The most recommended Japanese garden books

Who picked these books? Meet our 5 experts.

5 authors created a book list connected to Japanese gardens, and here are their favorite Japanese garden books.
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Book cover of Space and Illusion in the Japanese Garden

Kevin Nute Author Of This Here Now: Japanese Building and the Architecture of the Individual

From my list on Japanese aesthetics.

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.

Kevin's book list on Japanese aesthetics

Kevin Nute Why did Kevin love this book?

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.

By Teiji Itoh,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Photographs highlight this study of the history and creation of the Japanese courtyard borrowed-landscape gardens


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

Robert Pavlis Author Of Garden Myths: Book 1

From my list on practical gardening.

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. 

Robert's book list on practical gardening

Robert Pavlis Why did Robert love this book?

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.

By Charles Chesshire,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This inspiring book offers expert information on how to create the perfect Japanese-style garden in any location, large or small. It presents the history of Japanese gardens and the principles underlying them. Sections on the five classic Japanese garden styles (pond gardens, dry gardens, tea gardens, stroll gardens and courtyard gardens) explain their key characteristics with practical tips on how to achieve them. Fifteen projects for creating complete Japanese gardens follows, with clear explanations, illustrations and gorgeous photography. A plant directory then details the various types of plants with advice on flowering habits and hardiness, while the final section outlines…


Book cover of Autumn Light: Japan's Season of Fire and Farewells

Lynn Alsup Author Of Tinderbox: One Family's Story of Adoption, Neurodiversity, and Fierce Love

From my list on memoirs that crack open a brutal and beautiful world.

Who am I?

As a young social worker, I left the world I knew and moved into violent urban centers and traveled the developing world. The suffering and beauty entranced me. Questions reverberated in me: What does it mean to be part of the vast human community? How can I live most fully? When I adopted children, violence and difference confronted me not “out there” but at home. I wrestled, shocked by my own judgment and narrowness—until I accepted in my bones the myriad ways to live a remarkable life. Curiosity became my superpower. Tinderbox, my unflinching memoir, invites readers into my family’s brutal and beautiful transformation through embracing neurodiversity. 

Lynn's book list on memoirs that crack open a brutal and beautiful world

Lynn Alsup Why did Lynn love this book?

Iyer invited me into his two-room flat in the neighborhood of Deer’s Slope, a suburb of Nara in Japan, in the dying days of autumn following his father-in-law’s death.

His descriptions painted scenes of nuanced colors and textures, juxtaposing old and new, thick with metaphor and simile—the only way to talk about the impermanence he explores. His question: “How to hold on to things we love even though we know that we and they are dying?” My question as well.

I watched him play ping pong with quirky Japanese elders at the local health club and wandered through his thoughts on family, spirituality, endings, love, and timelessness. The book has the gentleness, purposefulness, and peace of a slow walk through a Japanese garden. 

By Pico Iyer,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

For decades now, Pico Iyer has been based for much of the year in Nara, Japan, where he and his Japanese wife, Hiroko, share a two-room apartment. But when his father-in-law dies suddenly, calling him back to Japan earlier than expected, Iyer begins to grapple with the question we all have to live with: how to hold on to the things we love, even though we know that we and they are dying.

In a country whose calendar is marked with occasions honouring the dead, this question has a special urgency and currency. Iyer leads us through the autumn following…


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

Michael Pronko Author Of Tokyo Traffic

From my list on Tokyo’s essence.

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.

Michael's book list on Tokyo’s essence

Michael Pronko Why did Michael love this book?

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.

By Stephen Mansfield,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

The history of Tokyo is as eventful as it is long. A concise yet detailed overview of this fascinating, centuries-old city, Tokyo: A Biography is a perfect companion volume for history buffs or Tokyo-bound travelers looking to learn more about their destination.

In a whirlwind journey through Tokyo's past from its earliest beginnings up to the present day, this Japanese history book demonstrates how the city's response to everything from natural disasters to regime change has been to reinvent itself time and again. A calamitous fire results in a massive expansion of the city's territory. A debate over the Samurai…


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

Mira Locher Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into 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.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira 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 Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into 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.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira 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…


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

Mira Locher Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into 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.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira 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 Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into 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.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira 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 Secret Teachings in the Art of Japanese Gardens: Design Principles, Aesthetic Values

Mira Locher Author Of Zen Garden Design: Mindful Spaces by Shunmyo Masuno - Japan's Leading Garden Designer

From my list on digging into 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.

Mira's book list on digging into Japanese gardens

Mira Locher Why did Mira 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