Japanese Garden History has evolved over its 1,300 years.From China with ZEN Buddhist overtones. Built for Emperors, noblemen, the master of the house and sometimes to please a lady ... sounds like modern times ?

Japanese Garden History starts not with Zen Buddhist gardens but with the Chronicles of Japan(Nihon-shoki) written some 1300 years ago in the ASUKA period (538-710).It states that a Korean gardener SHIKOMARO (Michinoko no Takumi)came to the Japanese Imperial Court and created a vast garden with imitation hills,bridges and ponds based on the mountainous areas of China.

Linked to this was the emergance of Buddhist/Shinto religious beliefs. The most beautiful trees and rocks would have rope tied around them amd the area designated as a "holy place"(NIWA)for man to communicate with nature.There are still remains of these historical Japanese gardens in the temples and palaces of the FUJIWARAKYO and NARA prefectures.

Japanese Garden History - Nara Period (710 - 794)

Japanese Garden History states it was in the early part of the NARA period (710-794)when the Chinese(NIWA) formal style and the Japanese style of garden blended and the upper classes made gardens very popular with many being built by noblemen.Present day NARA (Heijokyo)was the new capital city laid out in the Chinese grid pattern and the architecture style of the day being known as SHINDEN with the buildings being connected by pathways.

It was also during this period that many merchants from Japan travelled to China and imported parts of the Chinese culture.One being the Buddhist symbol (SHUMISEN)of a large mountain stone to represent Buddha's home and smaller stones representing his followers. Much travelled they grew to appreciate their own rugged coastline lining their lakes with rocks and pebbles and sand.

The introduction of a strange culture from China and Korea getting new meaning and lease of life in a new enviroment with this period being the start of serious Japanese gardens.A restored garden from the NARA era in NARA is Sakyo-sanjonibo-kyuseki-teien.

Nara garden

Japanese Garden History - Heian Period (794 - 1192)

Over 1200 years of Japanese Garden history,during the HEIAN period (794-1192)the capital of Japan was changed from NARA to(Heian)now KYOTO and the style of palace was the "shindenzukri" architecture with the city layout replicating the Chinese city of XIAN. This era is the also known as Japans Classical period.

With the Japanese garden style now being less religious (temples)and more for amusement and ceremonial usage by wealthy noblemen(YOKIHITO) "the good people" in their lavish palaces.The HIGASHISANJODEN palace is typical of this period, with a large garden complete with ponds,bridges and mountains located at the front (south side)of the palace. This garden is recorded in many scrolls (The Way of Gardening - 10th century!) with detailed informaton, on how this style of Japanese garden was designed and made, written in the book of SAKUTEIKI.

Japanese Garden history shows the gardens of the period that followed the rules stated in the Japanese Garden Bible - "Way of Gardening" are the SAGAIN Palace and MOOTSUJI Temple.Towards the end of this period "pure land" style gardens with Buddhist influences mimiced the fantasy of a "paradise" in the western lands,a land of beauty that surpasses all other realms.Gardens beleived to be inhabited by many gods, men, flowers, fruits and wish-granting trees with nesting rare birds. Hônen (1133–1212) established Pure Land Buddhism as an independent sect in Japan, known as JODO SHU.

During this shift in lifestyle the SHINDIN (sleeping quarters)style of palace evolved into the AMITABHA hall style as can be seen in the JYORURI TEMPLE and the MOTSUJI TEMPLE in HIRAIZUMA were the remains of a winding stream and pond can give the feeling of past granduer..

Garden of Motsuji(毛通寺) in Hiraizumi(平泉) IMG_1144

Pure Land to this day is still an important form of Buddhism in Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam.

Japanese Garden History - Nanbokucho Period (1192 - 1393)

When the KAMAKURA SAMURAI took the political and military power from the Imperial family in KYOTO during the NANBOKUCHO period (1192-1393) many Japanese gardens were created during this time but they lost their palacial pompousness. The Samurai prefering to simplify their gardens and return to nature with the advent of the imported ZEN garden techniques via Buddhist beleifs from mainland China.

The DRY landscape garden style also emerged during this time with Zen monks constructing small Temple gardens reflecting a Zen simplicity, away from the extravagant gardens of the aristocracy. The dry landscape garden with its austere architecture reflects the tastes of the famous Zen priest called MUSO SOSEKI(1275–1351) who after considerable study established many rules; but no written work of his remains. Another priest named MUSO-KOKUSHI became famous for his garden compositions in KYOTO and shown below are some examples.

TENRIU-JI, RIUSEN-JI, and the (Moss Temple)SAIHO-JI in KYOTO, all possessed noted landscapes attributed to him and Samurai for whom it was principally created. It is designed not as a pleasure garden, but as an object of contemplation to be viewed from fixed vantage points.

西芳寺(苔寺)・ Saiho-ji (Moss Temple)

Saiho-ji view

Japanese Garden History - Muromachi Period (1393 - 1572)

In this point in history the Muromachi period was plagued by civil wars, reducing Kyoto to ashes by 1477. At the same time, however, the era proved one of the most fertile and creative periods in Japan's history, giving birth to some of the greatest forms of Japanese culture. The Kamakura government was overthrown by ASHIKAGA YOSHIMITSU(1358 – 1573) and the seat of government returned to the MUROMACHI district of north-east KYOTO.

The hillsides of Kyoto allowed for the extensive use of water features and waterfalls were often created for their calming sounds. The palace which Yoshimitsu subsequently built in the Muromachi district in 1378 was popularly known as the "Flower Palace", because of its countless numbers of cherry trees. Its buildings and gardens, with a large pond, islands, bridges and various pavilions, were indebted to the traditional SHINDEN style of the late Heian era. Sadly, however, neither the "Flower Palace" nor the palaces of the Ashikaga nobility were to survive the ONIN civil wars (1467-1477). The present Imperial Palace in Kyoto stands on approximately the same site as one such palace of Muromachi times.

It was also during this period that the rituals of the Tea ceremony became formalised and the arrangement of grounds became one of the important accessories of the refinement of the CHA-NO-YU, or Tea Ceremonies, and henceforth the professors of this cult became the principal designers of gardens. They reduced, to rule and theory, the art which had hitherto been practised by the Buddhist priests, adding important modifications with special reference to the peculiar ethics of tea-drinking.

SHO-AMI a famous Tea Professor and Painter gave particular attention to the art of gardening which he greatly changed, introducing among other novelties the practise of clipping trees into various fanciful shapes. The NOH theatre, landscape painting, the advancement of the sister arts of poetry and calligraphy and SHOIN architecture came to be during this era and today represent traditional Japanese culture.. Ashikaga Yoshimasa (1436-1490) the powerful Samurai warlord could employ armies of up to 3000 men to construct gardens and in the mid 1400s he built a pond garden in the eastern hills of KYOTO similarly renowned for its Silver Pavillion at the GINKAKU-JI Temple.

Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji Temple Ginkaku-ji, the "Temple of the Silver Pavilion," is a Zen temple in Kyoto, Japan that represents the Higashiyama Culture of Muromachi period.

The refining of the Zen aesthetic led to the creation of the dry landscape or KARE-SANSUI garden and as Nitschke (1990) states, "the themes of the kare-sansui garden are not the changing seasons and natural sights, but the inner secrets of nature and human existance".

During this period of Japanese Garden history gardens became increasingly abstract, rocks which have always been of great significance (warlord Oba Nobunaga exchanged the “Eternal Pine Mountain” for the Ishiyama fortress in 1580.) were given names, indicating for Nitschke (1990) that ' the naming of rocks is simply an indication of the increasingly symbolic dimension of the gardens of the Muromachi era'.

The main legacy of the Muromachi era for garden design was the use of horizontally laid, as well as massive stones and this development can be attributed to the great artist, Zen monk and garden designer SESSHU(1420-1506) who had travelled to China, where he studied Ming dynasty landscape painting with its use of simple pen strokes and used this in his garden designs. His influence was great as he was known as the supreme painter of the MUROMACHI era. Kuck (1980).

The refinement of the Muromachi era reached its zenith with the creation of the famous RYOAN-JI Zen garden in Kyoto. This group of fifteen stones in a sea of gravel has been interpreted as many things , but is perhaps best summed up by Nitschke (1990) when he says that Ryoan-ji' belongs to the art of the void'. No matter where one sits you can only see 14 stones and the picture below shows how to use "borrowed scenery" with a beautiful flowering tree in the background and the shadows cast over the raked sand changing with the seasons. This captures the essence of Zen Buddhism meditation and inner peace with this masterpice of Japanese culture becoming quite hypnotic with the more time spent.

Ryoan-Ji Zen garden

See also the DAISENIN of the DAITOKUJI TEMPLES in KYOTO.Other authentic SAMURAI gardens that survived the civil wars and are still in existance are the KIABATAKE SHRINE in MISUGIMURA (MIE Prefecture); ASAKURA CASTLE in ASUHAMURA (FUKUI Prefecture)and the SHURINJI TEMPLE in KUCHIKIMURA, SHIGA Prefecture,

Japanese Garden History - Momoyama and Edo Periods( 1573-1867)

This period of Japanese Garden history brought with it the very large and colourful MOMOYAMA gardens.This was to match the now governing SAMURIs castles and mansions built after the end of the civil wars.

fushimi-momoyama castle