Paths, Roji

Paths or "roji" are integral to any garden, they determine and often prescribe and direct the route the visitor will take. Their form and pattern can influence the visitor's perception of the garden. The speed and cadence of movement through a garden is very much determined by the design of the path. Furthermore, placement of the path within the garden is important in determining how a garden will be revealed to the visitor. The design of the path and surface materials used can also highly influence the garden experience.

The paths using stepping stones and step stones were late 16th century innovations, introduced to Japanese garden design intended for the practice of the tea ceremony (cha-no-yu).
A tea garden is called "Roji" in Japanese. However, depending on the characters used it can also mean: "passageway", "path", "dewy path", "path ground" or "hut ground" and possibly even more. This actually emphasizes an interesting concept. That is that the path is not as such a collection of stones but a pattern composition of stones in a space that is shaped into the garden. Hence we use the name Roji for the Tsubo-en Ginshanada pathway.

In Tsubo-en, and in most gardens, we can differentiate two classes of paths based on the usage purpose. These are the paths that we want visitors to walk and paths for other use, mostly utility. In Tsubo-en there is one primary path that offers a circumambulation of the house. This path has different styles depending on the location. The path at the entrance of the garden also uses the same type of tobi-ishi and really is the start of this path as the Ginshanada extends to here.
House and garden work together to give "interesting views" and exploit the concept of "tachidomaru". This word is a combination of "stand" and "stop" and means "to pause, stop and look back".
Miegakure, "hide and reveal", refers to a number of techniques used to configure garden scenes in sequence as visitors walk through the garden. The term was first used in regard to roji. The concept of "mie gakure", also "hidden and seen", is a central design principle in Japanese stroll gardens with curving paths. Stepping stones are arranged so that new, unexpected views and objects are discovered at each turn and that the visitors view is directed into specific directions to, almost force the eyes to see objects and elements from a specific angle and position.
We will further discuss the paths in the applicable garden-sections. In the section below we will elaborate on some of the techniques.

The Roji, tobi-ishi path (main garden)

The use of natural material, but with clearly visible traces of human intervention was introduced around 1600. The word "stepping stones" tobi-ishi, shows up, perhaps for the first time, with Rikyû3 in 1587. The use of cement is extensively discussed by Oribe 4.a. Not long after that dressed and cut granite was combined with natural stone, flat rocks in fancy pathways or in long rectangular forms, combined with stepping stones.

Stepping stones appear in various shapes. Some unworked, others are worked in order to create unexpected and unusual forms like rectangles and circles. Like in Tsubo-en this can get a thematic use and break the monotony of the aesthetic experience. For example, there are usually two rectangular stones that are parallel to each other (Tanzaku) which appears in the middle of a path.

One third of the path that encircles the house crosses, or actually "floats" in (that is what tobi means) the ginshanada. The path is made up of tobi-ishi, floating stones. The stone used is hewn granite, flat but rough on the walking surface. All stones have one straight side. These where acquired from a stonecutter.
The interplay of right angles and natural curved forms is thematic in Tsubo-en.

This path is used to manipulate the visitor's experience of the garden, Miegakure. It can not be walked without looking at the stepping stones and thus enforces the visitor to view to the ground and then up in predefined directions. In this way the pace is slowed down and physical and visual consciousness are increased. This should however remain unnoted as such.
The way to do this is the technique called sute ishi, literally "thrown away stones". These are low inconspicuous stones that appear as if scattered in a random manner. This technique is used to make a composition look more natural and to hide any of the secret (enforcement) intentions. Stepping stones are placed in varying intervals. Although they create irregular paths in various patterns, the placement of the stones is calculated and precise.
The sute ishi path is also refered to as mamemaki-ishi, "scattered beans" method. The translation of which suggests that stones are placed to look as if they had been thrown down at random. Stones are however placed very carefully with respect to their relative shape, color and size.  The tobi-ishi alternate with the carefully designed composite path with geometrical forms of finished flagstones, broken or full-size.

The composite cut-granite path positioned in the middle of the roji (section C) is very much inspired by the so called "Oribe's style" 4 shown below, which also promotes reuse of stone elements 10. This method of stone paving is also known as nobedan, mostly when used in a Roji.

Paths construction

At the time (1997) natural stone was hard to get. We purchased these, and most other natural stones, from a local stonecutter. To him most of this was waste and therefore acquired for an interesting price.

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The raking is a creative act. The patterns get changed frequently. Photo taken at sun set, hence the colours. The composite cut-granite (Oribe) path in the middle of the Roji (section C).
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Paths and stairs examples

This section shows a selection of fine authentic examples that all originate from Japan. These examples show how design principles and rules are applied and interpreted and how and what materials are used in genuine Japanese gardens. These examples should be of help and inspiration during realization of your own Japanese garden.

Part of these photos is from our own trips others have been collected from different sources, including but not limited to the Internet. New examples will be frequently added.

Adachi Museum of Art, Yasugi-city   Daitoku-ji, kyoto. This method of stone paving is also known as "nobedan" and is mostly used in a (or as a) Roji, dewy-path in a tea garden.   A stone pavement (and Ishidoro) that reaches the Genkan (Kara-mon), Zuiho-in temple, Kyoto   Path near Daitoku-ji, Kyoto   Daisen-in, Kyoto   Gingkaku-ji, Kyoto   Konchi-in, Kyoto   Ryoan-ji, Kyoto   Tenju-an is one of the many subtemples of Nanzen-ji in Kyoto   Shisendo (House of the Great Poets), Kyoto   Zuiho-in, Kyoto   Unknown location   Zuiho-in, Kyoto   Raikyu-ji, Nagoya   Entrance path near the "Philosopher's path" in Kyoto   Tobo-ishi path in moss at Nanzen-ji, Kyoto.   A Roji-path to the tea house in Tenryu-Ji Temple in Sagano, Kyoto.   The temple Josho-ji in Kyoto   The temple Konpuku-ji in Kyoto   The subtemple Taizo-in in Myoshin-ji in Kyoto   The temple Nanzen-ji in Kyoto   The temple Nanzen-ji in Kyoto   Kamigamo Jinja in Kyoto    

Special purpose step stones

The tobi-ishi path ends at the veranda in front of our "shoin".
Here a number of Yaku-ishi, special purpose, specifically the "step" stones have got a place (above photo).

In front of the veranda we have a number of heavy step-stones. Here a number of Yaku-ishi, special purpose "step" stones have got a place.
To emphasize the roles and gestures of those attending the tea ceremony, in their approach to the tea house, these steps are formally defined by the (tea garden) tradition and tea etiquette. The use of these steps is very much dictated. These stones can be very big and high because a veranda can sometimes be very high.

Photo taken just after a rain shower.

1820 Here, when approaching the veranda from the walking direction we placed a large black step at the left, the Rikudatsi ishi or "sandal stone". It is used to leave ones sandals behind prior to setting foot on the veranda. For this we found a beautiful stone, a jewel in its own right. A almost black granite flat stone, slightly polished with marvelous pattern. One should never walk on it with shoes still on. The latter is a traditional statement but even more true for this gem.

Photo taken just after a rain shower.

The biggest stone, here positioned in line with the pathway and the right one of the three as seen from the walking direction, is the "guest stone" (fumi-ishi), used to step onto the veranda. This heavy "guest stone" is, in line with the agnostic tendency described in medieval treatises 4, reused and originates from a church, (garan-ishi) [1].
This is a late sixteenth century development and refers to the spirit of freely experimenting with details in the garden composition and the reuse of stone artefacts, e.g. originating from temples or graveyards [1]. This stone originates from the entry steps of a church and may be hundreds of years of age.

Formally we should also have a step dedicated to any visiting Samurai. The one we have used is a symbolic one and is positioned on the far left side.


The Raihaiseki or haiseki also is a special purpose stone.
In the gravel area on the veranda corner, next to the lies the Raihaiseki or haiseki (contemplation stone).
This worshipping stone is normally used to stand on when paying reverence to a rock group. In our case this is a large flat natural stone, now fully overgrown with a thin layer of lichen (moss). The stone is greenish and is a type of "dolomite".
Originally we planned to have a single stone.
However while making sure it lay level, manually, it broke in two pieces. We will never forget the sound of that crack.
The first reaction was to try to glue it. But then we realized this hassle must have upset the Kami or otherwise, so we decided to not hide it but rather make use of it by purposely showing this separation. The parts now lay 6 cm (2.3") apart.

It became our honoured "broken stone" or "broken contemplation stone".

1788 Our "broken contemplation stone" the Raihaiseki or haiseki.

Photo taken at sun set, hence the colours.
Here the Raihaiseki in contexts as seen when standing on the Rikudatsi -ishi. 1787

To read about the gravel area, rake (kumade) and raking see: The Ginshanada and more specifically Raked patterns.

Rope tied stone

When you find something like the rope tied stone below on your path do not just step over it, like most Europeans or actually Westerners do. This is a subtle sign not to follow this path but take the alternative route.
The stone is treated with respect, as each natural object houses its own kami, hence the handsome wrapping.

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Special purpose (step) stones examples

This section shows a selection of fine authentic examples that all originate from Japan. These examples show how design principles and rules are applied and interpreted and how and what materials are used in genuine Japanese gardens. These examples should be of help and inspiration during realization of your own Japanese garden.

Part of these photos is from our own trips others have been collected from different sources, including but not limited to the Internet. New examples will be frequently added.

"Specials stones" and "specials step-stones" very much relate to or actually originate from the tea-ceremony and the chaniwa or tea-garden architecture. Yaku-ishi, special purpose and "step" stones are such an example.
Hence the application in your garden strongly depends on your specific design and your aesthetic wishes. Here we show some examples that always need to be seen in there specific context. Yet an other example is the fumiwake-ishi, Literly "path dividing stone".

Hashimoto Kansetsu Memorial Museum in Kyoto.   Raikyu-ji, Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture.   Raikyu-ji, Takahashi, Okayama Prefecture.   Special purpose step-stones in Isui-en in Nara.

Paths in other garden compartments

Paths in other garden compartments can be found in the related compartment description. To jump to it directly click one of the references below.

Most relevant related construction chapters

These are the most relevant related construction and build chapters.

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