Japanese garden design is about as hard to understand to Westerners as the Japanese language is. The relationship to the rich and ancient eastern culture adds to this difficulty. The practice is not just a style of landscaping. Rather, it a statement that delivers a specific meaning. Adding further to its complexity is the influence of fengshui and its borrowings from Buddhism and Chinese culture.The intention of Japanese garden design is to use nature to make a statement. The main element is symbology, most of which is influenced by Shintoism and Buddhism, which is where the gods inhabit nature. This adds even more its cultural complexity making hard for us to understand.Since the garden is making a statement or telling a story, the first step is to determine what story you want to tell. What is it you want to communicate to the world with your garden? It might be a good idea to decide in broad terms what you want to say, and then through some research find out how Japanese would go about communicating that truth, concept or story with a garden.
Another outstanding feature of Japanese garden design is that the main point is not to be beautiful or showy. The appearance of the garden is not its purpose, but rather the message is the purpose. Beauty is the after thought, so to speak.The careful observer will notice that flowering plants are scarce or nonexistent in Japanese garden design. Rather, dry gravel streambed or sand swept into patterns and large rocks and boulders are used to tell the tales. Remember that the heart of all Japanese garden design is symbolism and storytelling, the tradition is that this is done with plants and other elements of nature and not so much the use of colorful flowers.Equally important to Japanese garden design are the use of water, and more specifically the use of running water, which symbolizes passing time or life.What shouldn’t get lost in Japanese garden design, but often is by Westerners because they think it’s ‘complicated’, is its simplicity. Once you know the story you are trying tell, it’s as simple as composing the elements of nature to tell that story.
What one should refrain from doing is blindly copying someone else’s garden. Why would you do that? Perhaps because you think it “looks” good. But if the “good looks” are just the result of the telling of a story, then the copier certainly is missing the point. It would be like framing a poem you don’t understand and hanging it on the wall. First think of what you want to say, and then through the principles of Japanese garden design [http://www.elegant-garden-design.com/japanese-gardens/japanese-garden-design-and-landscaping-10] learn how to say and then say it. Don’t start from the beauty, but rather from the story.