Capturing the Traditional Style of Japanese Water Gardens

Japanese water gardens are pond landscapes that are built in the traditional style of a Tsukiyama Garden, which is a landscaping style originating in Japan, that often aims to make a smaller garden appear larger than it is. This is often achieved by blocking out surrounding buildings with vegetation, while keeping a clear view to the mountains in the distance. If done properly, this method will create the illusion that the mountains are actually part of the garden landscape.

japanese water gardens

In Japan, garden making is considered a high art, similar to the arts of calligraphy and ink painting. Traditionally, the art of garden making was passed on from sensei to apprentice as an oral transmission. Much like other arts from Japan, the teachings were considered somewhat secret and not to be shared with outsiders.

Common Features

There are a number of features that in the end help classify a garden as a Japanese garden. Many of these features include the use of natural landscaping elements like water, stone and vegetation as symbolic representation of features that are found in nature. Other features include ornamental lanterns that are often made of stone, bridges, stepping-stones and enclosure devices such as hedges or walls. In addition, how the garden is viewed is often given special consideration, which is why it is quite common to see a teahouse or similar viewing structure in the center of the garden.

japanese garden waterfall
A natural looking environment
created using stones, water
and plants.

The Use of Water

One important element of water display in Japanese water gardens is that the water appears natural, as in something that could be found in nature. It is for this reason that fountains are typically not part of a traditional Japanese water garden. Streams are usually built to twist and wander much like a natural stream would.


Stones are also an important feature. They are often used to build paths and bridges throughout the garden. As well, stones are sometimes used to represent mountains, if no clear view of real mountains is available.


When it comes to the types of vegetation used, green plants are an important aspect of a Japanese inspired water garden. Traditionally, the use of green tones in Japanese art was considered attractive, and as such a Japanese garden is able to mimic this with green plants. Flowering trees and shrubs are also used to provide a splash of color.

Japanese Water Gardens Koi
photo credit: Stan Shebs

Koi Fish

Another commonly recognized attribute is the presence of Koi fish. Although their presence is not necessary to classify a garden as a Japanese water garden, Koi can help add an authentic Japanese flavor to your pond landscape. For more information on Koi fish, or how to build a Koi pond, please check back soon for more content which is currently in development.

Building a Japanese Inspired Water Garden

Other than the above-mentioned aesthetic differences, the same basic principles of pond building apply to Japanese inspired water gardens. For more information on building a pond from start to finish, please see our guide entitled 'Building a Pond' (Coming Soon).


For more information on the various pieces of equipment required to operate a healthy pond, please see our pages on Pond Pumps, Pond Filters, Pond Liners, Pond Skimmers and Pond Lighting.

Choosing Plants

Since plants are an integral part of Japanese Water Gardens, you might want to read our page on Pond Plants, which outlines the various categories of pond plants available. For more information on how to 'plant' water plants into a pond, have a look at our page entitled 'How to Water Garden'.


A waterfall would be considered a welcome addition to a Japanese inspired water garden if the waterfall looked like it could exist in nature. For more information on building a waterfall, read our page on Pond Waterfalls.

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