To further aid the monks in their quest for enlightenment, the gardens were designed to offer few distractions. Thus one finds in such gardens few flowers or green foliage to break the monochromatic tones of the gravel and rocks, and little orwater to distract the viewer by its motion or sound. Muromachi-period gardens preserve a quiet, restful space around the monastery; their ultimate purpose was to provide a forum for enlightenment.
The Aesthetics of Japanese Gardens
One of the central messages at the heart of Japanese garden aesthetics stated in a fifteenth century manual is that the landscape garden mirrors nature. In other words, a garden should not copy existing gardens but reflect selected qualities of the natural environment. The landscape designer must look to nature in order to achieve this objective. The sixteenth-century poet Matsuo Bashō encourages us to "Go to the pine if you want to learn about the pine, or to the bamboo if you want to learn about the bamboo. And, in doing, so, you must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself. Otherwise you impose yourself on the object and do not learn."
Thus, Japanese gardens display a remarkable symbiosis of that which is natural and that which is man-made. Buildings within the garden, man-made pathways, fences are constructed according to fixed rules, but are designed to integrate within the garden as a whole. Architectural features do not stand alone in their own right or dominate the scenery as they do in Western gardens such as Versailles. Rather, they exist in concert with the "natural" landscape around them. Likewise, the natural elements-trees, bushes, rocks, gravel, water, and so forth-are meant to appear random and uncontrolled, yet are artfully intertwined with the man-made objects. In the Japanese garden man-made rational forms and natural random forms complement one another like the ancient Chinese concepts of Yin and Yang.
Yet the symbiotic relationship between man-made and spontaneous nature is all carefully orchestrated to allow for "accidents" of both nature and humans. There is rain, drought, cold and hot weather, disease, and insects to contend with. Plants grow and change, and even rocks acquire moss on their surfaces. Everything in the garden is in a state of constant flux, including the wear and tear inflicted on the man-made structures by the effects of weather, time, and even humans. But it is this contrast between the controlled and the uncontrollable that is essential for the garden's viability.
It may also be said that gardens serve as microcosms of the macrocosm. Man-made objects, as well as natural flora and fauna, are integral parts of garden architecture, yet all appear are on a significantly reduced scale. In this scaled-down world, size becomes relative, causing small structures to seem like grand buildings, large rocks to represent whole mountain ranges or entire islands, and rivulets of water to appear as significant streams and waterfalls. The enclosed environment also forces us to "see" nature with greater clarity. As our vision is narrowed within the enclosed space of the garden, we are drawn into the complex detail of the world beneath our feet.
Three Japanese Garden Types
The garden at Kinkakuji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion) is a good example of a pond-and-island stroll garden designed as a microcosm. Like earlier gardens, the garden at Kinkakuji was built as part of a large spacious residence and was designed for travel on foot and by boat.