Though there is evidence that early Japanese Gardens were created long before the reign of Empress Suiko, circa 592 AD, she is most often credited for popularizing these idyllic retreats. These early gardens already had incorporated the ornamental ponds and the gently rolling landscapes that are still very much a part of modern day garden design.

During the Nara period (646 to 794) trade between China and Japan increased. The Chinese influence began to show up in the gardens of Japan’s elite citizens. The trend was to design gardens that were more suited for parties and social gatherings, rather than quiet places to wander. Some of the Nara period gardens added animals, fish and birds to augment the elaborately arranged flowers, trees and water features.

There was an interest in going back to the more traditional Japanese Garden style during the Heian period (794 to 1185) and a form of design known as Shinden became popular. The Chinese influence was still there, but subdued. Gardens during this period were elegantly laid out according popular myths and legends of the times. As an example, an ancient Chinese belief is that all things pure came from the east, while impurities left the land towards the west. Streams put in a garden during this period had to run east to west.

The Shinden style predominated with little change until the mid Kamakura period (1185 to 1392). At this time Buddhist priests started creating meditation gardens. These were less extravagant and usually favoured evergreens, water and stones, with little seasonal variation.

Gardens got even simpler during the Muromachi and Higashiyama periods (1392 to 1573). Gardens began to be designed using only stones to depict various objects in nature. These meditation gardens, known as Karesansui or dry gardens, can still be seen today either on their own or as part of a larger Japanese Garden display. The tea garden was also introduced during this period, which usually added landscaped pathways leading to a small house specifically designed for the formal tea ceremony.

During the Azuchi-Momoyama periods (1568 to 1600), the tea house and garden became more prominent and later, in the Edo period (1603 to 1867) the tea house was complemented by more elaborate stroll gardens that would offer different landscapes at every turn. Owning a Japanese Garden was still limited to the Royal family and high ranking court officials during this time period.

It was during the Meijii Period (1868 to 1912) and to a greater extent the Showa period (1926 to 1989) that the elegant stroll garden was adopted by the merchants and industrialists that had the means to create and maintain them. The combination of the stroll garden and the minimalist Zen meditative design became a garden art form created and enjoyed by all. This design trend has continued into today’s Heisei period.

Tagged in: