The Landscape Guide

Tokugawa (or Edo) Period Japanese Garden Design

In the epoch of Tugugawa the peaceful art of gardening had been able to extend widely, ever since at the beginning of the seventeenth century the important Shogun Iyeyasu had completed the feudal constitution of the Japanese kingdom, a matter of great moment, after a long period of warfare bringing in a time of peace. It was not that any special ideas came to the front, but the general regulation of home life that was established under the military feudalism offered a fine opportunity for further development. Every Japanese baron, or Daimio, had his Joka, his residence, surrounded by moats. The Shiro, his palace, was generally on a hill, with a large garden adjoining it. Even now a great number of these Daimio gardens are in existence (Fig. 577), although unfortunately such of the land as was left after the earthquake in 1867 is constantly subsiding. 

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There was a high wall round the castle estate, and the houses of the Samurai (knights) were next to it, each of them with a well-kept garden of its own. The whole of the Yashiki (upper town) adjoined the Machi (lower town) with the homes of hand-workers and tradesmen. In this part the poor people had to be content with one court, in which there was probably nothing but a couple of dwarfed fan-palms; but the richer persons even there had houses with gardens, and in a merchant’s home the so-called flat garden style was preferred as a rule. The same arrangements were repeated at the capital, Yeddo (Tokyo).

In making his plans Iyeyasu had had the ingenious idea of obliging the Daimios to stay for a while every other year at Yeddo, attending upon the Shogun at the same time, Politically this meant no less than the informal supervision of the restless country magnates, and the suppression of every personal desire for independence. When a Daimio lived at Yeddo, his relationship to the Shogun was exactly the same as that of the Samurai to himself when he was in the country; and this was apparent in the actual method of living. For the residence of the Shogun throned it in the middle. Within its walls there was no want of park lands, Indeed, even the huge earth embankments with their deep trenches, which excite the surprise and amazement of modern spectators, were planted with dark pine-trees by the Japanese, who cannot forgo their pleasure in Nature; and these trees make a good contrast with the light green of the Korea grass that covers the slopes. Round this castle the Daimios set up their temporary residences, which often embraced wide stretches of land in parks and buildings, and changed the capital into a beautiful city of gardens; the owners vied with one another in adorning their houses with choice works of art.

In Lafcadio Hearnts sympathetic fashion he has given a description of a garden of the Samurai, where he lived for a time at Tokyo, and we are thus shown the private home life in its natural beauty. As always in dwellings of this kind, a simple garden gate leads in from the street, and the house is only separated from the castle by a wall, It is airy, and has only one story. At the entrance to almost every Samurai house stands a tree, called Tegastriva, having a small trunk but large leaves, and this has its own symbolic meaning and legend, bringing the house security and blessing. “Gardens are on three sides of the house, and wide verandas overshadow them; from one particular corner of a veranda two gardens can be seen at the same time. Bamboo hedges and interwoven bushes form the boundary of the three different parts; the wide openings have no gates.” One of these gardens, which has a great many curious stones in it, hollowed on the top so as to hold water, contains miniature hills and old dwarfed trees. There must of course be water in a landscape of this sort, but it is only suggested by overhanging green trees and a winding river of fine, pale-yellow sand. On the sand one may not tread, but must make use of the stepping-stones provided. There are trees to protect the garden from anything destructive, and among them are five pines, which not only form the fixed centre of all this greenery, but with their inner virtue drive off evil spirits.

On the northern side is the favourite garden of Lafcadio Hearn, where there is a miniature pond round a miniature island full of curious plants, such as dwarf peach-trees, maples, and azaleas, many about a hundred years old, but none more than a foot high. We are told that from a certain part of the guest-room this garden does not look like a miniature, but like a real landscape—the bank of a lake with an island, only a very long way off. The third garden has now been allowed to grow wild. It was originally a grove of bamboos, with a spring that provided the household with ice-cold water, a small sanctuary in front, and close by a plantation of chrysanthemums supported on bamboo canes; these are still to be found there. This quiet little property is in the heart of the capital; and, like everything else, it will soon be swallowed up.

The appearance of the towns, with these seats of the mighty and their gardens, was further improved by temple gardens and the open places round the public tea-houses. Round all the towns there was an endless number of both temples and tea-houses, mostly on the hilly parts just outside. Even at the present day the chief ornaments of Tokyo are really the temple gardens of Uyeno, Shiba, and Nikkô, all three the burial-places of the great Shoguns of the Tujagawa period. The remains of their founder Iyeyasu lie at Nikkô, where stone steps amid gigantic ancient trees lead up to the handsome tomb. His son founded Uyeno to the north of the town, and Shiba to the south; and six of his successors were laid to rest in each of the temples. People liked to have avenues to make a dignified approach to the tombs and the temple gates, and gradually these have grown up to be magnificent trees. In the same way they liked to put up long rows of Toni, votive lamps, and pictures of Buddha—rows so long that the eye could not reach to the end; it was one of the religious duties of the devout to count them. Belonging to the Japanese temples, and outside the shrines, there were a great many other houses, with gardens round them; these differed in no way from the gardens of the laity, and were a great ornament to the town near which they lay.

The public tea-houses rivalled the temples in their garden surroundings, and as a fact there is scarcely any difference in Japan between a temple and a tea-house. People fly to either, if they want a pleasant refuge from the noise and bustle of the town. In both are to be enjoyed the loveliest arbours, the choicest dishes, and the sweetest music. The neighbourhood of Nagasaki was described by one of Lord Elgin’s suite, who says: “ It has been computed that on the hills around there are 62 temples, great and small, and 750 tea-houses, all of which provide good tea and a fine view to a man who wants a rest: moss-grown steps lead up to the hill, and going by wide stairs and through grand gates you come to a place like fairyland, on a projecting point, with gardens and shady groves behind, leading to the grottoes, where the gleaming waters fall down from the hill.” The enthusiastic Englishman who wrote about this place left it open to doubt whether in his account he was describing a temple or a tea-house. It is in these public gardens that at the present day most of the beauty of the past is preserved. It is to be hoped that the Japanese will not only preserve the old glories, so far as they exist, but will guard their art from the influence of Western lands.