A Comparative Study on Approaches to Achieve Tranquility, Calmness and Meditation in Traditional Gardens of Iran and Japan

Document Type : Research Article


Associate Professor, Department of Conservation of Historic Buildings and Sites, School of Architecture and Environmental Design, Iran University of Science & Technology, Tehran, Iran.


The growth of cities, despite all their advantages, has resulted in the increase of stress amongst residents and consequently more need for tranquil spaces. Therefore the investigation of previous experienced places, created with the same aim, would be of benefit for today life. One of the principal spaces created for comfort, tranquillity and concentration were gardens.
ersonal experience of one of the authors (F. Mehdizadeh) from understanding the traditional Japanese gardens and receiving the sense of tranquillity and meditation there, alongside with all her previous perceptions from Iranian gardens as an Iranian architect, was a motivation for writing this paper. This matter that both spaces are creating the same perceptions with various tools necessitated the deeper analysis.
The connection with nature has been always with the aim of creating spaces to give calmness which continued over the centuries in various cultures and climates. Previous researches about historic gardens have been focused on their formation, the type of their elements, their arrangements and their spatial construction. Attention to the selection of constituent elements in compatibility with nature and using nature's tools to provide mental and physical comfort for human has not been paid yet.
This paper will investigate the effect of gardens’ constituents and fabric on users. All constructions have been built by human beings to surmount their requirements both physical and spiritual such as the innate need to achieve comfort, mental tranquility and meditation. Eastern thought of gardening considers the gardens as holy spaces and not merely beautiful and thus reflects on insight concepts and believes in its design.
The paper will compare two old developed gardens through centuries, traditional Japanese and Iranian gardens which have also continued influencing other gardening systems in other parts of the world which also shows their ability in becoming landscape pattern design in defining the relation between man and nature.
In the beginning, paper reviews the history of revolution and change of both Iranian and Japanese historic gardens in its second and third part, alongside illustrating their similarities and differences. Specifically discussion concentrates on the Japanese Zen gardens which are the closest type to Iranian traditional gardens with regards to their geometry and meaning. Then it will describe various design methods to create the same concept in different environmental and cultural conditions. One of the influencing factors on the character of spaces is their elements and their configuration and in particular about gardens is the order and compatibility of built space and the rules (order) of nature.
In Japanese gardens a harmonic composition does exist between their main basics of sand, stone, water, natural plants and decorative elements such as lantern, water reservoir, rail and also surrounding environment. In particular Zen gardens are formed from Sandy Islands in green surroundings, while traditional Iranian gardens are formed from water, streams and green spaces in desert surroundings. The usage of stone and sand as natural symbols has root in Shinto beliefs regarding the respect for nature and attention to the symbolic relation between various elements in Zen gardens. In Islamic-Iranian thought also gardens are envisaged as the symbol of heavens on earth (verse 100 in Surah 9: "He has prepared gardens through which rivers flow for them to remain in forever"). Considering the hot-dry climate in major parts of Iran attention to the water and its movement with assorted shapes in gardens alongside with their various plants and trees in contradiction with surrounding environment influences the visual perception and the comfort of body and soul.
The analysis and comparison has also been made on the form, texture, colour, geometrical order, spatial configuration, structure and organization and finally symbolic concepts.
Conclusion: To sum up with the discussion a comprehensive table compared the fabric and significance in both Iranian traditional and Japanese Zen gardens to clarify the influential elements and concealed meanings in both. In other words, similarities and dissimilarities of two types of gardens could result in achieving the fundamentals of how to attain tranquillity in both gardens.
At the end it came to the conclusion that the best way of achieving tranquility and serenity in any spaces could be via translating the religious beliefs of people into the fabric, even so in a diversity of shapes in various cultures and climates.