The Japanese people have long cherished the natural world and have become experts in creating miniature versions of mountain ranges, stream laced valleys and even tiny bridges and buildings that in the minds eye of meditation could be visited whenever the soul sought solace from the grind of daily life.

Entering a Japanese garden is like entering your own miniature world.  The imagination takes flight and suddenly you are no longer on the busy streets of a concrete and steel forest of high rises, but rather in a protective natural enclave that nurtures, calms and pleases.

stones © N.PARNEIX -

One classic style of Japanese gardens, the Karesausui, creates this illusion of peaceful solitude using gravel, stones and rocks in their natural state with just a minimum of plant life in the form of mosses and small shrubs.  Sections of sands are raked in patterns that mimic ripples on water and carefully selected stones sit amongst these ripples, signifying islands.  Moss covered rocks surround the expanse of sand, creating the shoreline and adding subtle colour to the display. Stones can also be artfully arranged to create dry waterfalls. Selected stones are sometimes names after various Chinese or Japanese mountains. Water, plant life and mountains are all represented in a true abstract form attributed to Zen Buddhism.  In many ways, the gardens are like paintings, created to be best appreciated from one clearly defined, seated vantage point.

The first of these waterless gardens was created in Japan at the Kencho-ji Temple in Kamakura, founded in 1253, which became the center of Zen Buddhism. Located just behind the Hojo, or head priests living quarters, Shin-ji Ike garden was designed by Muso Soseki, a noted scholar, poet and Zen teacher.  Shaped like the Japanese character for the mind, this century’s old waterless creation is open for public viewing and is a favoured spot for quiet contemplation.

Karesausui stone gardens can be found throughout the world.  One of the most recent creations is at Tacoma Community College in Washington State, USA.  The Babe and Hermann Lehrer Japanese Friendship Garden will celebrate its second anniversary in November 2009 and is the first public Japanese Garden to open in Tacoma in 100 years.

In true Karesausui style, Mount Rainer is represented by a sculptured mound of boulders with a cascade of stones representing a waterfall tumbling down to an open gravelled river space.  Flat stones are layered to represent a beach.  Bridges of polished salt and pepper granite connect the free form rock islands and stepping stones cross the river leading to the back of the garden and steps that take visitors to the top of the mountain.  A twelve foot pagoda graces the highest point of the garden and stone lanterns imported from China dot the landscape. Irish moss shares space with Japanese maple and native Northwest plants such as salal and rhododendrons.

Though the Japanese stone garden in Tacoma is not that large, and as of yet not well known, it is a true representation of the Karesausui garden style, and in that light offers visitors a quiet, imaginative natural space in which to contemplate…life.

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