The eastern ethos of serenity is taking root also in European gardens as the popularity of Japanese style in the landscaping of contemporary architectural spaces in the western world increases.
Designers and architects are increasingly focusing on eastern practices in shaping green spaces. Authentic Japanese gardens, however, proves to be a serious challenge for the Western man, with its complex layers and deep meaning embedded in the choice of colors, materials and symbols. Japanese consider gardens as a place to balance during long walks and meditation in a natural environment. These spaces do not exist simply to be observed or to stay in them. They are designed to stimulate the mind. This philosophical approach to green spaces gives Japanese gardens another value, turning them into a real treasure with year-round impact on the senses. They have evolved over the years, along with Zen Buddhism, from which much of the symbolism emerge.
Japanese gardeners strive to emulate the wild mountain scenery by recreating it in a miniature. A great example of this is the gardens at the Adachi Art Museum in Yasugi. Those in the ancient temples in Kyoto are a typical example of early Japanese gardens, where different green plants are in focus. Pine trees, mosses and shrubs are arranged in cascades, naturally around beautiful lakes and wooden bridges. These miniature forests the Japanese enjoy during their tea rituals or meditative practices and walks.
To recreate an authentic Japanese garden in the West however is a very ambitious venture that hides risks of disregarding the rules and symbolism in this art. For example, as in many Japanese gardens, gravel raked into graceful patterns stands in for fast-flowing water. It has no practical function, but is a metaphor for the transience of time.
Perhaps where the Japanese garden tradition differs most from its European counterpart is in its approach to flowers, which are a much rarer presence. Certain flowers are used in planting schemes, but chiefly as symbols of the fleetingness of life. The blossoms of the Japanese cherry gardens in Kyoto are a truly unforgettable experience, but it lasts for a very short time. When the blossoms falls, however, the black branches of the tree are as striking as ever. Trees are always pruned in such a way that when they lose their leaves, the trunks form a beautiful silhouette. Pruning, known as niwaki, is regarded as an art form in itself in Japan.
People from the land of the rising sun believe that the connection with earth and mother nature in all its aspects improves the welfare of humans. Nowadays, when the dynamics of the Western world create a growing need for a slower and more balanced way of living, the necessity of spaces in which modern man finds a seclusion for meditation or spiritual practices also logically arises. This explains the tendency toward the ever stronger influence of the East in the design and architecture in the Western world recently.
The potential of green spaces around us is being reconsidered. The gardens are now seen as spaces of discovery and wonder that can reveal something to us about nature that we have lost touch with.