The Japanese garden was born from the art of the Chinese garden that, having entered the land of the rising sun, was reworked and developed based on the original forms and aesthetic.
Chinese influence manifested itself in ancient times with ‘geomancy’, a sort of divinatory technique by means of the earth according to which objects, and in particular stones, can influence the energy of a place in relation to the location.
The stones and their arrangement take on such enormous importance in the Japanese garden, so much so that a specific figure was created: monks dedicated solely to the art of following the desire of the stone while placing it is born.
Furthermore, from China comes the conception of the sacredness of nature that is inhabited by the Kami, living presences that are found in everything.
The garden frames nature, thus allowing us to get closer to the source and the wonder of the world.
Finally, there is the influence of Buddhism which, merging with local Shintoism, makes the garden a symbolic place, a spiritual force and a concrete aid to contemplation.
The monk and garden creator Musō Soseki goes so far as to say that those who distinguish between the garden and Buddhist practice have not found the true way. So, the Japanese garden is never designed to acquire only decorative beauty: beauty is always functional to spirituality.
The path is fundamental in this regard, as it determines the way in which the garden is experienced.
Walking the path is a performative religious practice, it requires humility and conscious abandonment.
The aim is to rise above ordinary thoughts by approaching the Buddhist ideal of “beyond the mind”. The goal is therefore to give birth to harmony between man and the environment, between the self and the other by itself.
With Zen Buddhism the garden seen as an instrument of spiritual elevation becomes inaccessible and reaches very high levels of abstraction.
Thanks to the Mitate-e, that is hinting at something using another entity, a rock evokes a mountain or an animal, an expanse of sand represents the sea. What we see, therefore, depends first of all on ourselves exactly as in modern abstract art.
It is the famous ‘Karesansui’, the Zen garden par excellence, in which the mind is pushed to free itself from the body in order to reach a deep knowledge that goes beyond the apparent aspect of things.
In the Japanese garden there are also the Shinto portals, symbol of crossing the threshold of understanding, the bridges, which represent the passage to the enlightenment, the terrace, to admire the moon through its reflection on the water, a symbolic judgment about the impossibility to clearly see the reality.
Then there is the tea garden, marked by the aesthetics of wabi-sabi that enhances the natural imperfection, precariousness and transience of beauty.
These are elements of great poeticity and refinement that made the architect Tadao Ando say that the art of the garden represents the apogee of the figurative arts in Japan