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Japanese Garden Ideas for a Tranquil Outdoor Space

Japanese gardens take outdoor landscaping to the next level. There’s art and craft behind those serene and well-poised Zen backyards.

For one, combining the elements of water and rocks with clean lines create a tranquil retreat. But how do you get it right and not overdo the landscape?

Simple: take inspiration from these Japanese garden ideas! These life-affirming designs are sure to bring a Zen contemplation to your yard.

1. Moon gate entrance

A moon gate is a wall embedded into the architecture of traditional Japanese gardens. It imitates the shape of the full moon. What an eye-catching and inviting way to welcome your guests to your Zen sanctuary!

Japanese style garden with moon gate

(Image Credit)

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2. Embrace the concept of ‘Ma’

Don’t overdo the landscape; keep the design deliberate. The concept of Japanese ‘Ma’ is all about creating a sense of balance.

There should be movement and stillness in the design. Take a cue from this traditional Japanese garden.

Japanese garden with 'Ma' concept

(Image Credit)

3. Introduce water

Water is an essential element in Japanese gardens. By adding a water feature, you can create an extra dimension to your outdoor space. What’s more, it provides a focal point that offers a sense of peace and tranquillity.

Garden pond in a Japanese garden

(Image Credit)

4. The beauty of empty space

Instead of water, use gravel to give the impression of a dry ocean or river. Dry landscape gardens are famous for using only gravel, rocks and plants. Draw inspiration from this stone garden setting.

Dry landscape concept for a Japanese garden

(Image Credit)

5. Vignettes

The philosophy behind this is that not everything will not be visible at once. A great example of this is the Zen winding path below. It leads your eye past the stone pergola, inviting you to see what’s around the next corner.

Zen winding path

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6. Display pagodas (sekito)

Pagodas are a popular design element from the Edo period. They are one of the most characteristic elements of a Japanese garden. Place one on a hill, half-covered by shrubs – or under trees.

A pagoda that adds characteristic element to a Japanese garden

(Image Credit)

7. Divine low bridge

A simple yet modern design of a Japanese garden bridge made of wood. It may be low, but the style creates a twist, giving an exquisite detail to the garden.

Wooden low Japanese garden bridge

(Image Credit)

8. A room for tea

Another well-known type of Japanese garden, a.k.a. the Japanese tea garden. Connect a tearoom to the yard to encourage your guests and even yourself with meditation.

Japanese tea garden

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9. Encourage moss

Japanese garden designs rely on a variety of trees and shrubs. But one particular distinguishing feature is the extensive use of moss. It’s a signature plant that lends a feeling of antiquity and harmony to the garden.

Japanese garden filled with mosses

(Image Credit)

10. Stones and boulders

In Japanese garden landscaping, rocks are either vertical, arching, reclining or flat. The most common arrangement is one or more groups of three rocks – like this one.

Stones and boulders on a Japanese garden(Image Credit)

11. Tsukubai

A hand washing basin that’s commonly used in Japanese tea gardens. This is a great water feature alternative if a pond can’t fit into your yard.

Basically, there is a stone basin in the middle, and the water flows into the basin through a bamboo tube.

Stone wash basin found in Japanese gardens

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12. Bonsai trees

Bonsai represents harmony in life and the balance of nature. Most Japanese gardens are decorated with this miniature tree to add a  Zen-like state to the space.

Bonsai tree as a centrepiece

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13. Stone Buddha statue

There’s no better spot to place a Buddha statue than in the garden. You may put one on stone plates in a hidden corner of your Japanese outdoor sanctuary.

Stone Buddha statue

(Image Credit)

14. Grow Japanese Iris

Japanese Irises are the best candidates for Japanese garden blooms, especially for ponds. Even a small pond could be enriched by a few of these Irises planted around the edge.

Or plant them in groups, where they’ll look better than placed in a row.

Japanese Irises floating on a Japanese garden pond

(Image Credit)

15. Rocky outcrop

Definitely one of our favourite rock garden ideas! Add a unique structure of natural stones planted with Sedum for year-round colour and interest. Something like this.

Rocky outcrop structure

(Image Credit)

16. Cloud pruning

A method of pruning trees and shrubs into shapes resembling clouds. This is an ancient Japanese art, and it’ll be worthwhile to apply the practice in your garden.

Cloud pruned bushes

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17. Stone lanterns

This traditional outdoor lighting can be seen at temples and Japanese gardens. Stone lanterns are great for adding appreciation to your yard during the night.

A row of stone lanterns

(Image Credit)

18. Brace with bamboo

Bamboo has many uses in Japanese gardens. It can act as a natural outdoor screen, offering privacy and shade. Even more, it confers a serenity of flora accompanied by a beautiful rustling of leaves.

Bamboo trees on a Japanese garden, providing privacy and shade

(Image Credit)

19. Strolling garden landscape

Meditating while walking and surrounded by nature is the heart of Japanese gardens. Use raised curving walkways and divide the space into five distinct areas.

Have a look at this sloping garden idea below.

Japanese strolling garden landscape

(Image Credit)

20. All features in one

Include sand, rock and gravel in your landscaping and create movements. Install a water feature such as a fountain. Plant a Japanese maple tree in the middle, with a curved bridge above the pond.

Encourage mosses to spread in nooks and crannies. Take this well-planed Japanese garden as an inspiration.

Well-planned Japanese garden design

(Image Credit)

Round-up

Japanese gardens are indeed a work of art. No wonder why many are so captivated by this type of outdoor landscaping.

We hope these ideas will help introduce the Japanese style into your backyard. Might as well check out our Chinese Garden Ideas next for more inspirations!

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FAQs

The basic elements used are stone, plants and water. Remember, a Japanese garden should be kept simple and natural.

In addition to bonsai and Japanese maple trees, you can never go wrong with:

 

  • Hakonechloa
  • Rhododendrons
  • Cherries
  • Black pines

 

and more!

Rocks in Japanese gardens are usually placed in odd-numbered groupings. Arrange three rocks of varying size and shape.

 

To create a focal point, form a triangular structure with rocks in similar colour and texture.

The most commonly used mosses in gardens in Japan are haircap, pincushion and rock cap (broom).

Traditional Japanese gardens are categorised into three types:

 

  • Tsukiyama (hill gardens)
  • Karesansui (dry gardens)
  • Chaniwa gardens (tea gardens)
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