The use of stones and rocks in a Japanese gardens or Zen gardens is an essential element in their design. Apart from trees and plants nothing features so much in a Japanese garden that stones and rocks and even that is a close call. The rules governing their usage are ancient and plentiful ,so what I plan to do in this article is give you an overview of the types of rocks and stones used together with some basic rules of design.
Japanese gardens are an art form that date back over 2,000 years, they originated in their most common form in China. As time went by and Japan imported more and more cultural ideas from China, gardens were very much at the forefront of ‘must have’s’ for the aristocracy. Priests and monks were allied to rich landowners and were encouraged to design and create gardens of spectacular proportions and intricacy. The history of garden design and those associated skills passed down over hundreds and hundreds of years took on religious overtones in a lot of cases as the influence of Zen Buddhism became common in Japan.
It was quite normal for priests who scoured riverbanks for stones and rocks of certain shapes and sizes to be revered and promoted in a physical and spiritual sense to top Japanese garden designers. It would be worth looking at some photographs of Japanese and Zen gardens to see the truly spectacular use of stones and rocks in a very precise way.
Japanese gardens are all about precision and serenity and it’s a common factor in the main 5 types of Japanese gardens. To achieve these objectives there are some essential facts to understand.
Stones and rocks are symbolic representations of real or mythical land forms. The first stone grouping to be introduced into Japanese gardens was the ‘Shumisen’ – a collection of stones, where the Buddha lives in the main central stone and his disciples are the smaller stones around the Buddha.
Chinese legend and in particular the Isles of Eternal youth made an impact in Japanese gardens in the Heian era approximately 781 to 1185 AD. These taller stones made up the group of islands which represent the unattainable dwelling place of the Immortals. One larger stone is surrounded by 3 smaller ones. This is a typical example of a Chinese influence in the use of Japanese garden rocks and stones.
There are 5 main types of stone groupings in a Japanese rock garden and each type has a name and a meaning. These stones and rocks can be used in many combinations so if you are thinking of designing your own Japanese rock garden or adding to what you already have there is plenty of scope for creativity!
The first type of stone is the ‘Soul Stone’ it is low and vertical. Secondly, is the ‘Body Stone’ which is as a rule tall and vertical in shape. The third type of stone is called ‘The Heart Stone’ or ‘Flat Stone’ – and that’s exactly what it is. Fourthly, is the ‘Branching Stone ‘ or Arching stone and last but not least is the ‘Ox Stone’ which can also be known as the ‘reclining’ stone.
All of these stones are included in Japanese rock gardens and Japanese gardens because of their ‘positive’ meaning and influence but, as you know in life for every positive there is usually a negative and so it is in Japanese gardens. ‘Bad’ stones and rocks can be put into 3 categories and these are never used in Japanese rock gardens. Firstly, there are ‘Diseased Stones’ these are stones that are withered or have a misshapen top. Secondly, comes the ‘Dead Stone’ this is a stone that is obviously used as a horizontal one and vice versa and finally, the ‘Pauper Stone’ which is a stone that has no direct connection to any other stones in the garden.
To find out more about stones and rocks in Japanese gardens and Japanese and Zen gardens in general please take a look at my FREE Japanese gardens video you can find a link in the ‘Sidebar’ of this webpage