How to Create a Japanese Garden Landscape

Edwin van Buuringen on Flickr
Edwin van Buuringen on Flickr

A Japanese garden is the epitome of peace and serenity, and it represents patient caring and nurturing. But it doesn’t have to take years and years to build one in your back yard. With a few useful tips, you can have your very own Japanese garden landscape ready in no time.


Rocks in a Japanese garden are always placed in groups of 3 – depicting man, earth and heaven. They should also be set in an asymmetrical fashion for an authentic look. If you have water features like a pond, then place them – also asymmetrically – around the pond in a seemingly haphazard manner. Water and stone are considered complementary to each other, and represent the philosophy of yin and yang.


Trees are always grown in small groups of odd numbers like 3, 5, 7 or similar. The obvious trees to pick would be cherry blossoms and Japanese maple, but you can also consider junipers or pines, depending on the climate conditions. Trees should also look like they are emerging from within the rocks, so place the rocks accordingly, and again in groups of no more than three. You can also incorporate bonsai into your Japanese garden, although bonsai gardens are normally exclusive creations in themselves and require years of careful tending; traditional methods of bonsai gardening are not usually amenable to the modern lifestyle and are therefore “pre-installed” in most cases.

Water Features

Water features are almost standard in Japanese gardens. The serenity of water bubbling down a cascade or from a fountain adds to the beauty and ambience of the garden landscape. If for some reason you can’t put in water features, then you might consider using raked white sand to make pleasing patterns that resemble swirling water. In fact, the famous Zen gardens of Japan often used white sand as a replacement for water.


The pathway is usually constructed with a bed of gravel over which stepping stones are placed. This is reminiscent of the promenade gardens of yore, which were designed for strolling through and looking at carefully crafted landscape features constructed for the purpose of aesthetic enjoyment. When constructing your Japanese garden pathway, use large flagstones for greater stability, or embed the stepping stones within the gravel bed to make sure they don’t shift.

Stone Lanterns and Water Basins

Another popular element is the stone lantern or the water basin. The former was originally used in Buddhist temples, but later was incorporated into Shinto architecture as well. Basins were meant for visitors to wash their hands before the famous tea ceremony, and were placed at a level near the ground rather than elevated for convenience. These pieces can give a very genuine Japanese feel to your garden space.

The art of building a traditional Japanese garden is tedious and takes many years of preparation and construction. However, with the knowledge of the basic elements used, anyone can convert their backyard into a serene garden reminiscent of Japanese attention to detail and the importance given to the elements of a landscape.