What is a Japanese Rock Garden?

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  • Written By: Anna T.
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 03 October 2019
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A Japanese rock garden, also known as a zen garden, is a type of dry garden that typically does not contain any greenery or water and is often created to emulate a landscape. These gardens are normally made up of sand, rock, and gravel. Carefully sculpted shrubs might occasionally be used in some Japanese rock gardens, but this is not very common. In the average Japanese rock garden, the layer of sand or gravel is raked into vertical or wavy lines with larger rocks situated throughout. These lines in the sand or gravel are normally supposed to represent the ocean or some other body of water, while the larger rocks may represent islands or mountains among the water.


The history of the Japanese rock garden probably dates back to roughly 600 AD during the Nara period in China before its popularity spread to Japan, and the gardens may have been designed by Zen priests during that time. The priests would spend hours raking the sand and gravel into either perfect vertical lines or ripples, because this practice probably helped with their concentration ability, which was important for meditation. Japanese rock gardens are still used for this purpose in both China and Japan, and there are also smaller-scale rock gardens that can be purchased and placed inside a person's home or at a place of business that come with a small rake. These small rock gardens may be just as useful as the larger ones for the purpose of enhancing mental clarity.

Placement of stones in Japanese rock gardens might appear to be random and nonsensical to a person who doesn't understand what they are for, but the stone placement is actually very precise and important to the design of a rock garden. There are approximately five different types of stones used in a Japanese rock garden, and each type of stone means something different based on its shape. The stones are placed carefully throughout the garden so that they complement each other to help create a peaceful, calm area for meditation. Some rock gardens also have stones stacked up in the center to create a place for a person to sit and meditate.

It is typically considered easy to make a Japanese rock garden. A wide pit or hole should initially be dug and filled with sand or gravel. After the sand and gravel have been added to the pit, it is normally smoothed over with a rake. Larger rocks and stones may then be situated throughout the gravel or sand in a pattern that may be determined by the creator of the garden. Most Japanese rock garden experts advise people to create patterns with rocks and stones that seem calming and to avoid any rocks that have an unflattering appearance because these rocks might disrupt the calming influence the garden should be designed to have.


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Post 2

No Japanese water garden is complete without a water element. Reflecting pools fit naturally with surrounding rocks, sand and gravel. If you want to expand on the water theme, consider adding moving water. The sound of waterfalls can really enhance the experience of walking through the garden. Many people find the sound of the water relaxing and soothing, and isn't this the purpose of this type of garden?

Here is one more thought. Since you have all that water, why not add some colorful fish? We all know that watching fish is commonly considered a relaxation exercise, and beautiful koi and goldfish will be the main attraction in your garden. Once they are used to their environment, the fish will practically eat from your hands.

Post 1

As this article said, greenery is not typical in the Japanese rock garden, but I think greenery can add a lot to the look of the garden, even though plants are not in line with the traditional appearance of the gardens. Plus, when you already have the greenery in your garden, it is easier to work around it rather than starting from ground zero.

Conifers work well in the Japanese rock garden, especially when they are different shades of green. This creates subtle distinctions and variations, which makes the appearance more interesting, I think. Moss can also be grown to add color to the garden, but a rock path should be established so the moss will not be trampled.

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