The Japanese Gardens
Glossary A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z


Amanohashidate - A long, narrow, pine-covered sand bar in Miyazu Bay, one of the three most revered landscapes in Japan. Often evoked in landscape design, most notably in the garden of the Katusura Detached Imperial Villa in Kyoto.

Ariso (also araiso) - Literally "rocky shore," a group of rocks set at a water's edge and designed to evoke a rugged seashore.


Bon-seki - The art of placing pebbles on a sand-covered tray, the dry equivalent of bonsai. Some analysts relate the famous garden at Ryoan-ji to this practice.


Chisen - Pond (see also "ike" and "enchi").

Chisen kaiyu teien - Literally "pond spring stroll garden," a description of those gardens of the Muromachi Period and later in which one is intended to move through or around the garden on foot, instead of viewing it from the veranda of a pavilion or hojo, or from a boat.

Chisen shuyu teien - Literally "pond spring boating garden," describing those estate gardens of the Heian aristocracy (and their later imitators). Such gardens were intended to be the setting for boating parties and other pond-based festivities.

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Dejima - Peninsula.

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Enchi - Pond (see also "ike" and "chisen"). Enchi can also be a synonym for garden.

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Feng shui - The Chinese tradition of geomancy, or the propitious location and orientation of cities, buildings, interiors, and gardens. Many of its rules appear to have been followed by Japanese garden designers, although an exact and intentional correspondence is often difficult to prove.

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Hojo - The residence of the abbot of a Japanese Buddhist monastery. Often the site of the most famous of Japanese temple gardens.

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Ike - Pond. An ikeniwa is a pond garden (the terms enchi and chisen are also used).

Ishi - Rock or stone. Compounds that employ the term include ishigumi (the arrangement of stones), ishidoro (stone lantern), ishiniwa (stone garden), and ishihama (pebble beach). See also ishodateso .

Ishidateso - Priests—often of the Shingon sect of Buddhism—who were associated with the design of gardens in the late Heian and Kamakura Periods. Literally "a priest who raises stones."

Ishidoro - Stone Lantern

Isles of the Blest - Five mythical islands located somewhere off the coast of east Asia. Three are often named: Horai, Hojo, and Eishu. According to Daoist belief, they are the home of immortals. The real and implied islands of Japanese gardens are sometimes considered recreations of these blessed isles.

Iwajima - Stone island. Many of the "islands" in Japanese gardens consist of a single stone or groups of stones.

Iwakura - Literally "rock seat." A term used to describe sacred stones thought to contain or be favored by kami, the spirits of Shintoism, often marked by a straw rope (shime-nawa). The Shinto reverence for stones is an important factor in Japanese garden design.

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Jodo - Pure Land, a reference to the Western Paradise of Amida Buddhism. Certain gardens of the Heian and Muromachi Periods are evocations of this Buddhist paradise, most notably the Byodo-in at Uji, the temple of Joruri-ji near Nara, and the garden of Saiho-ji.

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Kaiyushiki teien - Stroll garden. Describing a garden which one may walk through or around, in contrast to a garden which is intended only for contemplation.

Kamejima - Turtle or Tortoise Island. A number of rock formations and islands in Japanese gardens are thought to represent—or at least evoke—the turtle, a symbol of longevity in Chinese and Japanese tradition.

Kami-ike - A pond sacred to Shinto. The tradition is an important factor in the development of Japanese gardens.

Kanshoniwa - A garden intended for contemplation, as opposed to a stroll garden or boating garden.

Karenagare - Dry stream. Describing the areas of gravel or stone that are intended to simulate running water.

Karesansui - Literally "dry mountain water." Used to describe dry gardens in which water is suggested by rocks and gravel.

Karetaki - Dry cascade. See also ryumon-no-taki.

Karikomi - Clipped shrubs.

Kawaramono - Literally "river-bed people," outcasts who lived along the river beds of the Kamo and Katsura rivers and who performed the most despised of labors: skinning animals and tanning hides. In the fifteenth century they became noted for their ability to place stones in gardens, assuming a task that had formerly fallen to Buddhist and Shinto priests. In this context, they are senzui kawaramono. Ironically, some of the most influential connoisseurs and cultural advisors to the Ashikaga Shoguns came from this lowest of social classes.

Kobori Enshu, 1579-1647 - Famous garden designer, architect, tea master, and feudal lord of the late Momoyama-early Edo Period. Although many gardens are attributed to him, his activity is not well documented. An undisputed example of his work is the garden of Konchi-in.

Kokeniwa - Moss garden. The most famous example is the garden of Saiho-ji, also known as Kokedera.

Kusen hakkai ishi - Stones of nine mountains and eight oceans. Hindu-Buddhist cosmology holds that the physical universe consists of alternating mountains and oceans grouped around Mt. Sumeru, the central axis of the world. It is said that the arrangement of stones and islands in the pond of Rokuon-ji Temple (Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion) may have been intended to evoke this cosmology.

Kyokusui - Meandering stream. A feature of early Nara Period gardens recently excavated in or near the Imperial Palace of Nara, this winding stream probably echoes the Chinese, Korean, and early Japanese tradition of a "stream banquet" (kyokusui no en) during which guests attempted to come up with an original poem before cups of wine, set floating upstream, arrived at their position along the riverbank.

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Mitate - Literally "a new point of view." Often used to describe something that surprises a viewer, sometimes a visual metaphor or allusion, or something that is not exactly what it seems.

Mt. Horai, or Horaizan - Mythical home of Daoist immortals, one of the Isles of the Blest. In some writings, it appears to refer to the whole island group. In Chinese mythology it is Penglai. Vertical rock formations in Japanese gardens are sometimes thought to evoke it.

Mt. Meru or Sumeru - The axis of the universe in Hindu and certain Buddhist cosmologies, known as Shumisen in Japan. Like the mythical Mt. Horai, it is thought to be the model for some of the rock formations in Japanese gardens.

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Nagare - Stream.

Nakajima - Inner island.

Night mooring stones - A line of small stones thought to evoke ships moored in a harbor.

Niwa - Literally "pure place." The Japanese term for garden, a phrase with obvious Shinto overtones. Garden designers are sometimes called niwa shi, "garden masters."

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Ryumon-no-taki - Literally "Dragon Gate Waterfall." A wet or dry cascade intended as an allusion to the Chinese legend that a carp will change into a dragon if it manages to conquer a specific waterfall. In China, the myth was considered a metaphor for passing the Confucian civil service exams. In Japanese Zen garden design, the allusion may refer to the achievement of enlightenment. Japanese cascades will often include a central "carp stone" (ri-gyo-seki).

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Sabi - An aesthetic term with many definitions, but generally referring to the conditions of aging, both visual (patina, the accidents of time) and psychological (loneliness, serenity).

Sansui - Literally "mountain water," or "mountains and waters." Another Japanese term for landscape, derived from the Chinese shanshui.

Sanzonbutsu - Buddhist triad. A group of three stones in a Japanese garden is sometimes thought to represent one of the Buddhas—Shaka, Amida, or Yakushi—together with appropriate flanking bodhisattvas. Such identifications are usually conjectural.

Satsuki - Rhododendron lateritium, a common flowering shrub used in many Japanese gardens.

Senseki - Water and stones. Another synonym for garden.

Sensui or senzui - Any body of water in a garden. Sometimes a synonym for garden.

Shakkei - Borrowed scenery, i.e., mountains, trees, and other landscape elements that are not actually part of a garden, but can be seen from the garden and form a backdrop to it.

Shima - Island. Also an early synonym for garden.

Shimenawa - The rough rope that indicates a sacred spot in the Shinto world. Usually adorned with straw tassels, it can girdle an ancient tree, a large rock, or simply an area of land considered sacred.

Shinden - The main hall of Heian Period estates, and hence the style of architecture associated with those estates (shinden zukuri).

Shoji - Sliding door made of wood and rice paper, common to domestic and monastic architecture during the later centuries of Japanese history. The ability to open the walls of a building in order to provide a full view of surrounding land is an important factor in Japanese garden design.

Shumisen - See Mt. Meru.

Sono - Another Japanese term for garden, sometimes combined with niwa (niwa-sono).

Sori bashi - Arched bridge. Often found in gardens where the passage of boats was required. An arched bridge constructed of stone is sori ishibashi.

Suhana - Pebble beach. Good examples can be found at the Sento Gosho and at Katsura.

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Tamamono - The shaped pruning of shrubs.

Teien - Chinese pronunciation of the characters which in Japanese would be pronounced niwa and sono, alternative names for a garden. Hence teien is itself an alternative name for garden.

Tsubu niwa - Courtyard garden.

Tsukiyama - Man-made hill.

Tsurujima and tsuru ishi - Crane island and crane stone. A number of rock formations and islands in Japanese gardens are thought to represent—or at least evoke—the crane, a symbol of longevity in Chinese and Japanese tradition. According to later garden manuals, it should be paired with a turtle island. A well-documented example can be found in the Konchi-in garden.

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Wabi - An aesthetic term which, like sabi, has multiple definitions, but generally indicating a pleasurable response to austerity, simplicity, and even poverty. Like sabi, it often suggests a reverence for things that have stood the test of time.

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Yama - Mountain. Also an early synonym for garden.

Yuniwa - See niwa.

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