My favorite books for digging into Japanese gardens

Why am I passionate about this?

When I first saw an image of a Japanese garden, it was unlike anything I had seen before. I just knew I had to visit Japan to see the gardens and try to understand the culture that produced this artistry. I later had the opportunity to work for a small Japanese architecture firm in Tokyo. During those seven years, I explored gardens, landscapes, villages, and cities, trying to absorb as much of the culture as I could. Japanese gardens still fascinate me, and I love learning about contemporary designers and gardeners in Japan who are keeping the traditional spirit alive, while exploring what a garden can be in the present day.


I wrote...

Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

By Mira Locher,

Book cover of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

What is my book about?

Zen Buddhist priest Shunmyo Masuno understands that today's busy world leaves little time or space for self-reflection, but that a garden—even in the most urban of spaces—can provide some respite. In his words, "The garden is a special spiritual place where the mind dwells." With this in mind, Masuno has designed scores of spectacular Japanese gardens and landscapes with the aim of helping people achieve a balanced life in the 21st century.

This book explores Masuno's design process and ideas, which are integral to his daily Zen training and teachings. It features 15 unique gardens and contemplative landscapes completed in six countries over as many years—all thoughtfully described and documented in full-color photos and drawings.

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens: Design Principles, Aesthetic Values

Mira Locher Why did I love this book?

I love that this book uses clear language to explain how design principles in Japanese gardens are transmitted from master to apprentice, the effect those principles have on the way we see and experience a garden, and the connection of the gardens to cultural values. The final section is a translation of a classical garden manual, and the descriptions of “reading” and placing rocks is fascinating – you will never see a rock in the same way again!

By David A. Slawson,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The art of the Japanese garden is a 1,500-year-old landscape design tradition that is still evolving, still instructive. Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens explains the fundamental principles of this tradition and describes how those principles may be applied to a much wider range of environments than exists in Japan. In the first section the author draws on his own experience as an apprentice to a master gardener in Kyoto, as well as his considerable knowledge of Japanese classical texts, to present the garden design process in terms of three primary aesthetic


Book cover of Sakuteiki: Visions of the Japanese Garden: A Modern Translation of Japan's Gardening Classic

Mira Locher Why did I love this book?

Not only does this book provide a translation of a nearly 1,000-year-old text on garden design – the oldest such text existing in the world, but it also includes extensive annotation and a carefully researched introduction to the cultural and historic influences on the development of Japanese gardens. This is a delightful combination of the technical detail and practical advice of the classic text with the author-translators’ descriptive explanation.

By Jiro Takei, Marc P. Keane,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sakuteiki as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Learn the art of Japanese gardening with this classic, fascinating text.

The Sakuteiki, or "Records of Garden Making," was written nearly one thousand years ago. It is the oldest existing text on Japanese gardening-or any kind of gardening-in the world. In this edition of the Sakuteiki, the authors provide an English-language translation of this classic work and an introduction to the cultural and historical context that led to the development of Japanese gardening. Central to this explanation is an understanding of the sacred importance of stones in Japanese culture and Japanese garden design.

Written by a Japanese court noble during…


Book cover of Japanese Gardens: Design and Meaning

Mira Locher Why did I love this book?

The wonderfully detailed plan and section drawings of eleven important gardens in Kyoto are the stars of this book for me. The introduction situates the gardens in the climate and culture of Japan, later sections of the book discuss historic influences from within and outside Japan, and the final section is a very well-illustrated study of some of the important design principles and construction details utilized in Japanese gardens.

By Mitchell Bring, Josse Wayembaugh,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Gardens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This book contains wonderfully accurate and detailed plans and cross sections of the eleven gardens it discusses, and includes sections on Chinese and indigenous sources and influences, as well as principles of design and construction.


Book cover of The World of the Japanese Garden: From Chinese Origins to Modern Landscape Art

Mira Locher Why did I love this book?

Systematically tracing the origin and history of Japanese gardens back to China and the influences on Chinese gardens, this book provides a great basis for further digging into the foundations of Japanese gardens. It also carefully documents the historical development of gardens in Japan through the mid-twentieth century, situating Japanese garden design as a “vital artistic activity” that both connects to a particular time, place, and culture and transcends it.

By Loraine Kuck,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The World of the Japanese Garden as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Book by Kuck, Loraine E.


Book cover of Japanese Gardens

Mira Locher Why did I love this book?

Focusing on how attitudes toward gardens and nature transformed over time, this book starts with the first gardens in Japan and ends with contemporary examples. The chronological approach emphasizes the transitions from one era and style to the next, while the author focuses in on the important influences and aspects of each. The wide range of ideas and examples draw the reader in and also provide ideas for further “digging in.”  

By Gunter Nitschke,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Japanese Gardens as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Japanese garden, like all gardens, is more than mere nature; it is nature crafted by man. It needs the hands of the designer to give it meaning. The Japanese garden belongs to the realm of architecture; at its best, it is nature as art. The phases of its history document the constant redefinition of man's position within and towards nature. Its changing forms respond both to socio-economic developments and to religious and philosophical trends, and thereby reflect the spiritual climate in which its architecture was conceived. At the same time as detailing the characteristics distinguishing and differentiating each of…


You might also like...

Book cover of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

Joe Mahoney Author Of Adventures in the Radio Trade: A Memoir

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Broadcaster Family man Dog person Aspiring martial artist

Joe's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's public broadcaster. It's for people who love CBC Radio, those interested in the history of Canadian Broadcasting, and those who want to hear about close encounters with numerous luminaries such as Margaret Atwood, J. Michael Straczynski, Stuart McLean, Joni Mitchell, Peter Gzowski, and more. And it's for people who want to know how to make radio.

Crafted with gentle humour and thoughtfulness, this is more than just a glimpse into the internal workings of CBC Radio. It's also a prose ode to the people and shows that make CBC Radio great.

By Joe Mahoney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Adventures in the Radio Trade as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"In dozens of amiable, frequently humorous vignettes... Mahoney fondly recalls his career as a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio technician in this memoir... amusing and highly informative."
— Kirkus Reviews

"What a wonderful book! If you love CBC Radio, you'll love Adventures in the Radio Trade. Joe Mahoney's honest, wise, and funny stories from his three decades in broadcasting make for absolutely delightful reading!
— Robert J. Sawyer, author of The Oppenheimer Alternative''

"No other book makes me love the CBC more."
— Gary Dunford, Page Six
***
Adventures in the Radio Trade documents a life in radio, largely at Canada's…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Japanese gardens, gardens, and Japan?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Japanese gardens, gardens, and Japan.

Japanese Gardens Explore 9 books about Japanese gardens
Gardens Explore 46 books about gardens
Japan Explore 463 books about Japan