Japanese gardens are a combination of different elements: sand, water, rocks, plants and ornaments such as lanterns, bamboo fences and water basins. Three basic design principles tend to be followed, known as reduced scale, borrowed view and symbolisation. In a reduced scale design, gardens recreate mountain views and rivers in miniature, using gravel, sand and stones. Borrowed view uses existing scenery and plants to enhance the garden. All Japanese garden designs incorporate symbolisation: for example, raked sand symbolises rivers, and collections of stones and rocks imitate islands.
The Concept of Space
A key point when designing a Japanese-style garden is the idea of space. If you are working with a small area, your aim is to create an illusion of a large garden. This is only possible if you choose your design pieces with care. A single rock can symbolise a vast mountain; a small pond can represent a lake. Empty space is an important part of a Japanese garden, based on the concepts of "in" and "yo" (commonly referred to as the Chinese "yin" and "yang") which means, loosely translated, that without nothing, you cannot have something.
Enclosure is a key design element in every Japanese garden. This is based on the desire to create a true retreat and protect the garden from the outside world. It involves the use of fences, gates or walls. As well as being functional, these constructions take on a much deeper symbolic meaning, and encourage users of the garden to seek solace there from the rest of the world, leaving all worries and problems outside. Another idea behind the fence is "hide and reveal." A solid wall may be built with only a small window, affording passersby a peek into the garden behind. There may be other screens or partitions erected within the garden itself, hiding certain features and encouraging visitors to explore all areas of the garden until they really have a sense of it.
Stones or rocks are crucial to the Japanese garden. The basic types of stones used are tall vertical stones, low vertical stones, arched stones, horizontal stones and reclining stones. They are normally placed in groups of three, five or seven stones; or occasionally in a pair, provided the stones are of the same type and one is slightly smaller than the other. Three "bad" stones must be avoided: "diseased stone" (a withered or misshapen stone); "dead stone" (a vertical stone used as a horizontal and vice versa); and "pauper stone" (a stone that is an odd one out among other stones in the garden). Stones often have a function, such as a stepping stone or part of a bridge.