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Japanese Gardens





Japanese Gardens reflect more about Japanese culture than most other Japanalia.



The Art of garden design is both traditional and intricate, being governed by a great deal of myth and history, and influenced by philosophies which go to great lengths to delve deep into the essence of man's role in nature.



A Japanese Gardener is a highly trained and practised artist who creates special natural places of great harmony , sometimes in the busiest of neighbourhoods. The strong influence of Zen contributes much to the style and line of Japanese Gardens.



Japanese rock garden






A rock arrangement set alongside a traditional stone lantern, which will cast light on the stones at selected places.








 Hare-Yama Ryu at

The Cape Flower Show - October 2005




Japanese Garden Elements

There is an increased interest in Japanese Garden design and the first steps to creating the right feel to such a garden involves the use of certain elements that typify Japanese gardens. Being as authentic as possible obviously helps so knowing something about these elements can ensure that they are representative of their real Japanese counterparts.

Stone Lanterns

Various stone lanterns are used in Japanese gardens with styles designed to suit specific purposes in the gardens. For example, to create reflections over water, a rankei style lantern will be used. However, the unobtrusive oki-gata may be used to draw attention to some feature of the garden. Below are some of the common lantern styles.

Japanese Lanterns

Stepping Stones or Tobiishi

Tobiishi in a garden do not simply make a path, they define the path the gardener wishes the visitor to the garden to follow. They direct one's attention to focal points in the garden, influence the perspective of the garden and guide the visitors through the moods and spirit of the garden. As a consequence, the positioning of each stone is carefully planned, as is the route they take.

Water Basins

Water basins have a significance in tea gardens where a cleansing ritual involves washing the hands and rinsing the mouth using a hishaku, a bamboo scoop with a long handle. There are a variety of styles of water basins but essentially they fall into the chozubachi that are tall, or on stands, and the tsukubai that require one to stoop to reach the water.

Shishi odoshi

Shishi odoshi, literally meaning lion threat, were devices used in early Japanese gardens to persuade deer not to graze on the lush inner sections of these prized edens. The water running into and filling the scoop fashioned from the end internode of the bamboo length causes the bamboo to topple around its pivotal support. As it tips, the water scoop empties and the reed falls back to its normal position, striking a sounding stone and emitting a high-pitched impulse-sound that strikes fear into the hearts of those animals that would venture into the garden.


The proportions of the bamboo, it length, diameter and internode length, plus the type, shape and composition of the stone will determine the exact sound emitted by the specific shishi odoshi. To the understanding ears of human visitors to the garden, the shishi odoshi is a pleasant rhythmic sound that enhances the atmosphere of the garden.


Anyone who has seen pictures of Japanese gardens or better still, has seen the real thing, will have noticed the way that the trees are often styled, much as are bonsai. The techniques used to fashion these niwa-gi, as they are called, are scaled up versions of bonsai techniques (or are bonsai techniques scaled down versions of niwa-gi techniques?). While bending bonsai branches can easily be accomplished with wire, niwa-gi require forceful bending done with bamboo poles,  wooden sticks and rope stays.

 Hare-Yama Ryu at

The Cape Flower Show - October 2005

Lourensford Wine Estate - Somerset West


view of show   Lourensford Entrance   Entrance to garden


About our garden

Japanese gardening is an art form as is so much that Japanese people do. Yet their study of art begins with their intimate relationship with and respect for nature. They see the wisdom in the little things of nature, not the grand works of man.

Vincent Van Gogh, who much appreciated Japanese art forms, wrote this to his brother Theo in 1888.
If you study Japanese art, you see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophic and intelligent, who spends his time how? In studying the distance between the earth and the moon? No. In studying the policy of Bismarck? No. He studies a single blade of grass. But this blade of grass leads him to draw every plant and then the seasons, the wide aspects of the countryside, then animals, then the human figure. So he passes his life, and life is too short to do the whole.

So ultimately, there are no casual elements in Japanese art. Each tiny brushstroke is relevant, and adds its part to the overall impression being created. In all gardens, effort will be made to have the garden look much larger than it really is. A number of techniques are incorporated to fool the eye.

The big public and often historic Japanese gardens are carefully designed pieces of nature that transport the visitor from his or her modern lifestyle into the realm of nature. Every aspect of the garden reflects the natural forces that shape nature. These gardens are usually wet gardens, that include water but also normal plantings and landscapes as in nature. On the other hand, the Karesansui (dry gardens), make use of gravel and rock to simulate water, mountains and landscapes, and are smaller. Plants are sometimes used but in minimal quantities.

In our garden here, we have attempted to capture just a few elements of a dry garden using only a few plants. Then we have broken the rules a little by combining aspects of a traditional Tea House garden, with components of a home garden, some Zen garden features, and blended in some other Japanese art forms like sumi-e (ink painting), ceramics, bonsai and suiseki (viewing stones).

The entrance in representative of gateway structures one will find at Tea Houses where visitors will enter and partake in the Tea ceremony. The bridge and lantern are typical elements of public and home Japanese gardens. Apart from the obvious Japanese style and decorative value, they also have specific purposes. The bridge affords the visitor an elevated view of the garden. The lanterns will light the garden at night, highlighting specific features or simply lights bends or intersections in the path. The tobiishi (stepping stones) take the viewer step by step though the garden as the designer would want the viewer to walk, drawing his or her attention to the features of the garden and even subtle nuances that might be otherwise missed.

Rock groupings create impressions of mountains, especially when set so as to be seen from a distance. Framing the garden by using sections with "windows" to the next sections draws visitors into the garden to view the faraway portions they caught a glimpse of at a distance.

Many Japanese have bonsai stands in their gardens where the care for their bonsai treasures. They may take a specific tree indoors for show when it is at its best to help reflect the season indoors. This is another way that Japanese people try to blend inside with outside, uchi with soto.

Caligraphy uses on the entrance
    Outside the entrance on bonsai side.
      go (on the right0 - means hard, like the mountains
      ju  (on the left) - means soft or flexible like water of wind
The enso (circle) on the ground is a reminder of the cyclical nature of all things. For example, the powerful (go) mountains crumble under the persistent force of flexible (ju) elements like wind and water. Yet this cycle of nature has a building phase too where go elements like fire (volcanoes) and extreme pressure, create new mountains from the weathered mountain dust, and the cycles of nature continue.

    Outside, north facing face of the entrance
      Hare-Yama Ryu, the Helderberg School (of oriental arts)

    Inside face of entrance, left
     Jaku sei kei wa - Tranquillity, true nature, respect, harmony - one leads to the other

    Inside face of entrance, right
     Heiwa - Peaceful harmony

Bonsai presented on the display

From left on ground
Aleppo Pine - about 1960.
Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum) 1980
Wild Fig (Ficus Craterostoma) 1930
Juniper (Juniperus Procumbens) 1976
Coral Tree (Erythrina Lysistemon) 1986
Black Pine (Pinus Thunbergii) 1952


One last concept.

A Western gardener considers a garden completed when he has added everything possible.

A Japanese gardener considers a garden completed when he has removed everything possible.





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Last updated 2010-12-23 09:12