Japanese gardens are meant to be relaxing, meditative spaces where each plant and design raked in the sand symbolizes something. In this way, Japanese, or Zen, gardens combine beauty with religious belief.
Japanese garden designs are traditionally based on a combination of Shinto, Buddhist and Taoist philosophies. Stones, water, plants and sand are combined to create a feeling of peace. These gardens are traditionally quite large but can easily be scaled down for your backyard.
There are many books available that discuss the various types of Japanese gardens. You may even want to visit some of these gardens to get inspiration.
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