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Southern Inspirations Garden Design

A family-run business since 1997

Southern Inspirations
Japanese Symbolism for Garden Design
Japanese symbolism for garden design is briefly explained. There has been a lot of controversy about this Japanese garden design concept. Find out more about both sides of the story on symbolism in Japanese gardens.

The main object of Japanese gardens is to copy the beauty of nature and to bring it back home. There is very little space in Japan. It is not always possible for the average Japanese family to have a large garden. They adapted it to be able to enjoy nature.

Japanese Crane Statue This adaptation is most obvious in the art of Bonsai trees. This is the art of cultivating small miniature trees. Although their garden is small, it can still have a beautiful tree in it! The inventive Japanese have made used of other natural materials to represent the objects that would just be too large for their gardens.

This practice most probably led to the mystique of Japanese symbolism in their gardening. One viewpoint is that symbolism has really been blown out of proportion and it detracts from the main object of Japanese gardens, i.e. to copy the beauty of nature itself.

Every culture does have their symbols, myths, urban legends, etc. Some people will believe in it, others don’t. A little bit of symbolism can be healthy, e.g. the Stripes and Stars will symbolize liberty and freedom to patriotic Americans, the sun represented god, unified the ancient Egyptians, etc.

Symbolism is often used in Japanese garden design. Just remember that you should never try to symbolize everything in your garden. This will detract from the purpose of your garden. Make use symbolism in moderation, and enjoy your garden.

The following table contains some common Oriental and Japanese symbols and their meaning:

The Symbolic Meaning of Plants and Items

Item Symbolic Meaning
Japanese Flowering Cherry Celebrates the change of seasons
Japanese Maple Welcomes Autumn as a friend
Pinus densiflora Eternity
Mounds Mountain ranges
Pond in shape of tortoise Longevity
Crane Longevity
1 Rock 1 of 3 Mythical Islands, a guarantee of prosperity
A line of rocks A line of boats sailing toward the Isles of the Immortals
Shumisen – 1 Central rock Central pillar that supports the heavens
3 Rocks The Buddist Trinity
Island in pond Paradise – land of paradise
Guzei – Red bridge Route blessed to take to salvation
Split bridge Bridge split to prevent the evil spirits from crossing (evil spirits are believed to only move in straight lines)
Mountain Assertive, hard, uncompromising (Yang)
Water Intellectual force, softness of water associated with feelings (Yin)
Wooden terrace jutting over picturesque garden Constant need to be with nature
Gravel Water
Straight lines – calm water
Curved lines - waves
Upturned roof edges The giant wings of the Phoenix in full flight
Phoenix – symbolic of rebirth





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