Zen gardens are specifically designed to give people time to escape hectic daily life and reflect on themselves and the world around them without the influences of others. The Japanese have used Zen gardens since the Muromachi period. Since that time, Zen gardens have grown in popularity around the world, as people have adopted various ways to relax and search for inner peace. Unlike typical gardens that feature flowers and greenery or water, Zen gardens are sparse and feature only sand, gravel, stones and every so often, a few pieces of moss. While Zen gardens may seem lacking, every part of the garden has a meaning. Sand is used to represent water, while gravel sometimes symbolizes the ocean or the islands of Japan. Stones are one of the most important aspects of a Zen garden and have several meanings, such as harmony and soul. Each rock shape and formation has a different name and is represented by one of the five elements.
Kikyaku are reclining rocks that are placed in a Zen garden to represent the earth. This stone is often known as a root stone and is placed in the foreground to bring harmony to the garden.
Shigyo represents the fire element. When placed in a Zen garden, Shigyo stones are called branching and peeing stones. Shigyo stones arch and branch out, the way a fire looks. They are placed next to other shapes in a Zen garden.
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Shintai stones are horizontal and flat. Shintai stones represent water in a Zen garden, and also represent the mind and the body. These stones harmonize rock groupings.
Taido represents wood. These stones are vertical and tall. The stones act as high trees in the garden and are also known as body stones. Taido stones are put into the back of other rock groupings, much like a forest is the background to other scenery.
Reisho stones represent metal. These stones are vertical and low to the ground. Reisho stones are considered firm and steady, much like metal is. When placed in a Zen garden, Reisho stones are often put with tall, vertical stones such as Taido. Reisho stones are also known as soul stones.
Zen stones are placed in Zen gardens to represent various elements of life. Stones are natural and reflect the balance between man-made structures and nature. Zen stones represent what is not actually featured in a Zen garden, such as islands and water.