Japanese Gardens

Gardens in Japan: Religion, politics and culture

Gardens in Japan have taken their inspiration from nature and from their religions, but politics has had a major influence too. Political power rested with a few families and garden making was just for the elite, who guarded their ideas.Thus the act of making a garden was seen as symbolic as well as an indicator of power and prestige. The way gardens changed reflected the political and religious trends, particularly the shift from the Shinto belief system to Jodo Buddhism and finally Zen Buddhism. Specific sites were important and often a new garden overlaid a previous one, with some elements of the former retained.

The gardens are controlled with strict pruning but the effect is to maintain rather than dominate and many historic gardens remain today in their original state, with just planting material being replaced. Gardening in Japan has always been seen as an art and is closely linked to landscape painting. The Japanese garden became (and still is) a potent symbol of the country. While the West’s influence took over many areas in the 19th and 20th centuries, the garden style in Japan remained unchanged.