Nature of
Garden Art




Bonsai Beautiful

The Nature of Japanese Garden Art

The Nature of Japanese Garden Art

NIWA - "pure place" is the word for the Japanese Garden.

It has its echo in Eden which in the western cosmology was a garden of purity before sin entered into the world. Since sin never entered the NIWA, it is still the pure and beautiful place it always has been.

The principles of Zen philosophy help us to bring to a personal experience of the Japanese Garden understandings, leading to a deeper comprehension of its meanings. In other words, the more we can bring to the experience, the greater will be the return to the observer.

Zen Principles which relate to the Niwa

A Japanese Garden is a representation of the universe and its elements: Fire in the form of a stone or iron lantern, Earth in the form of stone, and water, air, plant, and animal life in their true forms.

Gardens essentially divide between the dry landscape and the pond garden types. Even in a dry garden there is always some water, notably in dripping basins or suggested by waterfall chains from the down spouts.

The garden path, or roji, is not merely a functional entry into the garden. It is a philosophical path separating the viewer step-by-step from the work-a-day world which he leaves behind. Its stones are placed with careful irregularity and lead indirectly rather than directly to often hidden or obscure places. Bends in the path, or larger stones, are stopping points for vistas or views, representing meditative pauses in the personal experience of contacting the universe via the garden experience.

Stones generally form the basic supporting framework of a Japanese garden,and they should look as though they had always lived in the spot in which one sees them. Jagged stones are used to suggest mountain areas and water-worn pebbles are used in stream courses and along shorelines. These landscape effects are often more symbolic than realistic. For example, there is generally an island in either a stream or pond which suggests the island of everlasting life, or Nirvana - a place without time or space of ultimate retirement in peace and tranquillity. Its symbols may be a stone representing a turtle, or a tree form representing a crane - symbols of longevity and the good life - and such additional happiness symbols as the shochikubai or three friends of the new year consisting of pine, bamboo and plum. Some of these symbols are entirely abstract in their form.

A Japanese Garden is not planted with the idea of presenting a display of flowers. The Japanese often enjoy their gardens most in the austere conditions of winter when the trees are bare and the foliage is at a minimum. They often trim camellias, azaleas, and other flowering shrubs so as to produce a minimum of flowers. Flowers are never used in beds or borders. In fact, a severe discipline governs the use of flowers which are used at only one point in the house, the tokonoma, a special architectural alcove built for the purpose. Fresh flowers or plant materials are never used decoratively on the dining table or at odd points about the house; never worn as corsages; never used at weddings or funerals. Essentially as a matter of philosophy, flowers and plants are considered to have a very special life of their own as an expression of nature and are never used as decorations.

The principles which govern these aspects of the garden come from the philosophy of Zen and they can mean not only one thing alone, but may have correlative meanings at the same time. No one principle therefore necessarily contains the whole meaning on its own.


The Zen Principles which relate to the Niwa
are presented in the following pages:

Fukinsei asymmetry or dissymmetry
Kanso simplicity
Koko austerity, maturity, bare essentials, venerable
Shizen naturalness, absence of pretense
Yugen subtly profound, suggestion rather than revelation
Datsuzoku unworldliness, transcendence of conventional
Seijaku quiet, calm, silent

The fundamental and related concepts of
Shibui, Wabi and Sabi are discussed on these pages:

Wabi                       Sabi


About Professor Lennox Tierney

UCLA - Bachelors Degree
Columbia, NY - Masters
Sogetsu Ryu, Tokyo, Japan - Doctorate
Technical Work: Art Center School, Pasadena
Former President of Schaeffer School of Design, San Francisco
Professor Emeritus of the History of Asian Arts, University of Utah
Former Curator of Asian Arts for San Diego Museum of Arts
Current Curator of the Art of Japan for Utah State Museum of Fine Arts
Art Director - Japanese Friendship Garden, San Diego
Consultant / Donor, Mingei Museum, San Diego


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