Andrew R. Deane


Japanese landscape-gardening is one of the fine arts. Ever since the middle of the fifteenth century, generations of artists have been busy perfecting it, elaborating and refining over and over again the principles handed down by their predecessors, until it has come to be considered a mystery as well as an art, and is furnished – not to say encumbered – with a vocabulary more complicated and recondite than any one who has not perused some of the native treatises on the subject can well imagine. – Basil Hall Chamberlain


It is fitting to pause at the beginning of this book to reflect on the observations of Edward Said. He reminds us that fields of study are made, and “acquire coherence and integrity in time because scholars devote themselves in different ways to what seems to be a commonly agreed-upon subject matter.”  What is a fine art, a vocation or a profession for the Japanese tea master, gardener, and landscape architect is by default an area of study or appreciation for many of us in the West. We may even dabble in Japanese gardening ourselves, and, indeed, that is as it should be, for an appreciation divorced of application can only come so near the mark. But the point is that we come to the Japanese garden obliquely, humbly, and in the role of student or honored guest, no matter how much we think we understand it.

The field of study commonly referred to as Japanese gardens or Japanese gardening here in the West is a little over a century old, and started as one might expect with the opening of Japan to the world during the early years of the Meiji period (1868-1912). It began with men like Lafcadio Hearn, Josiah Condor and Basil Hall Chamberlain who attempted to explicate Japanese culture in all its myriad facets to an attentive but fundamentally ignorant western audience eager for a new aesthetic and hungry for the exotic. Many Japanese gardens were created in Europe and America around the turn of the century, although their designers lacked a thorough knowledge of Japanese aesthetics, and the results were often poor approximations to their originals. “At best,” comments Amanda Herries, “they were a distillation of Eastern influence within a Western framework, and at worst they simply displayed a Japanese ‘touch’.”  However, through a gradual accumulation of interest and ability over the last one hundred years, Japanese gardens have been properly introduced to the West, the mystery of their design and construction has been gradually unveiled, and a methodology for re-creating them in our own back yards has been set before us. A great many books on the subject, both by Western and by Japanese authors, have seen publication, particularly in recent years. Many of these are well-written, scholarly volumes with beautiful photographs and illustrations, ranging in exposition from general discourses through guided tours of particular venues to specific design considerations and their underlying philosophies and ideologies. This is the first book, though, to attempt an encyclopedic overview of the entire field of study, covering terms, ideas, philosophies, design considerations, and the craft of Japanese gardens within a single volume.

A mountain hut high above the rugged coastline, Taizō-in, Kyoto

A mountain hut high above the rugged coastline, Taizō-in, Kyoto


David Slawson points out that names provide important clues to what a society values: “What is not named in a culture very likely goes unnoticed by the majority of its people. The converse is also true: people pay greater attention to things that have been given names.” One of the defining elements of any field of study is a shared, specialized and technical vocabulary, and an intimate knowledge of this vocabulary is very often a prerequisite of membership among the literati of that field. “People’s knowledge of any topic,” state Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering, “is encapsulated in the terms they know that are relevant to the topic. For example, people who know a great deal about snow skiing understand terms such as fall line, snow plow, corn snow, unweight, powder, green slope, blue slope, black slope, mogul, carving, and face-plant.” So, we, too, must come to terms with its vocabulary if we are to understand and be able to talk about the Japanese garden in any meaningful way, and we are at a double disadvantage: First, we must work in a complex Asian language, and secondly, we must bridge a cultural and philosophical chasm. Books on Japanese gardens sometimes provide definitions or glossaries, but many of these are brief, incomplete, or even inaccurate. Certain terms are used ambiguously, even indiscriminately, by the Japanese themselves. Add to this a plethora of synonyms, a divergence between concrete and abstract concepts, or between literal and metaphorical interpretations, and the complexity multiplies.

The purpose of this book, then, is not to duplicate what has already been printed, but rather to offer the serious amateur or student a virtual primer or handbook on all aspects of Japanese gardens and to provide the seasoned connoisseur with a comprehensive companion to the complex vocabulary likely to be encountered in an advanced study of the Japanese garden.

This book began as a hobby about a decade ago when I was living in Hiroshima. As a child I was taken to many of the great castles, estates, and parks of England, so I have always harbored an appreciation for the beauty of gardens. When I began visiting the gardens of Japan, however, that appreciation deepened into a fascination. I read every book I could get on the subject, and visited every garden within easy reach, and fascination soon yielded to a kind of fanaticism. Most books on Japanese gardens I read fell into three broad categories: Beautifully illustrated coffee table books with limited texts; general overviews that lacked scope or depth; and specialist books on particular designs or garden types. I found it frustrating because authors either assumed a greater familiarity with Japanese culture or language than I had, or they themselves lacked that familiarity. Kanji, or Chinese characters, were almost never provided for Japanese terms, or only provided for the most frequently encountered ones. This made it very difficult for me to cross-reference Japanese-language garden brochures and guides, or ask Japanese friends for additional linguistic information. Also, getting beyond a superficial acquaintance with Japanese gardens required not only a thorough understanding of the vocabulary, design considerations, and essential elements, but also a passing familiarity with traditional Japanese aesthetics, culture, history, religion and philosophy. No single source could provide me with both a thorough primer and an accurate, exhaustive reference work covering the subject and its related topics. So, foolishly, I resolved to create my own.

I have tried to set down clearly and accurately, within the framework of a readable chapter book, a comprehensive glossary of mainstream gardening terms together with aesthetic, artist, architectural, horticultural, and cultural words and phrases that are connected to the practice of Japanese landscape design in its broadest application. There are well over a thousand terms synthesized into easy-to-read chapters under five broad sections:


  • Part One: Design & Craft
  • Part Two: Essential Elements
  • Part Three: Ancillary Elements
  • Part Four: Culture & Context
  • Part Five: Historical Canvas
Black pines adorn tsukiyama (false mountains),Hama-rikyu-teien, Tokyo

Black pines adorn tsukiyama (false mountains),Hama-rikyu-teien, Tokyo

Inclusion was contingent on three factors: 1) that the term is encountered frequently in the English language literature on Japanese gardens; 2) that a thorough knowledge and comprehension of the word is indispensable or desirable; and 3) that there is some ambiguity surrounding either its denotative or its connotative meaning.

Japanese gardens do not exist in a vacuum: They are manifestations of an ancient, venerable and complex culture, products of exacting, strictly codified aesthetics. Therefore, architecture, ceremonies, festivals, fine arts, literature, philosophy, popular culture, music, and theatre are covered in a general manner. Also provided are brief introductions to core traditional texts and significant historical persons. Several appendices provide additional information on the traditional system of measurement, numeral influences, common flora, the gardens that I visited or cited in compiling this book, and notes on the Japanese language. A thorough set of chapter-by-chapter bibliographic notes and an index complete the book.


The source and inspiration for Japanese gardens can be traced to three fundamental factors: the country itself (its landscapes, geography and climate), the religious beliefs (Shinto and Buddhism), and the cultural aesthetics of Japan. These sources are inextricably linked, and have to be thought of together to get a decent overall picture of the gardens.    – Jake Hobson
A work of this nature does not seek to be definitive, and many names, terms, and plants have been excluded by virtue of necessity. Despite rigorous attempts at verification, errors, omissions, and obfuscation will be present, and I assume responsibility for these. Furthermore, I am acutely aware of my limitations as an authoritative voice on the subject. However, the publication of a comprehensive online handbook is well overdue, and perfection merely a vagary.
Waves encircling a rocky island, Shisen-dō, Kyoto

Waves encircling a rocky island, Shisen-dō, Kyoto

I want to conclude my prefatory remarks by thanking those people who helped with the creation of this book. My wife, Yukiko Tokano, provided not only the impetus to complete the project, but also invaluable assistance with obscure linguistic issues, and with arranging tours of appointment-only gardens in Japan. She was also responsible for goading me into rewriting the material in reader-friendly language and recasting it in more accessible chapters. Special thanks are due to my father-in-law Hirotako Tokano, whose interest in Japanese gardens ranged from visiting numerous gardens with me to assisting with obscure botanical issues and tracking down ancient kanji. Lastly, I am deeply indebted to my late father, Robert Alan Deane, and my late mentors, Graham Leslie Anderson and Dr. William E. Fredeman, each of whom embodied scholarship and life-long learning, and who planted these ideals in me so many years ago.

Nishi-Azabu, Tokyo
Dec 2014


Andrew R. Deane teaches at the Nishimachi International School in Tokyo. Japan. He became interested in Japanese gardens while teaching English in Japan in the 1990’s. He maintains a hybrid Japanese-Western garden in the suburbs of Tokyo.  He is a frequent contributor to the Japanese Gardening Organization’s online resources and currently serves on the Board of Directors.

Bibliographical Notes

Japanese landscape-gardening is one of the fine arts… Chamberlain, B. H. (1971). Japanese things, being notes on various subjects connected with Japan. For the use of travelers and others. Rutland & Tokyo: Charles E. Tuttle Co.; p. 206.

He reminds us that fields of study are made, and “acquire coherence and integrity… Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. New York: Vintage; p. 50.

“At best,” comments Amanda Herries… Herries, A. (2001). Japanese gardens in Britain. Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire: Shire Publications Ltd.; p.5.

David Slawson points out that names provide important clues… Slawson, D. A. (1991). Secret teachings in the art of Japanese gardens: Design principles, aesthetic values. Tokyo & New York: Kodansha International Ltd.; p. 133.

“People’s knowledge of any topic,” state Robert Marzano and Debra Pickering… Marzano, R. J. and D. J. Pickering (2005). Building academic vocabulary: Teacher’s Manual. Alexandria, VA: ASCD; p. 2.

The source and inspiration for Japanese gardens… Hobson, J. (2007). Niwaki: Pruning, training and shaping trees the Japanese way. Portland & ondon: Timber Press; p. 13.