How to Make a Japanese Fountain

Updated March 23, 2017

If you're planning to create a Japanese garden or bring Asian accents to your landscape design, a Japanese fountain will add a fresh touch to your decor. There are a few traditionally Japanese fountains you can choose from, including the movement-oriented shishi odoshi and Zen waterfall. But one of the most popular fountains, and one that's simple to make, is the tsukubai---a cleansing fountain inspired by the earlier chozubachi found at Buddhist temples, where visitors purify themselves before entering. This kind of fountain is also used often in traditional tea ceremonies to prepare guests for the experience.

Map out the area of the garden that will accommodate the tsukubai basin. There's no "proper way" for the fountain to be placed, but in general the basin is set apart from the flowing water. A large, flat rock goes in front of the basin; this is usually where visitors would stand to cleanse themselves. Two rocks lie on either side of the basin, equal in proportion to each other to offer balance. Normally a bed of gravel is formed either next to the basin (known as the "edge of the sea" formation) or surrounding it (called "centre of the sea" formation.)

Set up the water pump system. The easiest one to set up is a "self-contained" reservoir. Lay the reservoir lining first, then the variable-rate pump. Put the bricks in the middle of the liner to support the basin, allowing space between them for the water to be drained from the basin. The rebar will be laid on either side of the bricks, and the grate goes on top. The grate should be level with the ground, on top of which the basin will rest.

Lay the basin on top of the grate, making sure it's level with the ground without sinking in or rising above it too much. The hole in the basin should line up with the space you left between the bricks for the water to drain.

Insert the bamboo spigot, also called "kakei", into the ground near both the basin and the water pump underneath. The most common type of spigot is the "T-bar" formation, with a fixed position, but you can alternately use the hydro-powered "shishi odoshi" spigot that dips to touch the rocks or ground every time it fills with water.

Connect the water pump to the spigot. Each model of kakei will have its own method of accomplishing this, but usually there's a tiny hole near the bottom of the spout through which you can thread the pump's cable.

Fill the basin with water and test the pump system. If it runs slowly, try repositioning the basin so it more closely lines up with the space between the bricks underneath.

Things You'll Need

  • Stone or rock basin
  • Variable rate pump
  • 2 slabs of rebar
  • Mesh grating
  • Bricks
  • Gravel
  • Bamboo fountain spigot
  • Reservoir liner
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About the Author

Umiko Sasaki has been writing for newspapers and trade magazines since 1999. Credits include, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, Mayo Center for the Performing Arts, and several regional charities. She holds a Bachelor's degree from Drew University in playwriting and has owned a copywriting business in New Jersey since 2005.