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History of Zen and Japanese Gardens

The art of Japanese gardens dates back to at least 592 AD, during the reign of Empress Suiko. There is documented evidence that suggests the art had actually been progressing long before then, because these early gardens were very well-developed. Early gardens contained artificial hills, ornamental pools, and many other features of Japanese gardens today. The first major development in the history of Japanese gardens came in the Nara period (646-794 AD), when trade with China began in earnest.

This brought many changes to Japanese culture, and even more elaborate gardens in the castles of Japanis elite class. These gardens included animals, birds and fish to provide movement, and were used as sites for feasts and parties given by noblemen. As the fascination with other cultures began to wear off in the Heian period (794-1185 AD), those who could afford to build gardens had a renewed interest in traditional Japanese styles and customs. This change brought an elegant mix of Chinese customs and Japanese style to gardens, known as Shinden.

The layout of these gardens was dictated by myth and legend; for example, streams had to run from east to west because in ancient Chinese lore, the East was the source of purity and the West was the outlet of impurities. Japanese garden. Not many changes were made to the Shinden style until the middle of the Kamakura period (1185-1392) when Zen Buddhist priests began creating gardens for meditation instead of merely for entertainment. Decorativeness was played down in favor of meditative qualities; gardens in this era tended to include stones, water and evergreens, remaining constant throughout the year.

This minimalist theory was carried to even greater extremes in the Muromachi and Higashiyama periods (1392-1573) when gardens contained only stones. Created in the style of the monochrome landscape paintings popular during the time, these gardens used specially picked stones as metaphors for objects in nature. Also developed during this time was the flat garden, or the Hira-niwa. During the Momoyama period, most likely as a reaction to the frugality of the Zen garden design, royal gardens once again became vibrant and lush.

These gardens were full of hills, waterfalls, and a variety of plants. However, the old Zen tradition lived on in tea gardens. Walking gardens were invented, constructed so as to be pleasing to the eye from any angle, and paths had to be woven into the structure of the garden itself. The result, right up to the modern day, is a great variety in Japanese gardens. From Zen rock gardens to tea gardens to walking gardens, the art of Japanese gardens is still very much alive.

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