Sculpture in a Japanese Garden

Sculpture in a Japanese Garden

I have recently been asked to make a water basin and some stone sculptures for a Japanese garden in the UK.

The water basin or ‘Tsukubai’ (lieterally meaning ‘to squat’) is used for ritual cleansing usually before a tea ceremony. The stone can either be uncut with a simple carved depression or elaborataly carved. The water is served with a bamboo dipper for scooping out the water. The water basin is an essential element for a tea garden and is often displayed with stone lanterns. These are made from stone in a variety of sizes and stand near significant buildings.

To make this special water bowl, I decided to use an ancient black and white piece of English limestone stone (Frosterley or Stanhope) which is full of fossils dating back 330 million years ago. I have used the uncut stone to create a bowl by hand carving a depression and eventually it will have a base made from another stone.

The Japanese garden is regarded as a sacred place and is layered in meaning. There are cherry blossoms, water features, stone sculptures, Shinto shrines, small bridges, gravel paths and specific plants such as peonies, chrysanthemums, azealeas, camillas, hydrangeas, bamboo, maple, cherry, pine trees, plum, moss and the Japanese water iris.

Water represents purity, renewal, continuity and calm. There can be several water arrangements with the spring or stream rising, the lake, the water from the hills, waterfalls, islands, bridges and natural guardian stones. Gravel is used to represent water in a dry landscape in the Zen garden. There are minature rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes with gravel paths.Stones, Gravel and Sand

In the Shinto garden, there are large prominent stones which are used for worshipping the divine spirits or gods (Kami) recognised in Shinto which is the oldest native religion in Japan.

The gravel is used to designate the sacred ground and the large stones symbolise mountains and hills and are linked with small bridges and pathways for contemplation. The smaller rocks are used to line ponds and streams while the sand and gravel symbolises water.

Stepping stones, Flying stones or Skipping stones (tobi-ishi) lead you up to the tea garden and ceremony so that you arrive in a more mediative state.

Ponds, Streams and Waterfalls

The ponds, streams and waterfalls represent real or mythical lakes and seas. They are often filled with Koi carp and there are pavillons with boating on the lakes.

Islands and Bridges

A single stone is often used to represent an island, and used as religious symbols resembling turtles or cranes. The stone represents longevity and health. Bridges are made from either wood or stone and can be either small or large.

Borrowed Scenery

‘Shakkei’ is the background landscape of the garden. The area outside the garden is incorporated into the garden including mountains, hills or manmade structures which are part of the borrowed scenery.Some Sculpture Parks in Japan to Visit

Hakone Open Air Museum – Henry Moore, Joan Miro and Auguste Rodin

Isamu Nogudi Garden Museum – Kanagawa Shikoku Island – former studio of Isamu Noguchi

Kan Yasusa Sculpture Museum Arte Piazza Bibai, Hokkaido, Japan with sculptor Kan Yasuda

Sapporo Art Park, Hokkaido and sculptor Fukuda Shigeo

Utsukushigahara Open Air Museum, Nagano

Moerenuma Park, Hokkaido

Vangi Sculpture Garden Museum Shizuoka with sculptor Gialiano Vangi near Mount Fugi

Benesse Art Site Naoshimi, Kagawa

Muron Art Forest, Nara Forest with Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan.Simon Burns-Cox is a Sculptor and Letter Carver based at The Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop in Edinburgh, Scotland. He can be contacted through his website at

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