The Japanese Gardens

Elements / Sand and Pebbles

Raked sand, or more specifically crushed white or beige granite, is a feature of many Japanese gardens. The earliest Shinto shrines may have been forest clearings in which the ground was purified and made hospitable to the spirits (kami) by putting down a layer of washed sand or gravel, a practice that appears to live on in Shinto shrines in which a simple rectangle of white sand appears among the architectural structures. That the tradition was associated with the divine ancestry of the Imperial family is suggested by the expanses of white sand—yuniwa— located in front of important palace buildings and constituting a formal approach, the Imperial Palace in Kyoto being a prime example. In the Heian Period, the area between the main hall of a noble residence—the shinden—and the pond to the south was often covered with white sand, an echo of which can be seen today at Daikaku-ji in Kyoto. The gardens of later periods also employed this element in ways that appear to simulate rivers or seas, the raking of the sand apparently intended to evoke waves or currents. [This section is continued on the next page.]

(click thumbnail for larger image)  
return to Elements
Yasaka Jinja Kamigamo Jinja Imperial Palace Ninna-ji
Ginkaku-ji Honen-in
Shoren-in Tofuku-ji Ginkaku-ji Honen-in
Ryoan-ji Nanzen-ji Daisen-in Daisen-in
page 1 2