How to Create A Japanese Garden

Date Posted: 30 November 2020

Japanese gardens are some of the most famous types of garden in the world. They evoke a sense of calm, spirituality and have a unique aesthetic that seems to add beauty to any outdoor space. It’s no surprise that this important cultural aspect has slowly made its way into Western gardening. 

Creating such a space from scratch can seem daunting. After all, Japanese gardens have thousands of years of history behind them. But the truth is, anyone can build and design a Japanese style garden, with a little bit of creativity, the right tools and a little understanding of the right elements. 

What do you want out of a Japanese garden?

Before setting off on your natural journey, it may be worth examining your reasons for designing a Japanese garden in the first place. Traditionally, these spaces were created as a spiritual haven, as much a treat for the mind and the soul as for the eyes. Even if a garden wasn’t sacred or spiritual in itself, the Japanese garden carried so much psychological meaning in every design decision that separating the garden from the mind would have been nearly impossible.

Of course, spirituality does not have to be your main motivator when embarking on this quest. But at the very least understanding the significance of certain design decisions - such as bridges to signify transition, stones to symbolise strength, and water to show movement and fluidity - it will be difficult to tap into its essence. 

A Japanese garden was never intended to be purely aesthetic, and getting to grips with the history and culture behind it will likely enrich your experience and broaden your understanding of some of those features that you’ve grown to love so much.

Keep it Simple

The heart of Japanese gardening is simplicity and this is reflected in most of its design, even if the exception is planned meticulously. One of the best examples of this is the ubiquitous nature of moss in almost every style of Japanese gardening; something which would never be simply left to grow in a western garden. 

In Japan, however, moss is a true symbol of the acceptance of a natural object in a manmade space and if there is one colour palette that is a safe choice for a Japanese garden, it’s green. Moss in particular is a visual representation of the harmony between nature and humankind, and by letting it grow freely, you are allowing that connection to flourish. There are also fewer plants you could pick for a Japanese garden that would be so visually pleasing with so little work or effort. 

The entire purpose of the simplicity of the Japanese garden, however, is to encourage your mind and imagination to thrive as you move from place to place. Some styles of Japanese garden even go as far as to simply have a wide open space filled with only sand. This helps to free the mind and encourage almost a meditative experience. 

Consider Movement

You don’t just want to consider what you see when you walk into a garden; a large part of this experience, no matter how small or large your space, is movement. A Japanese garden is a contemplative experience, designed to move the person along slowly but surely, experiencing everything the garden has to offer. 

pavings are one method by which this movement can be achieved. Stone pavings are a traditional aspect of a Japanese garden that encourage this kind of experience. In a traditional Japanese garden, these stepping stones act as a pleasing visual - almost like paint drops on a canvas - as well as force the visitor to explore the garden at a slow and gradual pace. 

Consider the addition of a threshold as part of your garden aesthetic to further create this illusion of space and create a journey within the space. Many Japanese gardens have gates for this exact reason. The space instantly appears larger and by dividing  a garden up into sections like this and the experience becomes an explorative one, which is precisely what entering a Japanese garden should feel like.

If you have the space, one of the most iconic aspects of a Japanese garden is the symbol of the bridge and especially the red bridge. Designed to move people from one “island” to another, the bridge serves both a practical and symbolic purpose. Movement can be metaphorical as well as literal and when you see a bridge in a Japanese garden, this symbolises many different journeys; the journey between the world of the living and tube afterlife, the journey between man and nature, or a spiritual journey within your own self. All of these aspects combined, whether they be as simple as stepping stones or an entire bridge structure, help to create this sequence of journeys. 

Use your senses

One of the best ways of incorporating traditional elements into your Japanese garden is by considering the design as a sensory experience. If we consider the garden a place for spiritual or emotional reflection, then adding elements that take full advantage of all our senses is vital for this. 

We already know that the visual elements of a Japanese garden are enough to stimulate the eyes. With lush green moss and elegant maple trees, cherry blossoms and plants that truly take advantage of all four seasons, the garden is never at risk of not being a visual treat. However, one of the other vital senses in experiencing a Japanese garden is sound. Traditionally, these gardens were often used as a place for meditation; naturally, relaxing and inspiring sounds play a big role in this. 

Water is an element that is found in many Japanese gardens, whether it be in a pond, water feature or even a waterfall. Its purpose, apart from the symbolism of water representing journeys, pathways and reflection, is also to create a beautiful sound for those that visit. Trickling sounds of a waterfall or the delicate sounds of a fountain nearby can be very stimulating for the mind. 

Even if a water feature is outside of your budget or capabilities for your own Japanese garden, windchimes, as well as certain types of grass that whistle in the wind, are also a fantastic alternative. These are widely seen in traditional gardens to also create a soundscape in the space. The garden is a living, breathing thing and can create its own music, allowing the individual to experience that serene moment. 


No two Japanese gardens will look or feel the same, and part of the beauty of creating one for yourself is being able to interact with the elements that mean the most to you. Whether that’s the visual aspect, the relaxing atmosphere, or the deeply ingrained spirituality, there are many options available to you.