The Wabi Sabi Garden

Traditional Japanese aesthetics is built around a worldview known as wabi-sabi which is inspired by Zen Buddhism’s affinity with nature. It is an aesthetic that centers on the idea that ultimately, all things, including nature, are impermanent and imperfect. Nevertheless, there is beauty to be found in the simple and rough, in the transient and imperfect, in nature and things made naturally. This transcendent beauty is what wabi sabi celebrates.

My previous post hopefully gave you a flavor of this asethetic as applied to the built environment -that of the traditional Japanese house. A traditional house is incomplete without a garden, for the garden is another space to enjoy the wabi sabi aesthetic, much like the interior of a house.

Unlike a Western garden, a traditional Japanese garden is not meant to be entered physically, but to be contemplated from the verandah of the house. As such the garden is minimally landscaped to bring a sense of calmness conducive for quiet reflection. Picture a meandering path of pebbles and stones leading from the verandah to the garden proper, picture the grounds laid with lovingly-tended low grasses, small ponds with lotus or lily pads, and artfully arranged gravels that project an illusion of infinite time and space. This is the peaceful vibe a traditional Japanese garden brings to complete the wabi-sabi aesthetic of the total built environment.

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