A space that embodies nature can act as a kind of balm - a
restorative for the mind. In its ideal form, the modern Japanese garden is
just that spiritual space, designed according to a sophisticated aesthetic that
evokes and celebrates nature.
The means used differ, but all draw on a thousand years of what we call tokikata - in
this context, the reading of the Cosmos through the garden.
Ultimately, this is how I see the modern garden in Japan - a space that provides
the means for the mind to become acutely sensitive to the simple, small matters
that are often blanketed by daily life.
Shunmyo Masuno, Zen priest 18 in
The modern Japanese garden [ 8 ].
What to expect on this site ?
Experience-based on a real-world project, being our Tsubo-en garden, this is
the on-line "living" guide to realize your own authentic Japanese or more
specifically Zen garden.
Approach to realization with a general methodology based on six iterative realization phases
and the details on how we used this to realize Tsubo-en.
Describes the eight essential archetypes of Japanese Gardens and how to choose the right one
or combination, for you in your situation.
Help you to make a choice by showing hundreds of subject-focused genuine Japanese examples
and links to perhaps all gardens in Japan with web-presence.
From vision and architecture to realization of the infrastructure and maintenance.
We not only show the visual objects and elements but also the mostly
hidden infrastructure components.
And we show you what activities you can expect in your garden, year-round.
Either go for a more informal fast-path for a small or even balcony-garden or follow
the full-blown method, wanting to know all principles and the symbolic meaning (dozens of
book references, citations, notes, video-clips, Web-links etc.).
In all cases you will not repeat any mistakes that others may make.
You don't start with the plants but with a plan.
Gives information to help you make the right decisions and pick the plants suited for you
in your environment and surrounding.
This includes our lessons learned over the last 30 years.
Assisting you to bring together modern technology and authentic aesthetics,
to realize the infrastructure required in your environment so that
you will end up with not only a beautiful but also maintainable garden.
All this documented with sources and supported by hundreds of Internet references,
that you can view with a single mouse-click or chose to not use, or do so later.
Besides the above, all this is not static, like a book. The site will be updated when new
information is available or insights change.
Our garden activities get frequently documented in a blog-based diary, including old and
new lessons learned.
All of this for free !
The house was built in the 1997/1998 time-frame and
gardening activities have started in 1999. That is the
groundwork. We did the architecture designs during the
building period. We did all the gardening ourselves
including architecture, plant selection and groundwork. In
the section named Realization you can read what method we
used to get to this result.
Now in the 9th growth season (2008) the garden is "getting
shape". As time progresses, information and photo's will be
added to these pages so as to reflect the development of
the garden and to add more hints, tips and perhaps lessons
The name we gave our private garden is
"Tsubo-en" ( 坪 園 ).
This name was initially given to our first Japanese
That was a small more or less enclosed courtyard
garden, about 10 m by 10 meters (33 x 33 feet) in
By now we have moved to a new home with a garden
that is not enclosed and also not that small (at
least to Dutch standards). The size of this garden
is about 30 by 30 meters (98 x 98 feet).
Nonetheless we kept the name of the garden.
"Tsubo-en", refers to a small enclosed courtyard
garden of which the area size is expressed in
A tsubo is a traditional Japanese unit of area, the
equivalent of two tatami mats laid side by side.
This size is also known as 1 by 1 "ken". A "ken" is
a Japanese length measure of 1.80 meter (5.9
Because one tatami is 1 by 0.5 ken, the area size
of one tsubo equals two tatami an area of 3,24
m2 (34.82 " ).
"En" (or Sono) means small enclosed (courtyard)
garden (or literally bordered field or controlled
nature) and this was true for our first Japanese
Calligraphy by: Hideo
Kohmura (1991). The chisel in stone (home
page) is made by the author.
Photo's from Tsubo-en on this site are (mostly) taken with a
Canon Digital IXUS 40, and reduced to 20% or 25% of the original size.
For we are lovers of the beautiful, yet simple in our tastes,
and we cultivate the mind without loss of manliness. (Pericles, ca 430 B.C.)
Tsubo-en is a karesansui5 garden and can be
regarded as a form of expressionistic art that results in an impressionistic
garden experience. The design did
not start from existing models in nature (shukkei)
but is better understood as an intellectual projection onto
nature, moving from land-scape to mind-scape. It is a so
called "dry landscape" garden where water is symbolized by
sand, gravel or stone and other miniature elements and
where stone and shaped shrubs (karikomi)
are used interchangeable. These gardens can be extremely
abstract and represent (miniature) landscapes and as said,
This Buddhist preferred way to express cosmic beauty in
worldly environments is inextricable from Zen Buddhism (see
Buddhist Corner and Zen Guide in Japanese garden
The Tsjubo-en garden can be typified as a "Kyõto
(karesansui) style" garden. These then are divided
into two groups, one of which classifies as the more
abstract type. Here abstraction is used to compose a
scenic,  flat (hiro niwa) garden that
incorporates the principle of "yohaku no bi" 7 : the beauty of empty space  and
moderate use of tsukiyama,
landscape elements (artificial hills).
In addition Tsubo-en incorporates some tea garden
(cha-niwa or roji) design elements. Although
substantial part of the Tsubo-en architecture design was
inspired by literature-study, back in May 1991 we have made
or own pilgrimage 1 to Japanese temples and gardens.
Hence our design and implementation was also inspired by
our own experiences of the "real thing". Tsubo-en employs
exclusively more abstract compositional scenes. The rock
arrangements, trained trees and clipped shrubs, mostly
glossy-leaved evergreens, are without any hint of a
realistic landscape, but as a stylized abstraction, in some
cases almost like sculptures. Although not representing an
existing landscaped scenery in the strict sense, Tsubo-en
was nevertheless designed to be a three dimensional scene
or painting, to be viewed while sitting inside the house
and from the terrace and veranda. To get an impression of
how this looks see the low
viewpoint tsukiyama slide show. (scroll one page down
from the top).
Adapted to the availability, situation and surrounding, in
general shrubs are used as a replacement for rocks and
stone and only a few real stone are used. In Japanese
gardens rocks are often used interchangeably with shaped
The following composition shows a quick overview of some
of the Tsubo-en characteristic elements and objects and their location.
Use of abstract scenes belongs to an old mainstream of rock
arrangement concepts. Their ancient origins lead back to
animistic beliefs (Taoist, Shintoist) of stones embodying
gods (iwakara and kami). Waterfall arrangements stood
largely outside the animistic tradition and are not used in
Tsubo-en [1, Ch.5.3].
The fact that we have not included rivers or streams,
waterfalls etc. in Tsubo-en,was purely based on our
interpretation of the concept and aesthetics. Although not
at all animists we seem to have something with stones
The same is true with regard to symbolism. Where symbolic
use of scenes and elements contributes to the "garden
experience" as we prefer it we have made use of it.
Examples of symbolism are the Buddhist trinity, tortoise,
crane (Hõrai), the "Mystic Isles" etc. Numbers like
three, five and seven also play an important role. Although
Tsubo-en is highly abstract it is far more "down to earth"
and far less esoteric than some of the "extreme" Zen
gardens like for instance Ryoan-ji. In Tsubo-en only very
few, of the sometimes prominently present, ornaments have
been used [Musõ: 1, page 156].
To us most important is the aesthetic appreciation of the
garden. Like many things of quality in life, and perhaps
even more so with a Japanese karesansui garden, one often
has to learn to appreciate the beauty. In case of Tsubo-en
this may even be more so since the composition is not to be
found in real nature, but is a product of the imagination,
it can be termed as a "mindscape". To some, the beauty is
obvious right from the beginning, others may never learn to
appreciate or understand it. In this case, where the garden
makers are the same persons as the appreciators, the beauty
is almost a feeling and some design-points where beyond any
discussion or doubt. This must be the mental, partly
perhaps subconscious, interpretation of that what is
actually viewed by the onlooker.
The individual chapters are directly accessible from the
contents or indirectly via the menu options.
In [2, p110]:
...had become the domain of Zen priests.
The most famous of these was
Muso Soseki or Muso Kokushi [b], whose name is linked
with Saiho-ji and Tenryu-ji,
and who is even credited by some with the invention of
the dry landscape garden per se.
A longer definition of karesansui, courtesy JAANUS.
Literally dry landscape. A common type of garden which
suggests mountains and water using only stones, sand or
gravel and, occasionally, plants.
Water is symbolized both by the arrangements of rock forms
to create a dry waterfall karetaki and by patterns
raked into sand to create a dry stream
The word karesansui is found in the 11th century
garden manual Sakuteiki
and garden historians have designated Heian-period rock
arrangements as zenkishiki karesansui.
Karesansui usually refers to dry gardens of the
and Edo periods, although the term kouki karesansui
has been created to distinguish this later type. Because of
their similarity to ink monochrome landscape painting
suiboku sansuiga, particularly that of the Chinese
Northern Song dynasty (960-1126), karesansui gardens
are also called suiboku sansuigashiki teien or
hokusou sansuigashiki teien. Like paintings, the
gardens are meant to be viewed from a single, seated
perspective. In addition to the aesthetic similarities to
Chinese painting, the rocks in karesansui are often
associated with Chinese mountains such as Mt. Penglai (Jp;
Houraisan) or Mt. Lu (Jp; Rosan). Given the multiple
Chinese associations of karesansui gardens, they are
the preferred type of garden for Zen temples (Buddhism
having arrived from China in the 7th century) and the best
examples are found in the front or rear gardens of Zen
abbots' residences, houjou. Exemplary
Muromachi period examples include the gardens at
Daisen-in in Daitokuji and at Ryouanji.
While Muromachi karesansui tend to use plants
sparingly, early Edo
period gardens of this type often contrast an area of
raked gravel with a section of moss and larger plants along
the rear wall. The gardens at the Houjou and Konchi-in at
and Shinju'an and Oubai-in at Daitokuji
are good examples. The aesthetic consonance with abstract
art largely accounts for the resurgence of
karesansui gardens both in Japan and abroad in the
20th century. A good example of a modern karesansui
is Shigemori Mirei's [III-8] 1939 east garden at the Houjou of
The Tsubo-en scenic garden is based on the Zen landscape
karesansui garden but now employing more plants to (partly)
replace rocks with shrubs that are kept almost