Designer’s Statement

By James A. Bier

Japan’s gardens occupy a unique position in the world development of garden design. All world gardens are built on the use of three main elements, vegetation, stone and water but, how they are used and what they suggest are widely separate ideas. The gardens of the West, the Middle East, and mainland Asia focus strongly on symmetrical patterns and layout, forcing nature into visions under man’s control. Vegetation is the dominant element in such a garden.

In Japan, the gardens are the opposite, strongly asymmetrical and following the natural form at all levels. The hand of man can hardly be visible or is strongly compatible with the designs of nature. But it is not just a copy of nature because that would mean randomness and without focus. Instead, nature is distilled, seeking the essence of what nature offers in the simplest form, presented in an aesthetic way and still not obviously coming from the hand of man. Now natural rocks are more important than vegetation.

Although Japanese garden development goes back more than 1400 years, today’s gardens come from four or five main styles with many sub-variations. The earliest style visible today is the moderate sized Dry Garden (Karesansui) introduced about 800 years ago. In Japanese garden design, all gardens have water except where just suggested as with the use of raked gravel in the Dry Garden.

The second style garden to arrive was the Tea Garden (Cha Niwa) about 450 years ago as an important part serving the tea ceremony, a social and aesthetic entity. Here nature is strongly suggested, to help prepare the guest-visitor for the ceremony by leaving a structured life momentarily aside by going into nature’s realm.

Another style of garden is the Courtyard Garden (Tsubo Niwa), usually small, enclosed on three or four sides and borrowing very simply from the Dry and Tea Garden designs.

The fourth style is the large Stroll Garden (Kaiyushiki) starting about 400 years ago, associated with estates of the regional warlords (Daimyo) as symbols of their power and wealth. Most gardens focus on a large ond ringed by sinuous walking paths and containing frequent, special viewpoints. The Dry, Tea, and Courtyard gardens are also often incorporated into the very large settings.

From these garden styles, a Residential style has developed that includes any part of the other gardens to fit the property. Today the Residential Gardens are usually private but the style can be seen at hotels, restaurants, businesses and other public spaces.

The Japan House gardens are here for you to enjoy, relax, and connect with what nature has to offer, away from the hustle and bustle of campus and the community. Your respect of the gardens is greatly appreciated.