The role of gardens play a much more important role in Japan than here in the United States. This is due primarily to the fact the Japanese garden embodies native values, cultural beliefs and religious principles. Perhaps this is why there is no one prototype for the Japanese garden, just as there is no one native philosophy or aesthetic. In this way, similar to other forms of Japanese art, landscape design is constantly evolving due to exposure to outside influences, mainly Chinese, that effect not only changing aesthetic tastes but also the values of patrons. In observing a Japanese garden, it is important to remember that the line between the garden and the landscape that surrounds it is not separate. Instead, the two are forever merged, serving as the total embodiment of the one another. Every aspect of the landscape is in itself a garden. Also when observing the garden, the visitor is not supposed to distinguish the garden from its architecture. Gardens in Japan incorporate both natural and artificial elements, therefor uniting nature and architecture into one entity. Japanese gardens also express the ultimate connection between humankind and nature, for these gardens are not only decorative, but are a clear expression of Japanese culture.
Although this extremely close connection of the individual with nature, the basic principle of Japanese gardens, has remained the constant throughout its history, the ways in which this principle has come to be expressed has undergone many great changes. Perhaps the most notable occurred in the very distinct periods in Japanese history that popularized unique forms of garden style—Heian (781-1185), and the Kamakura (1186-1393). Resulting from these two golden ages of Japanese history came the stroll garden from the former period and the Zen garden from the later. As we shall see, the composition of these gardens where remarkably effected by the norms of architecture and the ideals of popular religion in these eras. Therefor, in understanding each garden style in its context, it essential to also take into account the social, historical, and theological elements as well as the main stylist differences.
Japanese aristocrats from at least mid-eighth century customarily had gardens near their homes. During the Heian period a somewhat standard type of garden evolved in accordance with the Shinden type of courtier mansion (Bring and Wayembergh, p. 28-29). Characteristic of the Heian period was its extremely rigid class stratification; life for the farmers, merchants and artisans consisted of very simplified dwellings in comparison to those of members of the aristocracy. The architecture “norm” for aristocratic homes was in the Shinden-zurkuri style, “which was clearly based on the principle that the individual parts of the building should be merged as much as possible into the garden” (Yoshida, p.12). The main building, named the Shinden, represented the area...