Nihon Teien

Nihon Teien: The Aesthetic Japanese Garden

Nihon Teien (Japanese garden) is one of Japan’s traditional cultures and has been an essential part of Japanese daily life since ancient times. It is a shelter in the hustle and bustle of daily life to experience Zen. It embodies the unique Japanese aesthetics that pursues the natural beauty of simplicity and pureness.

What is Nihon Teien?

Nihon Teien

Nihon Teien is traditional Japanese landscaped gardens, often found in temples, old residences of daimyo (feudal lords), old residences of politicians and industrialists, public facilities, and even some hotels. There are three main categories of traditional Japanese gardens: tsukiyama (hill gardens), karesansui (dry gardens), and chaniwa gardens (tea gardens).

Nihon Teien incorporates Japanese aesthetic and philosophical ideas, the designers of which avoid artificial decorations and highlight natural landscapes. Water is an important part of many gardens, as are rocks and gravel. Evergreens are the "bones of the garden" in Nihon Teien. Although there are many attractive Japanese flowering plants, they play a smaller role in Japanese gardens than in Western gardens. Seasonally flowering shrubs and trees are more striking compared with the predominant green. Japanese gardeners often shape their plants delicately to present a natural-seeming appearance.

History of Nihon Teien

Nihon Teien

The first Japanese garden was built in the Asuka period (538-710) and was designed by a designer from the Korean Peninsula. The Nara period saw the first Nihon Teien built by a Japanese designer. The garden was strongly influenced by Chinese Taoist and Buddhist philosophies. During the Heian Period (794-1185), three garden styles emerged: gardens of palaces, gardens of villas, and gardens of temples. The layout of the gardens was in strict accordance with traditional Chinese Feng Shui.

During the Kurama and Muromachi periods (1185-1573), Chinese monks brought Zen to Japan, which inspired the Zen gardens. It was also known as a dry garden or Japanese rock garden, in which there were irregular rocks or trees marked with shimenawa (white braided ropes) surrounded by white stones and pebbles that symbolize purity.

Edo-period (1615-1867) gardens were either promenade gardens or Zen gardens, which were much larger than earlier gardens. Promenade gardens consisted of a series of "famous views," which may be the imitations of famous landscapes, such as Mount Fuji, and scenes from religious legends. Unlike Zen gardens, they highlighted nature rather than inherent rules.

Elements of Nihon Teien

Nihon Teien

The styles of gardens varied from period to period, but what they had in common was the use of water, stone, plants, and other elements to express the natural landscape. The following is a list of common elements in Nihon Teien:

Water: Nihon Teien always features water, whether it is physical ponds and cascades, or symbolic water represented by white sand and gravel.

Rocks and Sand: Rocks, sand, and gravel are indispensable elements in Nihon Teien. They are often used to symbolize geographies, such as mountains and hills, and religious scenes, such as Mount Horai of Taoism and Mount Sumeru of Buddhism. In Buddhist philosophy, rocks and water also symbolize yang and yin.

Stone Lanterns and Water Basins: They were originally associated with Buddhist temples, but have become a common decoration in Nihon Teien. Stone lanterns (dai-doro) were originally arranged along the paths of the entrances to temples. Stone water basins (tsukubai) were originally placed in the garden for visitors to wash their hands and mouths before a tea ceremony.

Trees, Flowers, and Shrubs: All the plants are selected according to aesthetic principles, pruned, and shaped to provide a specific scene or image. Trees are carefully selected and arranged according to colors in autumn. Moss is used to infer that the garden is ancient. Flowers are also carefully selected according to the blooming season. Some plants are chosen for their symbolic meaning, such as the lotus is sacred in Buddhism teachings and the pine tree represents longevity.

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