The best Japanese garden books

1 authors have picked their favorite books about Japanese gardens and why they recommend each book.

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Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens

By David A. Slawson,

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

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!


Who am I?

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.

Japanese Gardens

By Gunter Nitschke,

Book cover of Japanese Gardens

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.”  


Who am I?

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.

Japanese Gardening

By Charles Chesshire,

Book cover of Japanese Gardening: A Practical Guide to Creating a Japanese-Style Garden with 700 Step-By-Step Photographs

My favorite garden style is the Japanese garden. It is a simple refined style that is so peaceful and over the years I have learned that you don’t need to turn the whole yard into a Japanese garden. What I do now is use elements of this style in various parts of the garden. The book, Japanese Gardening, will provide you with great insight into various styles of Japanese gardening and make it easy for you to do the same. Add a Japanese walkway into a normal garden and make it special. Or use some of the minimalistic plants to add a calming feeling. This book will give you many great ideas.


Who am I?

I love gardening and learning about unusual plants but I find that many gardening books don’t provide a lot of useful advice. I grow over 3,000 different types of plants and have a background in chemistry and biochemisty. I teach gardening to new gardeners and garden design to more experienced gardeners. My students want to learn practical things like solving pest problems and growing plants with more flowers. I am always on the lookout for books that provide them with hands-on practical advice they can use right away. 


I wrote...

Garden Myths: Book 1

By Robert Pavlis,

Book cover of Garden Myths: Book 1

What is my book about?

I became frustrated with all of the myths I found in traditional gardening information, both online and in books so I wrote Garden Myths. In it I look at over 120 common garden myths and explain the truth about each one, using science-based information. This knowledge will save you time and money, and allow you to grow better plants. 

This book answers questions like, is fall the best time to clean the garden, do bloom boosters work, will citronella plants reduce mosquitoes in the garden, do pine needles acidify soil, should tomatoes be suckered, should trees be staked at planting time, can burlap keep your trees warm in winter and will a pebble tray increase humidity for houseplants?

Sakuteiki

By Jiro Takei, Marc P. Keane,

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

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.


Who am I?

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.

Japanese Gardens

By Mitchell Bring, Josse Wayembaugh,

Book cover of Japanese Gardens: Design and Meaning

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.


Who am I?

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.

Tokyo

By Stephen Mansfield,

Book cover of Tokyo: A Biography: Disasters, Destruction and Renewal: The Story of an Indomitable City

This biography by writer and photographer Mansfield is probably the best guide into Tokyo’s vibrantly organic nature. To get a thorough line on the largest city in the world isn’t easy, but Mansfield carefully selects the most relevant, and interesting details. Inevitably, it’s a work of exclusion as much as inclusion, but is magnificent for that. Seeing and understanding Tokyo requires getting past the cascade of small details that keep you from seeing the whole forest. Mansfield keeps his biography flowing with the right balance of telling details and insightful summary. His companion volume, Tokyo, a Cultural History is also excellent, as are his beautifully photographed books on Japanese gardens.


Who am I?

My four novels and three sets of writings are all about Tokyo. I rely not only on my daily observations, personal experiences, and reactions to the city, but on the responses of others to the city. I’ve used all these books to better understand the place where I’ve lived and worked for over two decades. I’ve written about various aspects of Japan for numerous publications, editorials for The Japan Times, art and architecture reviews for Artscape Japan, personal columns on Tokyo life for Newsweek Japan, and reviews and interviews on the vibrant jazz scene for my Jazz in Japan website. I continue to find Tokyo a mesmerizing place to spend my working and writing—and wandering—life. Living here is like traveling every day.


I wrote...

Tokyo Traffic

By Michael Pronko,

Book cover of Tokyo Traffic

What is my book about?

Lost in Tokyo, Sukanya, a young Thai girl, is running from a life she didn’t choose, in a city she doesn’t know. With her Bangkok street smarts, and some stolen money, she stays ahead of her former captors willing to do anything to recover the computer she took. After befriending Chiho, a Japanese girl living in an internet café, Sukanya tries to rid herself of her pursuers, and her past, forever, while negotiating Tokyo’s labyrinths.

Detective Hiroshi Shimizu leaves the safe confines of his office to investigate a porn studio where a brutal triple murder took place. The studio’s accounts point him in multiple directions at once, one of them after a missing computer and missing girl. Together with ex-sumo wrestler Sakaguchi and old-school Takamatsu, Hiroshi tracks the killers through Tokyo’s teen hangouts, crowded squares, and bayside docks, straight into the underbelly of the global economy.

The World of the Japanese Garden

By Loraine Kuck,

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

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.


Who am I?

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.

Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

By Teiji Itoh,

Book cover of Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

This book was far ahead of its time in explaining the active manipulation of space and time in traditional Japanese gardens, from the diminutive tsuboniwa courtyard gardens that transported the city dweller to the heart of the wilderness, to the temple gardens that procured remote features of the natural landscape.


Who am I?

I've spent the last three decades thinking about Japanese aesthetics, and in particular if and how they can be meaningfully used beyond Japan. I'm the author of several books on the subject: Frank Lloyd Wright and Japan, Place Time and Being in Japanese Architecture, This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual, and most recently, The Constructed Other: Japanese Architecture in the Western Mind. I teach about Asian Pacific architecture at the University of Hawai'i, Mānoa.


I wrote...

This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

By Kevin Nute,

Book cover of This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

What is my book about?

This is the first book to analyze Japanese architecture from a phenomenological perspective, and to explain how buildings can be designed to help us both celebrate and overcome our individuality. It shows how buildings can not only serve as extensions of the body, to effectively help affirm what, where, and when we are, but can also enable us to share the normally subjective experiences of thishere and now with others.

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