A Glimpse Into The Beauty Of Japanese Sand Garden

Japanese Dry Landscape

I was totally blown away when I visited a famous Japanese sand garden 5 years ago for the first time.

For me, a decent garden typically would be filled with vigorous trees, flourishing flowers and trickling creeks.

While the situation is quite different when coming to Japanese dry landscape garden, which is mostly composed of rocks and sands.

Awing for the first few minutes, I soon perceived the peaceful touch inside me. The plain stones and sands seem getting magically healing power!

Wanting to have a glance at the beauty of dry landscaping garden? Let’s dive in!

Charms Of Japanese Sand Garden

The sand garden is a unique gardening style originates in Japan. Commonly, it would be located in quiet and secluded zen temples.

It is so reputable that tons of people make long journeys to Kyoto every year just to appreciate its endless glamour.

Styles Of Raked Sands

Japanese sand garden gets no water features, either flower-bearing plants.

Traditional gardening elements such as water features, buildings, flowering plants and bridges etc. are excluded from its design concepts. Only static elements like rocks, sands and moss are kept to demonstrate the boundless universe.

The standing or lying rocks in the garden represent mountains and islands, while the raked sands stand for the flowing water in the rivers, lakes or seas.

The way how the rocks are laid and sands are raked contains different connotations, which needed to be appreciated attentively.

It is not surprising that some visitors would stare at the dry landscape for hours to meditate on the philosophy that the garden designers try to deliver.

Japanese sand garden has brought the minimalist aesthetics to its extreme.

Japanese Sand Garden

The carefully raked sands and finely stacked rocks can create magical power to people’s mind.

Dry landscape is the product of zen practicing and it calls for superb gardening techniques and unique aesthetics.

Brief History Of Japanese Sand Garden

Chinese culture does have some influence on Japanese gardening.

When Buddhism was spread to Japan in the 6th century AD, many Japanese students and artisans flocked to ancient China to learn the culture and arts.

Another sect of Buddhism: Zen went popular again in Japan in 13th century AD.

Greatly edified by the ascetical and self-disciplined spirit advocating in Zen ideology, Japanese gardening designers gradually abandon the showy gardening styles.

Conversely, static and unchanging elements such as evergreens, sands, rocks etc. were applied into landscaping. And almost no flowering plants were grown in the garden.


Although the Japanese sand garden featured only with plain rocks and sands, but it contains a whole natural world in the eyes of zen practitioners.

The dry landscaping gardener is pursuing ‘nihility’ concept to acheive self-cultivation.

Simple as the sand garden might looks at the first glance, its constituent elements like rocks, sands and the way they are laid out all get profound implications.

Seeing a world in a grain of sand, the plain elements speak volume from zen’s view.

Unlike traditional and colorful gardens, Japanese sand garden is more like a spiritual one.

The Most Famous Sand Garden In Japan

When talking Japanese sand garden, we cannot go without mentioning the most famous dry landscaping in Ryoanji temple, due to its delicate design and profound implication behind it.

Miniature of Ryoanji Sand Garden

Ryoanji templewas built in the middle of 15th century, when Japanese zen gardening enjoyed high development in history.

It outreached other dry gardens with high achievement in zen, aesthetics and construction techniques.

The dry courtyard in Ryoanji temple is about 25 meters in length and 10 meters in width. It is surrounded with earth walls in about 2 meters height, with tall evergreen trees grown outside of them.

The court consists of 15 pieces rocks in various sizes and white sands, as well as a small amount of moss.

15 pieces rocks are stacked from left to right in the quantity of 5, 2, 3, 2, and 3 pieces.

It is said visitors can behold only 14 pieces rocks from any angle in front of the court, and there is always a rock invisible to them .

The zen concept containing in the layout of rocks is probably tended to admonish people that there is no perfection in the world. Excessive pursuit of perfection in life can only lead to unnecessary pressure and pain.

Ryoanji Temple Sand Garden

A Misunderstanding On The Function Of Dry Landscaping

There is a general misunderstanding on the function of Japanese sand garden: dry garden is designed for beholding and meditating in front of it.

Well, but it is not exactly correct.

Meditation is an important subject of Buddhist practices.

Indian monks will choose tranquil and natural environment for meditation, such as a cliff face; Chinese zen master has his own meditation room; Japanese zen practicers could meditate in zendo or any other places that could bring inspirations to them. Sa

nd garden would be one of those places, but it is not specially built for sitting there and meditating.


On the contrary, sand garden is not suitable for long time meditating.

Large amount of white sands in the courtyard are extremely reflective during daytime and might cause discomfort to the eyes.

In the evening, it will be difficult to behold the courtyard landscape if there is no lighting or moonlight.

So what is the real function of the zen garden?

Actually, for zen masters in the temple, daily maintaining the dry landscape is a process of spiritually practicing.

They have to clean up the fallen leaves, branches and re-rake the sands every day. This process is simple while calls for great patience and care, making it a great way for meditation.

Mon- Clean-The-Sand-Garden

Everything gets zen. And there are various ways to practice zen.

It could be tea-making, flower-arranging or managing courtyard.

Only by throwing ourselves into it, we can gain inner peace and higher level of self-awareness.

Representative Figures

Muso Soseki
Muso Soseki (1275 – 1351)

Regarding the representative figures of dry landscaping, it is well enough to know two people:

Founder Of Dry Landscaping: Muso Soseki

Muso Soseki was a famous zen monk and garden designer during Kamakura period (1185—1333) and Muromachi shogunate period (1336-1573).

He was regarded as the creator and founder of dry landscaping style.

The zen garden that he created in Saihoji Temple is the first dry garden in Japan.

It looks like a deserted place piling with wild rocks. Nobody will pay attention to it if is not reminded. Actually, the rocks are delicately laid by Muso Soseki to imply a famous Zen story.

Saihoji Temple Stone Garden
Shunmyo Masuno
Shunmyo Masuno (1953 – )

Dry Landscaping Master: Shunmyo Masuno

Shunmyo Masuno is a national treasure-class sand garden designer in Japan.

Serving as the 18th generation of abbot in the age-old Kenkoji Temple, he was selected by Time magazine as one of the 100 reputable Japanese celebrities.

The monks who are responsible for the construction of sand gardens like him are called “Rock Laying Monks” in Japan.

They regard the garden-building as a spiritual practice and appreciate zen senses during that process.

Sand Garden By Shunmyo Masuno
Sand Garden By Shunmyo Masuno


Japanese-Dry-LandscapingMost Japanese designs are featured in minimalist style, which is likely inspired by the dry landscaping.

Japanese sand garden was designed partly based on ancient Chinese garden.

But contrary to the traditional gardens that decorated with many intriguing items, Japanese sand garden designers abandoned the delicate buildings, gave up the blazing flowers, even removed the vibrant waters. Only rocks, sands and sinuous lines were kept in the garden.

The scene might looks quiescent but implies rich changes.

Combining zen ideology with gardening techniques, Japanese sand garden designers create a grand imaginary world by utilizing a small amount of real elements.

This is the exact beauty where dry landscape lies and serves as the best illustration for modern design concept: ‘Less Is More’.

6 thoughts on “A Glimpse Into The Beauty Of Japanese Sand Garden

  1. Very interesting article on the Japanese Sand Garden, and dry landscaping. I had never heard of this until I came across your website. What an amazing, creative craft. The Japanese people seem to be in touch with their spiritual side or
    Zen, and emphasize it by manifesting it in their art. Everything is done with great skill, attention to detail, and pride. I will make it a point to visit these if I am ever in Japan. Thanks for sharing, Tom

    1. Hi Tom, thanks for reading this post. Quite different with traditional garden, Japanese sand garden (also known as zen garden) is more like a spiritual garden. Its beauty mostly should be appreciated by heart, instead of by eyes. Hope you will enjoy the landscape in you get the chance to visit Japan.

  2. Thanks for this informative post on Japanese Sand Gardens. I’m trying to be more mindful in my daily life but there are so many distractions that my concentration has become very poor. Reading this article and focusing totally on its content was a moment of Zen for me so thank you for that!


  3. Hi Shaun,

    Wow, beautiful article. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this.

    I especially like the history behind these gardens. I knew it was a very old custom, but getting to know the history makes it much more interesting.

    I can see how meditating it would be doing the raking in these gardens. It would require a steady hand and much patience. All good methods of discipline.

    Thanks again,

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