The Principles And Elements In Making A Japanese Garden

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Making a traditional Japanese garden is no easy feat and requires lots of planning.  There is not one part of a Japanese garden left to chance and every little plant and rock is placed there for a reason.  Trying to make your own garden can be quite intimidating at first.  When I searched for “Japanese Garden” there were dry gardens, strolling gardens, tea garden, Zen gardens, and many others.  You can see there is no typical Japanese garden and many different types to choose from.  So how do you choose what to do and where to start?

There are four basic principles when planning on how to make a Japanese garden.

Simplicity is the first and most important principle going into any garden you make.  You want the maximum effect with minimum effort.  You want to make your garden engaging and full of interesting features and elements taking your viewers imagination out of the physical garden.  Too many things create clutter both in the garden and in your mind.  Finding the perfect balance can bring peace of mind and countless hours of relaxation.

The second principle in Japanese gardening is rather obvious.  It is the miniaturization of all the physical elements so they can fit into your designated area.  Most of us don’t have huge areas to plan gardens and even if we did big gardens require lots of time and maintenance.  You want to make your garden so that it replicates natural scenery on a smaller scale.

Leading us to the third principle of making a traditional Japanese garden called “borrowed scenery” or including whatever is around your garden to compliment the garden itself.  This practice can include incorporating mountains, nearby trees or water sources, or even a nice building to add to your garden.

The next principle is concealment.  And this is very important for the state of mind you are putting your viewer in.  You want features halfway hidden or concealed to peak your viewers interest and provoke contemplation drawing them further into your garden.  You should show just enough to let your imagination take you the rest of the way.

These four principles should go into every decision you make when planning and making your own Japanese garden.

Make sure you know your garden limitations and expectation before planning.  Some limitations include garden size, materials available and future garden maintenance.  Also you should know what you want out of the garden.  For example, the primary purpose of Zen gardens is to provide a calm atmosphere to meditate, but your garden should meet your personal expectations. Are you trying to hear water sounds, walk around, host parties, or meditate?  All of these things require different physical elements.  These gardens are meant to get better with age so thorough planning and thinking ahead is key to a successful Japanese garden.

After you have fully thought through what you want from your garden its time to choose the physical elements.


Some common Japanese garden elements include, water, rocks, sand, bridges, bamboo, moss, water basins, various decorations like lanterns, and a handful of different plants and trees. Most elements are placed in these gardens for symbolic reasons.  Each representing something different.  For example, water can represent actual lakes or rivers.  Rocks can symbolize hills or mountains and sand can represent sacred land.  Lots of Japanese gardens are reproducing a natural setting like Mt. Fujior a beautiful lake or river.  So once you have chosen the elements that fit your space, purpose, and budget the design phase comes.  This crucial step determines the future look of your garden. So play around with it and move the elements around like a jigsaw puzzle until you have your finished work of art.  Then comes the fun part!  Constructing your very own Japanese garden!

If done correctly, Japanese gardens can bring a peaceful oasis right to your backyard.  Remember Japanese gardens come in all shapes and sizes.  Each is unique in its own way so don’t worry there is NO wrong garden!  Remember start with the purpose of your garden and choose a few physical elements you like.  Then use the four principles to guide your planning and design to make your Japanese garden a masterpiece.  Once finished, your garden should bring you peace of mind and inspire your viewers for years to come.

Good luck!

Fun and Interesting Things to do in Japan

Planning a trip to Japan?  There are so many sights and so many things to do its hard to choose.  But here are a 10 fun and interesting things that are unique and different in Japan and some can’t be done anywhere else.  Others can be done in various places but the way the Japanese to them differently makes it fun and interesting.  Ok here we go I hope you enjoy!

1.  Conveyer belt sushi(kaiten sushi)
When you think of Japan sushi automatically comes to mind, at least for me.  No trip to Japan would be complete if you didn’t go out for sushi.  An interesting type of sushi restaurant is where the sushi glides around your table and the restaurant itself on little car or trains on a conveyer belt so you can conveniently grab whichever one you want to eat.  Most of these restaurants are fairly cheap and you can stuff yourself without much damage to the wallet.

2.  Experience a traditional Japanese hotel, love hotel, and capsule hotel
As is everywhere there is a wide range of different hotel here to fit your budget and taste.  But as this article is for interesting and fun things to do I will stick to the hotels that will pique your interest.  On the more expensive side the traditional Japanese hotels (ryokan) is where you will experience the real food and culture first hand.  Wearing robes, people bowing, taking shoes off, sleeping on futons on the floor, Japanese food, and an overall traditional Japanese atmosphere and hosts are just a few things you are bound to encounter in these establishments.  These places usually have very limited or NO English ability so that in itself is a whole other experience trying to communicate your needs.

Love hotels are a little cheaper and as the name suggest usually are for couples.  These hotels offer 5 star amenities inside your room and hotel rooms are usually theme oriented.  For example, a room might have a Disney them with Disney wallpaper, pictures, sheets and the works.  Amenities inside the room can include big Jacuzzi tubs, big screen TVS with karaoke and video games, huge beds, pachinko machines, 24 hour menus, massage chairs, computers, saunas, tanning beds, couches, and some even have pools and bowling alleys all inside your room.  Only catch is once you enter your room the door is electronically locked behind you and you can’t leave until you pay.  But these hotels are an experience you won’t forget.

Lastly is the capsule hotel and it is just what the name means.  You sleep inside a capsule which is like a big plastic coffin with a TV inside.  This kid of hotel is pretty cheap and usually has a spa attached where you can enjoy the sauna, go swimming, take showers, and relax in various types of baths inside the hotel.  Only catch for these hotels is most of them are men only.  But these hotels are great after a big night out and the spa whisks away your hangover in the morning!  Another interesting experience for sure.

3.   Go to an onsen
Onsens are natural hot spring baths heated by geothermal activity.  With Japan having lots of volcanic activity these onsens are everywhere.  Onsens or communal baths if you will are extremely popular here in Japan and are said to be therapeutic.  There are many different types but most are classified by being inside or outside bath and the quality of water available.  The countryside has some of the best onsesns and you can enjoy a steaming hot bath in an outdoor bath surrounded by snow in the winter or under the stars in the summer.  Great after strenuous activities like snowboarding and hiking.  They are very relaxing and most have a great atmosphere.

4. Ride the Shinkansen(Bullet Train)
If you are travelling to Japan, most likely you will be commuting from one place to another at some point.  Why not take the famous bullet train?  This high speed train with speeds of over 200 mph for commuter trains was originated right here in Japan and makes commuting very convenient.  It has set world records and Japans technology is spreading rapidly throughout the world.  As you ride this train you feel like you are flying as nature whizzes by in a blur.

5.  Hike Mt. Fuji
It is considered a sacred mountain here in Japan.  This is the highest mountain in Japan jutting 3776 meters high right into the skyline.  This perfectly shaped volcanic cone is a marvel to see.  Most people start to climb around midnight because that is the best chance for you to get a clear view and see a magnificent sunrise.  But more often than not this mountain is covered with clouds.  This mountain is usually a day hike depending on your fitness and the size of the crowd hiking that day.  The ascent takes anywhere from 3-6 hours and the descent about half of that.  But you do have to realize if you are hiking to the mountain in the official climbing season in July or August you are one of thousands of people that hike it daily.  Outside of July and August the crowds thin dramatically.  But as this mountain is coned shaped it offers no shelter from the elements.  The wind and cold can be nasty up there.  But the sight from the top on a clear day is breath taking.

6.  Sing Karaoke
I know in America most karaoke is sung in front of the entire bar.  That can be nerve racking unless you are extremely good or hammered.  Here in Japan it is extremely popular and done in private rooms with just the people you come with.  So good or bad you can relax and sing your heart out.  Karaoke can be tons of fun with the right crowd.

7.  Go to a Sumo Tournament
Sumo is Japanese style wrestling and a popular natural sport.  Tournaments are held in a big arena and ticket prices can vary depending on your location.  Usually these tournaments go all day from 830 until evening.  I’m sure sumo tournaments are pretty hard to find abroad so what better opportunity to see these huge athletes try and hurl each other than while here in Japan?

8.  Visit one of the many Temples and Castles
There are so many temples and castles in Japan that I could write 100 articles and still barely scratch the surface.  So pick a few famous and interesting looking ones and go visit.  They are the founding blocks of Japan and shouldn’t be missed.

9.  Play Pachinko
Feeling lucky?  Then head towards the closest pachinko parlor.  Pachinko is like a vertical pinball machine used for gambling.  If you shoot your ball into certain areas you win money, the more difficult the area is to reach the more money you win.  These machines are comparable to slot machines and these establishments are like little casinos.  Pachinko is extremely popular here in Japan and should be tried at least once while you are here.  Good luck!

10.  Go to a festival and see fireworks
Japanese love both of these very much.  As it represents a time to relax and enjoy.  During summer you could probably find a different festival everyday if you tried.  The festivals slow down during the colder months but can still be found.  These festivals are like mini fairs with games and food stalls, exhibitions, performances, and crowds of people.  You will see lots of interesting things that you probably have never seen before.  Fireworks are a national pastime here and taken quite seriously.  Firework competitions and shows happen frequently and in many different places throughout Japan.  The atmosphere is like 4th of July in America where people fight for good spots and places are jam packed. Also the different types of fireworks are beautiful and leave you in awe.

There are so many things to do in Japan that you could live in Japan for a decade and still not experience everything Japan has to offer.  But I have tried to put together a quick list of things that came to mind as interesting or fun things to do in Japan.  If you can fit even half of these things into your trip you will have a trip you will likely never forget.

My next article will be “The best places to visit in Japan” so check back regularly.  Thank you and if you have any questions, comments, or things I have missed please comment below.


The Benefits of Starting Plants From Seed

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I plan on starting my whole garden from seed this year.  My new addition of the small greenhouse will play a vital role in providing a nurturing atmosphere for those small seedlings and ultimately the outcome of my garden.  Due to the weather here in Gujo the snow pack doesn’t melt off my garden until late April. Making my gardening season that much shorter.  That is where my greenhouse and starting from seed gives me my first benefit of getting a headstart on the growing season.  I have also chosen a few of my favorite varieties of seeds that I know will do well in this area.  When starting from seed you don’t have to depend on commercial greenhouse plantings that only give you a limited selection of varieties and you are free to choose your favorites.  Also you want to choose heirloom varieties so that you can save your seeds for the next season and years to come.  Obviously the biggest benefit of starting plants from seed is saving money.

I always told my wife that we were saving money by gardening.  But she pointed out that during the gardening season I would be at the nursery and plant stores every other day spending money on something. Plantings and fertilizers are a big cost but if you can minizmize or even completely take away these cost your savings will skyrocket.  This year my goal is to spend 0/NO money for the garden besides the seeds.  I have quite abit of stuff laying around the garden at my disposal that I should be perfectly OK.

I guess to summarize my paragraph above about starting from seed and spending NO money will cut my dependence on commercial greenhouses and stores for basic needs.  Giving me the satisfaction of enjoying all my plants from start to finish knowing I did it myself.

Another benefit that I really like is minimizing the spread of different disease brought in by commercial plantings.  For me this can be dangerous because of the humid temperatures and ease of spreading to my other plants in the garden.  And lastly, when starting from seed the plants have a continuous, uninterrupted life in a constant environment that doesn’t involve the shock when commercial plantings are brought home to be planted.  Timing and environment have to perfect for your seeds to succeed. There will always be loss but how much loss depends on how well you take care of your babies.

If you aren’t starting your plans from seed already why don’t you try just a few seeds this year and see how you do.  Starting plants from seed but ultimately the path to self sufficiency offers many benefits.

Good luck and may mother nature be nice to all!

Have you ever wondered what its like to live and garden in Japan?

Follow us on our journey from downtown in a big city to the Alps of Japan.  This is the experiences of a young family of six living in a foreign country far away from home learning to garden and cope with daily life.  We live in a small town called Shirotori located in the Gifu prefecture which is nestled into the mountains of the southern alps.  The convenience of our city life has been left behind and the country way of life is slowly sinking in.  We survive on a day to day basis with the garden helping us along.  We have lots to learn from the locals and their way of life if we plan on being successful here!

Mr. Noah out and about!

It is finally warming up and the snow is almost gone around the house!  So that means Mr. Noah gets to start going outside and playing around.  He doesnt like the safe areas though and always seems to head straight for the stairs, ponds, or any other dangerous place he can find!  And now that he is getting faster and faster everyday you cant let your eyes off him for a second!  He also has the run of the house now and has a pretty good grasp on what is OK and what is not!

Other than that he is a pretty good little man.

Our friend just had a baby and we went to visit them in the hospital the other day.  Here I was thinking that Noah was still a small little baby until I saw their baby.  Noah is HUGE!!  He easily tops 25 pounds and he is waist high on his mama!  The little man is growing way too fast!!  He starting walking around 9 months which was kind of fast.  He has 4 teeth on the top and 4 teeth on the bottom as well.  But the little man still doesnt sleep through the night.  He usually goes to bed in his crib around 10 then wakes up around 1 or 2 because he wet his diaper or its cold because the heater turned off.  He then spends the rest of the night in bed with us until 6 or 7 when he wakes up for his bottle then passes back out until 8 or 9.  Now that he got a taste of our bed he doesnt really want to sleep in his crib anymore and usually makes a fuss about it in the middle of the night when we try and put him back in his crib.  Making for an uncomfortable night because the little man tosses and turns trying to find the best position regradless of where mama and daddy are.

He is understanding what we say more and more.  It is really exciting to see him respond to what we say!  He also is mimicking more and more and has picked up how to brush his own teeth and hair. Well I could keep writing all day about our little boy but I will save it for another post!  Enjoy the pictures!