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 learned.
Tsubo-en kanji
The name we gave our private garden is "Tsubo-en" ( 坪 園 ).
This name was initially given to our first Japanese style garden.
That was a small more or less enclosed courtyard garden, about 10 m by 10 meters (33 x 33 feet) in size.
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 tsubo. 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 feet).
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 " )[4].

"En" (or Sono) means small enclosed (courtyard) garden (or literally bordered field or controlled nature) and this was true for our first Japanese style garden.
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 karesansui 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, even mind-scapes.
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 related links).

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, [1] flat (hiro niwa) garden that incorporates the principle of "yohaku no bi" 7 : the beauty of empty space [2] 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 shrubs.

The following composition shows a quick overview of some of the Tsubo-en characteristic elements and objects and their location.

Tsubo-en overview

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 (suiseki). 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 Table of contents or indirectly via the menu options.

Karesansui ( karesansui kanji) definition

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 karenagare.
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 Muromachi, Momoyama 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 Nanzenji, 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 Toufukuji.

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 static.

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