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Creating Japanese gardens

The Karesansui or dry mountain stream is a Japanese garden style that emerged during the Muromachi period (1333 – 1568). This garden style was inspired by Zen Buddhism and it is typified by extreme vagueness that employed several rocks that symbolized mountains (Rico, 2002). The Karesansui also employed white sand to depict streaming water (Cave, 1996). These dry mountain stream gardens are unique to Japan and it has been suggested that these have been also inspired by Chinese ink paintings showing dry mountains and empty rivers. The rock gardens located in Kyoto include the Ryoanji and Kaitokuji gardens (Mizuno, 2005).

The Ryoanji rock garden is comprised by approximately fifteen rocks that are strategically interspersed with white sand. At first glance, the Ryoanji can be perceived as a flat garden. The Karesansui gardens symbolizes the Heian period, which ranged from 794 to 1185 AD. This period is characterized by the changed in the capital of Japan from Nara to Kyoto. The Heian period is characterized by the rule of the aristocratic people who strongly influenced the culture and art of Japan. The aristocrats lived in lavish mansions that also contained magnificent gardens.

The Karesansui gardens symbolize the Japanese culture that is fond of nature (Hendy, 2001). In addition, the Karesansui gardens also represent nature at a miniaturized scale yet still retaining the concept of nature, including the mountains and bodies of water (Seike, 1997). The Japanese culture relies deeply on symbolization and this is depicted in the use of the white sand to represent water (Cali, 2004). The Japanese culture is also strongly associated with abstraction or the enticement for an individual looking at the garden to come up with his personal ideas of what the dry rock garden means.


Cali J (2004): The new Zen garden: Designing quiet spaces. Kyoto: Kodansha International. 88 pages. Cave P (1996): Creating Japanese gardens. San Francisco: Tuttle Publishing. 176 pages. Hendy J (2001): Zen in your garden: Creating sacred spaces. San Francisco: Tuttle Publishing. 128 pages. Mizuno K (2005): Styles and motifs: Japanese gardens. Tokyo: Japan Publications Trading. 62 pages. Rico M (2002): The modern Japanese garden. San Francisco: Tuttle Publishing. 175 pages. Seike K (1997): A Japanese touch for your garden. Kyoto: Kodansha International. 80 pages.

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