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Fountains in Japanese Gardens: Meaning and Symbolism of Water

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Paula has been an online writer for over 10 years. Her work often focuses on growing and maintaining her garden or pet care.

Beautiful Japanese garden fountain

Beautiful Japanese garden fountain

Fountain Symbolism: The Meaning and Symbolism in Japanese Gardens

Over the last eight years or so, I have really come to love Japanese gardens. I very much enjoy seeing them wherever I can. Usually, this is in botanical gardens. Currently, I live nearest to the Saint Louis Botanical Garden in Missouri. They have a very lovely Japanese garden there.

It is very interesting to learn what symbolism means in a Japanese garden. The focus here will be on water and symbolism in general.

To fully understand the making and beauty that this style of garden represents, one must try to capture the "spirit" of the Japanese garden—nature is always the ideal one must strive for. Nothing overly fancy or against the natural flow we see in nature will fit well there. If you ever get too far involved in the gardening process where you recreate something that nature could not have done, you've strayed from the concept.

I have heard of the example of a square pond. People who love ponds, like myself, love all shapes and kinds of ponds. I have another article showcasing some formal pond gardens that are very rectangular in shape. The problem with that is that you would never find a square or rectangular shape in the wild. So it must not be in a Japanese garden.

Balance is a key part of the Japanese garden as well. Recreating a large "landscape" even in a small space is something that is really neat. Rocks can present a whole mountain, and a small pool can "become a lake." Small patches of raked sand can represent an entire ocean. The minute I heard that, I smiled because I love the effect of the raked sand or fine gravel. That it represents such a large body of water is just beautiful to me.

"Less is more" is a key component of Japanese gardening.

Unique fountain with azaleas surrounding it.  You have to go down a little rock path to get closer.

Unique fountain with azaleas surrounding it. You have to go down a little rock path to get closer.

Water is an essential element in Japanese gardens.

Water is an essential element in Japanese gardens.

Water Symbolism

As a nation, Japan gets a lot of rainfall. It is not surprising that water is a key element in Japanese gardening. As I mentioned before, even the raking of sand or gravel represents water, such as in the karesansui garden.

Perhaps you have seen the flat river stones; I can just picture them now. These are known to symbolize a rushing stream. Such a stream smooths stones, and it all is more and more beautiful the more I think about it.

The Passage of Time

The sight and sound of water have an even deeper meaning. It has to do with the passage of time. The more you learn, the more you realize for example, that a bridge crossing the water in a Japanese garden is not just a bridge crossing the water.

It is rather a pathway and is representative of one's journey. The word for bridge is hashi, and it is also the word for "edge." So a bridge is symbolic of moving from one world into another. This is a common theme seen in gardens and also in Japanese art.

The flow of water, and the passage of time, are things I will think about when I see Japanese gardens in the future. It really is like art, and to me, gardeners are artists. The photos here of fountains are from the Japanese garden in Missouri. The bridge there is one of my favorite places. Now, it means even more to me.

A bridge in a Japanese garden. One other way to showcase water is with beautiful ponds.

A bridge in a Japanese garden. One other way to showcase water is with beautiful ponds.

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Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on May 13, 2012:

Hello Lilleyth, thank you so much! I am glad you like it. Thanks for your vote and comment, I appreciate it.

Suzanne Sheffield from Mid-Atlantic on April 25, 2012:

Absolutely beautiful hub. Thumbs up!

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 28, 2012:

Hello Midnightbliss, thank you for taking the time to stop by and comment, I really appreciate it. Thanks for thinking to share the hub with someone else who might appreciate it as well. Have a great day.

Haydee Anderson from Hermosa Beach on March 28, 2012:

Thanks, great hub! I will pass this along to my friend who is an architect. She loves garden landscape and fountains, especially of Asian influence.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 26, 2012:

Hi Twilight Dream, thank you so much for your comment and memory of visiting the garden in San Jose. I would love to visit all these different gardens one day, as I am sure each one has so many unique views and things to offer. I know that my experience has been that every part of the year, even the same gardens seem to change as the seasons do. I love that so much.

Thank you again for your comment, and I am glad you enjoyed the garden photos and information. My plan is to keep on writing, and thanks for the encouragement to do so. :)

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 26, 2012:

Hello GmaGoldie, Your comment is so helpful and interesting to me and I am sure will be the same for others. I agree that it is neat that more people are embracing the idea and beholding the beauty more of gardens than I remember from long ago.

I really need to visit Rockford Illinois to see that Japanese garden, as it sounds amazing. I am glad you liked the symbolism of the bridge, and I did too the first time I heard that. It kind of all makes sense once we hear some of these things, like it really "rings true".

The idea of planting a peony tree the way you did sounds neat. I will have to do something like that!

I am still learning about Japanese gardens, and wish I could answer you better about the other perennials. I know that this garden boasts some very beautiful peony shrubs (of course), and cherry trees that blossom beautifully, as well as azaleas, and many other flowering trees. I will have to think more on this, and learn more about Japanese perennial plants.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 26, 2012:

Hello Uzma, thank you so much for taking the time to view my hub and comment on it. It is very much appreciated. I am like you in that all it took was for me to view a few Japanese gardens, and the next thing I know I love them. Have a wonderful week.

Kingbell from Chennai, India on March 26, 2012:

Thanks for insightful explanation about the meaning and symbolism of water in the Japanese Garden. I like the deeper meaning about the 'hashi'(and also the picture from your photo library)which is surely to showcase the water. I have visited once a Japanese Friendship Garden at San Jose, California. This nice memory will be in my minds for ever. Thank you again for sharing this wonderful garden hub. Keep writing!

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on March 26, 2012:

As an avid gardener and lover of gardens with a special appreciation for Japanese artistry of all kinds, this was very special.

I never knew that about the bridge - fascinating. It does give more meaning.

Rockford, Illinois has Anderson Gardens which is perhaps the premier Japanese Garden in all of the Western hemisphere.

The respectfulness of nature is something that Americans are just now beginning to embrace. We can learn allot from the Japanese who have always respected nature.

Frank Lloyd Wright was a lover of nature and prairie style was developed by him. His hotel in Japan is something I wish to be able to travel and see.

My peony tree that I planted last year was credited to Japan. I wonder what other perennials we can associate to Japan.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 26, 2012:

Hello Denise, thank you so very much! I really appreciate that. :) Have a wonderful day.

Hello Dave, Thank you for your visit, comment and votes! I wish you the very best as you build your herb garden and can't wait to hear about it once you are on your way. I have an herb garden that I like to grow also but nothing too fancy right now. Thanks again!

Hello Kimberly, thank you very much for sharing, visiting here and your comment. I really appreciate that.

uzma shaheen on March 26, 2012:

very interesting and informative hub. I started loving japanese gardens, as they are so beautiful.loved the pictures.thank you for sharing it.

Kimberly Lake from California on March 25, 2012:

Congratulations on Hub of the day. This is a great hub, very interesting. Voted up and shared.

David Stillwell from Sacramento, California on March 25, 2012:

oceansandsunsets! Congrats on hub of the day... This is a great hub and I think I will put it to work when I start to build my herb garden... votes up and on and on and on...

Denise Handlon from North Carolina on March 25, 2012:

Congratulations on your Hub of the Day award-well deserved...excellent choice.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Fennelseed, I am so happy you stopped by and commented. It makes me glad you enjoyed it and I appreciate your votes and friendship in Hubpages. Understanding something deeper in a symbolic way, something that already has a sense of beauty to it, is something I have enjoyed discovering and sharing with people. So happy you liked it. :)

Annie Fenn from Australia on March 25, 2012:

I love Japanese Gardens for their simplicity and their very calming atmosphere, but I had never really thought about symbolism. Thank you OnsnSts for expanding the Japanese garden experience for me though your lovely photos and your information. This is a very enjoyable hub, and my votes to you accordingly!!

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Lenzy, thank you so much. The water and the bridge really bring me peaceful feelings, I just love them. Like you, I would hope to someday have a miniature version of such a garden in my own yard. Perhaps one day, like you said. Just the thought is a happy one. In the mean time, I hope to keep on visiting and seeing the others that bring me so much joy. Thanks for your visit here and comment.

Lenzy from Arlington, Texas on March 25, 2012:

Beautiful photos. I love the water and bridge features. I would love to have a garden like the small one in my back yard. Maybe someday. Lenzy

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Pstraubie, what a wonderful time that must have been in Japan, and seeing all the different gardens! I would love to see more of their rock gardens. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting, I really appreciate it.

Hello John, thank you very much. I am so glad you liked my photos and thank you for the congratulations on Hub of the day. I was so excited to see that. Have a great evening.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on March 25, 2012:

Great hub oceansnsunsets, and the photos are awesome.

Congrats on winning HOTD!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on March 25, 2012:

Thanks for sharing this... I lived in Japan for four years and grew so very fond of the various gardens there. It is so uplifting and calming to sit in one of those gardens. The rock gardens are amazing as well.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Happyboomernurse, thanks so much for your comment, and I always love to hear from you and appreciate your visits. I agree that it is a joy to observe such gardens, built on simplicity that look almost like a beautiful painting when complete and growing. What a joy! Thanks for your vote and kind words, it means so much.

Hello Urmilashukla, thank you very much for your comment and visit here. The symbolism is really neat to learn about for me, and I am glad others are glad to learn of it as well.

Hello Daria, thanks so much for your visit and vote. I think your idea of creating a Japanese garden for meditation is a wonderful one. :)

Hello Prosols, thank you for your visit to my hub about water in Japanese gardens and the symbolism and meaning it gives. I really appreciate it.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Ytsenoh, thank you for taking the time to comment and read my hub. This garden I took these pictures at is the Missouri Botanical Garden located in Saint Louis Missouri. It would be worth the drive or a visit the next time you are in the area. Have a wonderful evening.

Hello Eugene, thank you very much. These gardens and the meaning and beauty they share is something I too love about the Japanese culture. I am happy you stopped by and commented, thank you.

Hello Olde Cashmere, thank you very much, I am so glad you enjoyed it. :) I am like you in that I would hope to have a garden like this one day, wouldn't that be wonderful? Thank you again.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hi Peggy, I would so love to visit the botanical gardens in Houston and Portland someday and see their Japanese gardens. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting, and I love hearing from a fellow Japanese garden lover. :) I appreciate the votes and visit so much, and have a great evening.

prosols on March 25, 2012:

classical .. good to know that. very nice. i hope u get your reward by achieving the HUB OF THE DAY prize.. Congrats!!

dariashakti from Pennsylvania on March 25, 2012:

Nice hub, I've always wanted to create a small Japanese meditation garden. I love the aspect of the water symbolism...voted it up..

Urmila from Rancho Cucamonga,CA, USA on March 25, 2012:

Good to know the meaning of Japanese water symbolism. Great Hub! Congratulations on Hub of the day award!

Gail Sobotkin from South Carolina on March 25, 2012:

Ah, this was a breathtaking trip through the Japanese Gardens and I loved reading about the symbolism and specific traits of a Japanese Garden.

I too, visit them whenever I find one. I like the "less is more" quality that makes them seem more natural and I also like the fact that special garden features like rocks, bridges and fountains are placed in locations that make the background around them feel like one is looking at a framed painting- everything blends together in a colorful and most pleasing way.

Voted up across the board except for funny and congrats on winning Hub of the Day with this exceptional hub.

Olde Cashmere on March 25, 2012:

Love hubs like these. This is a great topic and I like the idea of more people becoming aware of these gardens and the meanings. One day I'd love to have my own Japanese garden complete with fountains and flowers, the whole works. Voted up and beautiful.

Eugene Hardy from Southfield, Michigan on March 25, 2012:

I have always loved Japanese culture, now you present another reason to love their culture.

Voted up.

Cathy from Louisiana, Idaho, Kauai, Nebraska, South Dakota, Missouri on March 25, 2012:

This is a great hub. Since I live in Kansas City, and the subject ties into my family culture, please let me know where that garden is. I embrace simplicity values. Thumbs up because this was wonderfully displayed and written. Thanks much.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 25, 2012:

What a gorgeous hub! I loved learning more about the symbolism in Japanese Gardens. Just yesterday I published one about Golden Gate Park which has the oldest Japanese garden in America. I have visited the Missouri Botanical Garden...and you are right about it containing a gorgeous Japanese Garden amidst all of their others. The one in Houston, while adhering to the same qualities uses rocks generic to the area which is interesting. The one in Portland, Oregon is also a beauty. I guess you can tell...I love Japanese Gardens. Congratuations on Hub of the Day. Well deserved! All votes up except funny and sharing this. Thanks!

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Mary, Thank you so much my friend. :) I always welcome your comment and am happy when you stop by. It brings a smile to my face that you enjoy the photos. :)

Have a wonderful day Mary!

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Hello Kelley , I would love to see that Japanese Garden in San Francisco one day as I am sure it is beautiful. Thank you for visiting my hub and I am so glad you learned a little bit more about the symbolism behind the beauty. It is like it makes a pretty garden even more beautiful I think. Have a nice day.

Paula (author) from The Midwest, USA on March 25, 2012:

Jpelczar, thank you so much. I am glad you liked the pictures, especially the last one with the Japanese plants and shrubs and path to the fountain. They have such a way with garden planning and executing things. I would love to have that in my own garden one day. I am glad you stopped by and left a comment. Have a wonderful day.

Hello Vespawoolf, thank you so very much for your kind words and visit to my hub. Glad the photos gave you a feel for water in Japanese gardens. Your visit and comment are appreciated.