yoshikien Garden

Yoshikien Garden is a traditional Japanese style garden located in Nara and established around 1919 during the Meiji Period.

photo of Fujikawa Koukaen

Kansai | Osaka | Osaka City

Fujikawa Koukaen

Fujikawa Koukaen is a bonsai nursery and a place for apprentices and students to practice their craft.

photo of Konchiin Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Konchiin Temple

Konchiin Temple is a sub temple of Nanzenji and has a garden that was designed by Kobori Enshu, a famous garden designer and tea master.

photo of Shisendo Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Shisendo Temple

Shisendo Temple was a mountain hermitage built by Ishikawa Jozan, a scholar, landscape architect, and soldier.

photo of Genkyuen Garden

Kansai | Shiga | Hikone

Genkyuen Garden

Genkyuen Garden is a Japanese landscape garden and located on the grounds of Hikone Castle.

photo of Sorakuen Garden

Kansai | Hyogo | Kobe

Sorakuen Garden

Sorakuen Garden is located in the center of Kobe and is a traditional Japanese landscape garden.

photo of Nanzenji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Nanzenji Temple

Nanzenji Temple is located at the foot of the Higashiyama Mountains and is one the head temples of the Rinzai Sect of Japanese Zen Buddhism.

photo of Daitokuji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Daitokuji Temple

Daitokuji Temple features five different rock gardens that embody the teachings of Zen Buddhism.

photo of Isuien Garden

Kansai | Nara | Nara City

Isuien Garden

Isuien is a Japanese style garden located in Nara. The garden was established in the Meiji era, and is a walking garden to enjoy the scenic view of Nara.

photo of Golden Pavilion

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Golden Pavilion

Kinkakuji Temple, also known as Golden Pavilion, is a Zen Temple in the northern part of Kyoto. It is known for its top two floors, which are covered in gold leaf.

photo of Saihoji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Saihoji Temple

Saihoji Temple is commonly known as Kokedera (Moss Temple) and is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto.

photo of Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Katsura Rikyu Imperial Villa

The Katsura Imperial Villa has a Japanese garden, which is considered a masterpiece along with great examples of Japanese architecture.

photo of Tofukuji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Tofukuji Temple

Tofukuji Temple is best known for its autumn colors around the Tsutenkyo Bridge, which extends through a valley of maple of trees.

photo of Shugakuin Rikyu Imperial Villa

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Shugakuin Rikyu Imperial Villa

Shugakuin Imperial Villa was built in the 17th century for Emperor Gomizuno and has multiple structures with beautiful gardens.

photo of Ryoanji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Ryoanji Temple

Ryoanji Temple has one of the most famous rock garden in Japan, which brings in hundreds of visitors a day.

photo of Byodoin Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Uji

Byodoin Temple

The Byodoin Temple was built by Fujiwara Yorimichi, the Chief Adviser to the Emperor, in 1053. It was originally a rural villa owned by his father.

photo of Tenryuji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Tenryuji Temple

Tenryuji Temple is one of the most important temples in the Arashiyama District and has a garden that has been around for centuries.

photo of Ginkakuji Temple

Kansai | Kyoto | Kyoto City

Ginkakuji Temple

Ginkakuji Temple, also known as the Silver Pavilion, is a Zen temple that was built to be a retirement villa for Ashikaga Yoshimasa.

photo of Adachi Museum of Art

Chugoku | Shimane | Matsue

Adachi Museum of Art

Adachi Museum of Art is located in the city of Yasugi and the Zen gardens in the museum have won annually for being one of the best Japanese gardens in the country.

photo of Korakuen Garden

Chugoku | Okayama | Okayama City

Korakuen Garden

Korakuen Garden is recognized for being one of Japan’s three landscape gardens. It is located in Okayama and is the city’s main attraction.

photo of Shukukeien Garden

Chugoku | Hiroshima | Hiroshima City

Shukukeien Garden

A scenic garden commissioned by Asano Nagaakira which remained as a private villa until 1940 located in Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan.

photo of Ritsurin Koen Park

Shikoku | Kagawa | Takamatsu

Ritsurin Koen Park

A 3 star Michelin Green Guide rated traditional garden of Takamatsu, often closely referred to as one of the most beautiful gardens of Japan.

photo of Suizenji Garden

Kyushu | Kumamoto | Kumamoto City

Suizenji Garden

The Suizenji Garden was commissioned by Lord Hosokawa Tadatoshi in 1636 as an oasis to enjoy tea.

photo of Senganen Garden

Kyushu | Kagoshima | Kagoshima City

Senganen Garden

A landscape garden and primary residence of Shimazu Clan with some of the earliest industrial structures in Japan, which have been designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

photo of Shikinaen Garden

Okinawa Islands | Okinawa | Naha

Shikinaen Garden

A part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site featuring traditional Okinawan structures and garden as a second residence for the Ryukyu royal family.