Best Zen Gardens In Japan

Earl Hamilton
• Thursday, 26 November, 2020
• 7 min read

Disclaimer | This article may contain affiliate links, this means that at no cost to you, we may receive a small commission for qualifying purchases. A calm sense of serenity, along with an abject desire for meditation, inner discovery, and spirituality, is what best defines Zen gardens.

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Inspired by the minimalist gardens of age-old Buddhist and Chinese traditions, Zen gardens have slowly but surely permeated into all forms of Japanese cultural space. A careful arrangement of nothing but boulders and white gravel to create a sort of hypnotic trance is what a Zen garden is all about.

Often termed as ‘dry gardens or ‘Kansans’ in the original Japanese, Zen gardens exclusively lack all forms of vegetation, to symbolize the state of a calm mind which is devoid of all unnecessary thoughts. As a much sought after place for meditation and escaping the stress of daily life, Zen gardens are being designed in numerous ways to bring about greater spiritual effects.

And in our article today we will be going over 31 of the most inspiring Zen gardens across the world, which are indeed a must-visit pilgrimage spot for both tourists and locals alike. Related Articles Dubbed as the Temple of the Dragon at Peace, Ryan-ji is one of the finest Zen garden.

248 squares of highly polished white gravel along with fifteen stones of different sizes constitute the garden. Large boulders represent the Rocky Mountains and smaller pebbles line the valleys in between.

Flowing like a waterfall, and perhaps modeled after Dieseling’s famous Zen garden, the arrangement of elements produces a smaller version of the Colorado River’s run into the Grand Canyon. Told through stillness and careful arrangement, the Fort Worth Botanic Garden’s Zen gardens are an excellent example of a Japanese tradition in America.

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It features a collection of large rocks and boulders along with the customary white gravel and small pebbles. Surrounded by Maple trees on either side, the garden is a composition of three large stones that represent Buddha and 2 Zen monks.

Designed by the Dakota Hardware, the Japanese Tea Garden was completely in the early 20th century. Its collection includes 150 sculptures, handcrafted by the Japanese-American artist ISAM Touch.

While most of the rocks are smoothened out, few retrain their natural form, preserving the working atmosphere of his studio. A perfect harmony of cultures, the visitors picnic in the well maintained expanse of grass that runs along the carefully raked white gravel of the Zen garden, while sipping hot tea brewed from the fine leaves from the land of the British.

Part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Kongobu-ji Temple is home to the Japan’s largest rock garden. The rocks give suggests the presence of two dragons breaking through the clouds to shield and protect the temple.

The San Marino’s Huntington Library in California is home to numerous botanical gardens. The Zen Court exemplifies the concept of contained landscapes which evolved in the temple gardens of Japan.

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In this Zen garden, the white gravel, rock formations and shrubbery symbolize water, space, and movement. Built in the 1600s by the notable artist Kobold Ensue, the garden is considered to be a remarkable piece of work.

Popularly known as ‘The Academy of Great Immortals”, Dieseling () is a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji, one of the five most important Zen temples of Kyoto. Garden historians propose that the garden represents a metaphorical journey through life: the waterfall, river, and sea may represent youth, maturity, and old age while the rocks in the “rivers” suggests obstacles.

The garden begins with a miniature landscape comprising rocks which leads to a waterfall, signifying birth. Large rocks randomly scattered in the river represent hardship and obstacles in life.

The river divides into two and flows into a ‘Middle Sea’ and an ‘Ocean’, symbolic of search for wisdom and old age. Fuji is the backdrop, the valley is surrounded by mountains, which provide a natural boundary to the garden.

Having 49 sub-temples originally, the phenomenal architecture does justice to all the high praises since its inception in the thirteenth century. A pond in the middle of the garden adds to the alluring beauty and manifests a sensation of divinity and serenity.

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A group of three rocks on the left depict the Amid trinity, while the five towards the right represent Gautam Buddha and four priests. Officially known as ‘The Temple of Shining Mercy’, it is located in the eastern side of Kyoto.

It includes carefully laid out stones in a traditional pavilion, and a vast restful pond. It is famous for the majestic scenery painted by the breathtaking view of the reflection of Maple trees which surround the garden.

This meticulous piece of art emulsifies the western expression of a Zen garden with the traditional Japanese qualities of naturalness, reverence, tranquility. A part of the “Historic Monuments of Kyoto” list, Shoji, which is famously known as the Moss Temple was restored by the eminent monk and garden designer Must SOSes.

Over 120 different types of moss exist in the rock garden, mimicking a grass blanket with different hue and shades. The Zen garden comprises three standing rocks in the center which represent a waterfall, which converges with the great river as symbolized by the white gravel.

The profound beauty of nature is wonderfully recreated using the dry landscape technique. Mt Satsuma lies in the center of the mountains present in the background and serves as a borrowed scenery or shake.

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The extensive bonsai collection adds very much to this effect, and aesthetically it goes perfectly well with the groomed gravel and the naturally shaped boulders. Much contrary to the Zen practice of limiting vegetation, this garden breaks the mold here with the bonsai collection, and the resulting effect it creates is absolutely mesmerizing, to say the least.

Right in the very heart of Washington, in Seattle to be more precise, there is a Japanese garden that is known to create one of the most calming and stimulating effects to the busy and stressed mind. It contains small lanterns at various intervals to give off a sort of medieval appeal which goes all the way back to the traditions of the Do era.

Small lakes and bridges are also a staple to the Seattle garden, along with Sakura trees and Japanese maples, thereby making it incredibly authentic. Originally built in Nagoya, Japan, this garden was then in 1953 transplanted in Philadelphia and has been one of the most popular tourist spots in the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

If you watch the Kurosawa or even some of Takes hi Piano movies, you will notice that Japanese culture puts a lot of ethos on the aged, or rather, fermented and the natural. Defined by its iconic half-buried rock formation, this garden will allow you to take a step back in time and let you appreciate a history and tradition which has long mutated and changed ever since.

The Major Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids is all about taking up the traditional Zen garden design and mixing it with a lot of contemporary elements to make it a much more potent spot of escape and relaxation. It contains sculpture models from some of the world’s most notable sculptors such as Jenny Holder and Danish Poor which imparts a sort of tranquility to the surrounding environment.

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The Brooklyn Botanical Japanese themed garden has one of the most mesmerizing Sakura tree collections in the entirety of the United States. Come every spring, from March; the garden holds a cherry blossom festival which celebrates the coming of spring, which is much like the original Japanese tradition where friends and family go out to picnic below the trees and watch it while it blooms.

These gardens highlight the beauty of nature, avoiding artificial, man-made components wherever possible. Japanese gardens also capture aspects of the traditional Shinto religion, as well as Daoism and Buddhism.

The gardens speak of the unstoppable march of time, natural aspects of the Japanese landscape, such as its volcanic peaks, and often include replicas of the legendary Mount Hora. Six aspects are considered vital to an ideal Japanese garden; these include coolness, subtlety of design, scenic views, wisdom and respect, serenity, and spaciousness.

This garden’s name is derived from a proverb of Confucius, in which he explained that a ruler should consider the needs of his subjects first, and his own “pleasure after.” Construction began in 1687, and the garden was opened to the public in 1884. Located in MITO (Ibaraki prefecture), Kairaku-en can be translated “a garden to enjoy with people.” Once a private garden, it's opening to the public helped sparked a movement towards public parks.

It is famous for over three thousand plum trees that bloom in early spring. During the plum blossom season, stops are also made at the Partaken Station, very close to the garden.

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The Satsuma Imperial Villa is a strolling garden built for the enjoyment of high ranking officials during the Do Period. The garden was originally part of a royal villa before it became a temple nearly 1,000 years ago.

Reservations must be made in advance via postal mail, and visitors are required to participate in Buddhist chanting and scripture copying before viewing the gardens. The Ryoan-ji Temple is home to the most famous rock garden in Japan.

It became a Zen temple in 1450, but the designer and exact meaning of the garden are unknown. Ideas on its meaning range from islands, to a tiger carrying cubs across the water, to the abstract concept of infinity.

A few hours from Kyoto, you can view the gardens surrounding the Ada chi Museum of Art. Great for viewing cherry blossoms in spring, the Shikoku Given is one of Tokyo’s best gardens.

The Imperial Palace East Gardens formerly housed an Do Period castle, the foundations of which are still visible. The park includes huge castle moats and a landscape garden.

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Finally, in the Tarawa Prefecture, very near Okayama, Return Keen i n Takamatsu is one of the most beautiful strolling gardens in southern Japan. Ponds, tea houses, and walking paths can be found in this recreational garden of the old local lords.

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