What are the essential elements of traditional Japanese gardens?

Japanese gardens have been an integral part of Japanese culture for centuries. These gardens are known for their serene and tranquil atmosphere, which provides a perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of city life. Traditional Japanese gardens are designed to reflect the natural beauty of Japan, using elements such as stones, water, plants, and architecture to create a harmonious and balanced environment. In this article, we will explore the essential elements of traditional Japanese gardens and how they contribute to the unique aesthetic and cultural significance of these gardens.

Quick Answer:
Traditional Japanese gardens are known for their serene and natural beauty, and there are several essential elements that contribute to this aesthetic. One of the most important elements is the use of natural materials, such as rocks, water, and plants, which are arranged in a way that mimics the natural landscape. The gardens often feature a pond or stream, which serves as a focal point and provides a sense of tranquility. Stone bridges and paths are also common, and are used to guide the viewer through the garden. Japanese gardens also typically include a tea house, which serves as a place for contemplation and relaxation. The gardens are designed to be enjoyed in all four seasons, with different plants and elements highlighted during each period. Overall, traditional Japanese gardens are designed to create a sense of harmony and balance with nature, and to provide a peaceful retreat from the busy world.

History and philosophy of Japanese gardens

The origins of Japanese gardens

The origins of Japanese gardens can be traced back to the 8th century, during the Nara period. At that time, gardens were primarily used as places for meditation and reflection by Buddhist monks. These early gardens were designed to replicate the landscape of paradise, as described in Buddhist texts. They featured simple, natural elements such as rocks, water, and plants, arranged in a way that suggested a larger, more expansive landscape.

During the Heian period (11th-12th centuries), gardens became more sophisticated and began to reflect the aesthetics of the court aristocracy. They were designed to evoke a sense of tranquility and beauty, and often featured large ponds, islands, and winding paths. The use of carefully pruned trees and flowers also became popular during this time.

In the Muromachi period (14th-16th centuries), gardens began to take on a more Zen-inspired character, with an emphasis on simplicity and minimalism. This was reflected in the use of raked gravel, simple stone arrangements, and the incorporation of elements from the natural world, such as rocks and water.

Overall, the origins of Japanese gardens can be seen as a reflection of the country’s deep spiritual and cultural traditions. They have evolved over time to reflect the changing aesthetics and values of Japanese society, but they continue to be revered for their beauty and tranquility.

The principles of Japanese garden design

In traditional Japanese gardens, there are several principles that are considered essential to creating a harmonious and serene space. These principles are rooted in the aesthetic and philosophical values of Japanese culture, which emphasize the beauty of simplicity, naturalness, and impermanence.

One of the key principles of Japanese garden design is the concept of shinrin-yoku (森林浴), which translates to “forest bathing.” This principle emphasizes the importance of immersing oneself in a natural environment to promote physical and mental well-being.

Another important principle is wabi-sabi, which refers to the beauty of impermanence and imperfection. This principle is reflected in the use of natural materials and organic shapes in Japanese gardens, as well as the emphasis on creating a sense of change and transformation over time.

In addition to these principles, Japanese garden design also emphasizes the importance of feng shui (風水), or the art of placing objects in a way that maximizes positive energy flow. This principle is based on the idea that the arrangement of objects in a space can affect the mood and behavior of those who inhabit it.

Finally, the principle of yin and yang is also important in Japanese garden design. This principle emphasizes the importance of creating a balance between opposing forces, such as light and dark, hot and cold, and hard and soft. By creating a balance between these opposing forces, Japanese gardens are designed to create a sense of harmony and equilibrium.

Natural elements in Japanese gardens

Key takeaway:

Traditional Japanese gardens have deep spiritual and cultural roots, with origins dating back to the 8th century during the Nara period. They evolved over time to reflect the changing aesthetics and values of Japanese society, but continue to be revered for their beauty and tranquility. The principles of Japanese garden design emphasize the importance of immersing oneself in a natural environment to promote physical and mental well-being, the beauty of impermanence and imperfection, the art of placing objects to maximize positive energy flow, and the importance of creating a balance between opposing forces. Natural elements such as water, stones, and plants play a crucial role in creating a harmonious and serene space. Water is used to create a sense of balance and harmony, symbolize the passage of time and the cycle of life and death, and creates a calming and soothing atmosphere through its sound. Stones are considered an essential element, playing a crucial role in the overall design and aesthetic, representing nature, creating balance and symmetry, and providing visual interest. Plants serve not only to provide visual interest but also to evoke a sense of cultural and philosophical significance. Artificial elements such as bridges and buildings and structures play a crucial role in creating a harmonious and balanced landscape, serving both functional and aesthetic purposes, and their placement and design must be carefully considered to ensure a harmonious balance between the built and natural elements.

The use of water in Japanese gardens

Water is a crucial element in traditional Japanese gardens, and it is used to create a sense of balance and harmony. One of the most important features of a Japanese garden is the presence of a pond or a stream, which is often referred to as a “karesansui” or “dry landscape.” The use of water in Japanese gardens is meant to create a serene and tranquil atmosphere, and it is often used to reflect the surrounding landscape, creating a sense of depth and perspective.

In addition to ponds and streams, Japanese gardens also make use of other water features such as waterfalls, fountains, and small pools. These water features are often placed in strategic locations to create a sense of movement and flow, and to draw the viewer’s attention to specific areas of the garden.

Water is also used to symbolize the passage of time and the cycle of life and death in Japanese culture. For example, a small stream or a pond with a waterfall can represent the journey of life, from the mountain’s source to the ocean’s end.

Furthermore, the sound of water is also an important element in Japanese gardens. The sound of waterfalls, fountains, and streams can create a calming and soothing atmosphere, and it can also help to mask urban noise.

In summary, water is a fundamental element in traditional Japanese gardens, it creates a sense of balance and harmony, it reflects the surrounding landscape, it symbolizes the passage of time and the cycle of life and death, and it creates a calming and soothing atmosphere through its sound.

The importance of stones in Japanese gardens

In traditional Japanese gardens, stones are considered an essential element, playing a crucial role in the overall design and aesthetic. Here are some reasons why stones are so important in Japanese gardens:

  1. Representation of nature: Stones in Japanese gardens are often chosen for their natural shape and appearance, and they are used to represent various aspects of nature, such as mountains, rocks, and rivers. By incorporating these stones into the garden design, the overall effect is to create a naturalistic landscape that evokes a sense of harmony with the surrounding environment.
  2. Balance and symmetry: Japanese gardens often incorporate a principle of balance and symmetry, and stones are used to achieve this balance. For example, large stones may be placed at the corners of a garden to create a sense of stability, while smaller stones may be used to create flowing patterns that lead the eye through the garden.
  3. Symbolism: In addition to their natural form, stones in Japanese gardens often have symbolic significance. For example, a stone bridge may represent a connection between two worlds, while a large rock formation may symbolize a mountain or a sacred site. These symbols help to create a deeper sense of meaning and connection to the natural world.
  4. Texture and contrast: Stones in Japanese gardens also provide visual interest and texture. They can be used to create contrast with other elements in the garden, such as soft greenery or flowing water. This contrast helps to create a dynamic and engaging garden design that draws the eye and encourages contemplation.
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Overall, the use of stones in traditional Japanese gardens is a powerful way to incorporate natural elements into the design and create a sense of harmony and balance. Whether symbolic or simply aesthetic, stones play an essential role in creating the unique beauty and atmosphere of Japanese gardens.

The role of plants in Japanese gardens

Plants play a significant role in traditional Japanese gardens, and their careful selection and placement are crucial to the overall design and aesthetic. In Japanese gardens, plants are not merely ornamental, but they serve a deeper purpose that reflects the philosophical and cultural values of Japan.

  • Symbolism: Plants in Japanese gardens often carry symbolic meanings that evoke feelings of tranquility, strength, and serenity. For example, the cherry blossom tree is a popular choice in Japanese gardens because it represents the fleeting nature of life and the beauty of impermanence. Other plants, such as the pine, cedar, and bamboo, are also used for their symbolic meanings and ability to withstand the elements.
  • Seasonality: The changing of the seasons is an essential aspect of traditional Japanese gardens, and plants are carefully selected to provide interest throughout the year. For example, spring cherry blossoms, summer hydrangeas, autumn maples, and winter pines all contribute to the seasonal beauty of the garden.
  • Spatial arrangement: In Japanese gardens, plants are not arranged haphazardly but are carefully placed to create a sense of balance and harmony. The placement of plants is based on their size, shape, and color, as well as their relationship to other elements in the garden, such as rocks, water, and architecture.
  • Zen Buddhism influence: Zen Buddhism has had a significant influence on the design of traditional Japanese gardens, and the selection of plants reflects this influence. For example, many plants used in Japanese gardens, such as the rock garden plantings of moss, algae, and lichens, are associated with the simplicity and natural beauty of Zen aesthetics.
  • Cultural significance: Many plants used in Japanese gardens have cultural significance and are associated with specific events or legends. For example, the wisteria vine is associated with the myth of the gods, while the maple tree is linked to the legend of the Heian period emperor who planted a maple tree in Kyoto.

Overall, the role of plants in traditional Japanese gardens is not only to provide visual interest but also to evoke a sense of cultural and philosophical significance. The careful selection and placement of plants reflect the deeper values and aesthetics of Japanese culture, making them an essential element of traditional Japanese gardens.

Artificial elements in Japanese gardens

The use of bridges in Japanese gardens

In traditional Japanese gardens, bridges serve as an essential artificial element that connects different parts of the garden. They are often designed to create a sense of continuity and balance in the landscape. Bridges can be made of various materials, such as wood, stone, or even metal, and can come in different shapes and sizes.

One of the most common types of bridges used in Japanese gardens is the tsumogoshi bridge. This type of bridge is made of logs that are laid side by side and covered with earth or gravel. Tsumogoshi bridges are often designed to blend in with the natural surroundings and are usually placed over small streams or ponds.

Another type of bridge commonly found in Japanese gardens is the hashiogake bridge. This type of bridge is designed to look like a pathway made of stepping stones. Hashiogake bridges are often made of stone or concrete and are placed over larger bodies of water, such as rivers or lakes.

In addition to their functional purpose, bridges in Japanese gardens also serve as aesthetic features. They are often designed with intricate details, such as curved or angled supports, that enhance their visual appeal. Some bridges are even decorated with lanterns or flowering plants to add to their beauty.

Overall, the use of bridges in traditional Japanese gardens plays an important role in creating a harmonious and balanced landscape. By connecting different parts of the garden and serving as aesthetic features, bridges help to create a sense of continuity and flow throughout the space.

The role of buildings and structures in Japanese gardens

In traditional Japanese gardens, buildings and structures play a crucial role in creating a harmonious and balanced environment. These elements serve both functional and aesthetic purposes, and their placement and design are carefully considered to enhance the overall ambiance of the garden. Some of the key roles of buildings and structures in Japanese gardens include:

  • Providing a focal point: Buildings and structures can serve as a focal point in the garden, drawing the viewer’s attention and creating a sense of depth and dimensionality. A well-placed building or structure can become the centerpiece of the garden, emphasizing its beauty and elegance.
  • Defining spaces: Buildings and structures can help to define and separate different areas within the garden, creating distinct spaces for contemplation, relaxation, or recreation. By strategically placing a tea house or a bridge, for example, the garden’s layout can be transformed, guiding the visitor’s movement and experience.
  • Enhancing the natural setting: Buildings and structures in Japanese gardens are often designed to blend seamlessly with the natural environment, appearing as if they have grown organically from the landscape. This approach reinforces the garden’s connection to nature and highlights the harmony between built elements and the surrounding natural beauty.
  • Creating a sense of history and tradition: The presence of buildings and structures in Japanese gardens often evokes a sense of history and tradition. These elements, such as a traditional tea house or a vermillion-colored gate, connect the garden to Japan’s rich cultural heritage, providing a tangible link to the past.
  • Offering functional spaces: Buildings and structures in Japanese gardens can serve practical purposes, such as providing shelter, storage, or accommodation. For example, a pavilion can offer respite from the elements, while a bathhouse can offer a place for relaxation and rejuvenation.

Overall, the role of buildings and structures in Japanese gardens is multifaceted, and their design and placement must be carefully considered to ensure a harmonious balance between the built and natural elements. By incorporating these elements strategically, Japanese gardens achieve a sense of beauty, serenity, and connection to nature that makes them truly unique and captivating.

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The significance of the entrance in Japanese gardens

In traditional Japanese gardens, the entrance plays a crucial role in setting the tone for the visitor’s experience. It serves as the transition between the busy outside world and the serene space of the garden. The entrance is designed to prepare the visitor for the contemplative journey that lies ahead, while also setting expectations for the garden’s layout and style.

The entrance is often marked by a small bridge or a gate, which serves as a physical barrier between the garden and the outside world. This bridge or gate is typically decorated with symbols or motifs that reflect the garden’s theme or style, such as a flowing stream or a traditional Japanese motif. The bridge or gate is also often accompanied by a small pond or water feature, which creates a calming sound and serves as a focal point for the visitor’s attention.

Once the visitor passes through the entrance, they are immediately immersed in the garden’s atmosphere. The pathway leading through the garden is often designed to wind and curve, creating a sense of exploration and discovery. The visitor is encouraged to slow down and take in the garden’s sights and sounds, while also appreciating the skill and artistry that went into creating the space.

Overall, the entrance serves as a critical element in traditional Japanese gardens, setting the tone for the visitor’s experience and creating a sense of anticipation and wonder. By carefully designing the entrance, garden designers can create a space that is both beautiful and meaningful, inviting visitors to slow down and appreciate the beauty of nature.

Design principles in Japanese gardens

The concept of yin and yang in Japanese gardens

The concept of yin and yang is deeply rooted in traditional Japanese gardens. It originates from ancient Chinese philosophy, which emphasizes the complementary duality of all things in the universe. In Japanese gardens, this principle is reflected in the harmonious balance between different elements, such as nature and human presence, hardscapes and softscapes, and geometric shapes and organic forms.

Yin and yang in Japanese gardens is often represented by the placement of rocks, which symbolize the natural world, and the use of buildings, bridges, and walkways, which represent human presence. Rocks are typically chosen for their unique shapes and colors, and are carefully placed to create a sense of balance and harmony within the garden. Buildings, bridges, and walkways are designed to blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings, emphasizing the connection between human and nature.

The yin and yang concept also extends to the layout of the garden. Gardens often feature a central pond or water feature, which represents the yin element, surrounded by rocks, trees, and plants, which represent the yang element. The careful arrangement of these elements creates a sense of balance and harmony, with each element complementing and contrasting with the others.

Overall, the concept of yin and yang plays a crucial role in the design of traditional Japanese gardens, emphasizing the importance of balance and harmony in creating a serene and peaceful environment.

The importance of scale and proportion in Japanese gardens

Scale and proportion are crucial design elements in traditional Japanese gardens. These principles are rooted in the Japanese aesthetic concept of “shibui,” which emphasizes simplicity, subtlety, and a sense of calm. The goal of incorporating scale and proportion is to create a harmonious relationship between the elements within the garden and the surrounding environment.

  1. Size and Scale: In Japanese gardens, size and scale are carefully considered to create a sense of balance and tranquility. The elements within the garden, such as rocks, plants, and paths, are arranged in a way that is in proportion to one another and to the overall size of the garden. This attention to scale ensures that no single element dominates the space and creates a harmonious relationship between all the elements.
  2. Proportion and Harmony: Proportion is also an essential element in Japanese garden design. The placement of each element is carefully considered in relation to the others, with a focus on creating a sense of harmony and balance. This can be achieved through the use of repeating patterns, the placement of elements in symmetrical or asymmetrical arrangements, and the use of negative space to create a sense of openness and tranquility.
  3. The Importance of Viewpoints: Japanese gardens often incorporate specific viewpoints that highlight the relationship between elements and the overall scale and proportion of the garden. These viewpoints, known as “karesansui” or “dry landscape,” are carefully designed to create a sense of depth and perspective, drawing the viewer’s eye through the garden and emphasizing the relationship between elements.
  4. Creating a Sense of Scale: The use of natural materials, such as rocks, water, and plants, helps to create a sense of scale in Japanese gardens. By using materials that exist in nature, the garden becomes part of the larger landscape, with a sense of scale that is in harmony with the surrounding environment. This approach also emphasizes the transient and impermanent nature of the garden, highlighting the passage of time and the changing seasons.
  5. Emphasizing Simplicity and Subtlety: The emphasis on scale and proportion in Japanese gardens also contributes to the overall aesthetic of simplicity and subtlety. By focusing on the relationship between elements and the overall harmony of the garden, Japanese garden design emphasizes the beauty of understated elegance, rather than overt grandeur. This approach is in line with the broader Japanese aesthetic concept of “wabi-sabi,” which celebrates the beauty of imperfection and the passage of time.

The role of pathways and circulation in Japanese gardens

Pathways and circulation play a crucial role in traditional Japanese gardens. They are designed to guide the visitor through the garden, creating a sense of movement and leading the eye to the various elements of the garden. Pathways can be made from different materials, such as stone, gravel, or wood, and they can be straight or curved.

In Japanese gardens, pathways are often designed to follow the natural contours of the land, creating a sense of harmony with the environment. They may also be designed to lead the visitor to specific viewpoints or features of the garden, such as a pond or a waterfall.

The width of the pathway is also an important consideration in Japanese garden design. Narrow pathways can create a sense of intimacy and encourage a slower pace, while wider pathways can create a sense of openness and expansiveness.

Circulation is also an important element of Japanese garden design. The pathways should be designed to allow the visitor to move around the garden in a natural and organic way, taking in the various elements of the garden at a leisurely pace. This can be achieved by creating multiple paths that intersect and loop around each other, creating a sense of continuity and flow.

Overall, the role of pathways and circulation in traditional Japanese gardens is to create a sense of movement and harmony, guiding the visitor through the garden and encouraging them to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the environment.

Maintaining the beauty of traditional Japanese gardens

The role of pruning and trimming in Japanese gardens

Pruning and trimming are essential practices in traditional Japanese gardens, which play a crucial role in maintaining the beauty and balance of these gardens. The meticulous pruning and trimming techniques are an integral part of the traditional Japanese gardening philosophy, aiming to create harmony and a sense of tranquility in the garden.

Importance of pruning and trimming

Pruning and trimming are critical in Japanese gardens as they help to control the growth of plants, maintain their shape, and promote healthy growth. Regular pruning and trimming help to remove dead or damaged branches, control the size of the plants, and encourage new growth.

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Pruning techniques

Traditional Japanese pruning techniques focus on creating a natural, organic appearance. This is achieved by pruning in a way that encourages the natural shape of the plant to emerge, rather than forcing it into a specific shape. Some common pruning techniques used in traditional Japanese gardens include:

  • Chabako-zari (tea box pruning): This technique involves pruning the plants in a way that allows them to grow outwards, creating a natural, rounded shape.
  • Kenzengi-ho (front and back pruning): This technique involves pruning the front of the plant to create a smaller, more compact shape, while leaving the back of the plant to grow longer and more natural.
  • Kengai-ho (slanting pruning): This technique involves pruning the plant at an angle, creating a natural, cascading shape.

Trimming techniques

Trimming is also an essential part of traditional Japanese gardening. Trimming is used to shape the plants, remove dead or damaged leaves, and promote healthy growth. Some common trimming techniques used in traditional Japanese gardens include:

  • Seki-ge (cutting the first leaf): This technique involves removing the first set of leaves from the plant, encouraging new growth and a more compact shape.
  • Sohaku-ge (cutting back to the branch): This technique involves cutting the plant back to the main branch, encouraging new growth and a more natural shape.
  • Kengai-ge (slanting trimming): This technique involves trimming the plant at an angle, creating a natural, cascading shape.

By employing these pruning and trimming techniques, traditional Japanese gardens are able to maintain their beauty and harmony over time. These practices help to create a sense of tranquility and balance, which is a central tenet of traditional Japanese gardening philosophy.

The importance of seasonal changes in Japanese gardens

Seasonal changes play a crucial role in the beauty of traditional Japanese gardens. These gardens are designed to reflect the changing seasons and to create a sense of harmony with nature. Each season brings a new beauty to the garden, and the garden’s design and layout are carefully crafted to showcase this beauty.

The spring season is particularly important in Japanese gardens, as it marks the beginning of new life and growth. Spring gardens often feature cherry blossom trees, which are highly symbolic in Japanese culture, representing the fleeting nature of life. The blooming of the cherry blossoms is a highly anticipated event, and the gardens are designed to highlight their beauty during this time.

Summer in Japanese gardens is often characterized by lush greenery and the sound of running water. The gardens are designed to capture the essence of the hot summer months, with water features such as ponds and streams creating a cooling effect on the senses.

Autumn is another significant season in Japanese gardens, with the changing leaves of the maple trees creating a spectacular display of color. The gardens are designed to showcase the beauty of the falling leaves, with paths and walkways winding through the trees to create a sense of movement and flow.

Finally, winter in Japanese gardens is often characterized by stillness and contemplation. The gardens are designed to create a sense of peace and tranquility during the cold months, with snow-covered trees and frozen ponds creating a serene atmosphere.

Overall, the importance of seasonal changes in traditional Japanese gardens cannot be overstated. The gardens are designed to reflect the beauty of each season and to create a sense of harmony with nature. By incorporating elements such as cherry blossom trees, running water, and falling leaves, traditional Japanese gardens are able to capture the essence of each season and to create a unique and captivating beauty that is celebrated throughout the year.

The significance of maintenance and upkeep in Japanese gardens

In traditional Japanese gardens, maintenance and upkeep are crucial elements that contribute to their beauty and harmony. The gardens are designed to be in balance with nature, and regular care is necessary to maintain this balance. Here are some reasons why maintenance is so important in Japanese gardens:

  • Preserving the natural appearance: One of the main objectives of traditional Japanese gardens is to create a naturalistic setting that appears to have been untouched by human hands. Regular maintenance helps to preserve this natural appearance by keeping the plants healthy and pruning them to maintain their natural shape.
  • Cultivating the ideal atmosphere: Japanese gardens are designed to create a serene and contemplative atmosphere, and regular maintenance is essential to achieving this. By removing dead leaves, pruning plants, and maintaining clean paths, the gardeners can create an ideal environment that encourages visitors to slow down and appreciate the beauty of the garden.
  • Honoring the passage of time: Japanese gardens often incorporate elements that reflect the passage of time, such as aging stones or trees. Regular maintenance helps to preserve these elements and ensure that they continue to evoke a sense of time’s passage.
  • Maintaining harmony and balance: Japanese gardens are designed to be in harmony with nature, and regular maintenance is necessary to maintain this balance. By pruning plants, removing weeds, and maintaining clean paths, gardeners can help to create a sense of harmony and balance that is essential to the garden’s overall beauty.

Overall, maintenance and upkeep are critical components of traditional Japanese gardens. By preserving the natural appearance, cultivating the ideal atmosphere, honoring the passage of time, and maintaining harmony and balance, gardeners can help to ensure that these beautiful gardens continue to inspire and delight visitors for generations to come.

FAQs

1. What are the essential elements of traditional Japanese gardens?

Traditional Japanese gardens are designed to create a sense of harmony and balance with nature. The essential elements of a traditional Japanese garden include:
* Karesansui (dry landscape): a type of Zen garden that features a carefully arranged pattern of rocks, sand, and stones to represent a natural landscape.
* Tsukiyama (hill and pond): a type of garden that features a small hill or mound and a pond, which are designed to evoke a sense of mountainous terrain.
* Sakura (cherry blossom trees): cherry blossom trees are often featured in traditional Japanese gardens due to their iconic beauty and symbolic significance.
* Torii (shrine gates): traditional Japanese gardens often feature a torii, which is a gate that marks the entrance to a Shinto shrine.
* Kenzan (planting): the plants used in traditional Japanese gardens are carefully selected and arranged to create a sense of balance and harmony. Common plants used include maples, pines, and bamboo.

2. What is the significance of rocks in traditional Japanese gardens?

Rocks play a significant role in traditional Japanese gardens, as they are used to create a sense of balance and harmony. Rocks are carefully selected for their shape, size, and color, and are often arranged in a specific pattern or design. The placement of rocks can evoke a sense of natural terrain, such as mountains, valleys, and rivers. Rocks can also be used to represent symbols or ideas, such as strength, stability, and permanence.

3. What is the difference between a traditional Japanese garden and a Western garden?

Traditional Japanese gardens differ from Western gardens in their design principles and aesthetic goals. While Western gardens often emphasize the use of flowers and ornamental plants, traditional Japanese gardens focus on creating a sense of harmony and balance with nature. Japanese gardens often use simple, natural materials, such as rocks, water, and plants, to create a sense of tranquility and contemplation. Japanese gardens also often incorporate elements of Japanese culture and tradition, such as cherry blossom trees, tea ceremonies, and Zen philosophy.

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