Zen gardens shunmyo masuno

Zen Gardens: The Complete Works of Shunmyo Masuno

Zen Gardens: The Complete Works of Shunmyo Masuno

First published on 1977 (English)
By Mira Locher / Tuttle
ISBN-10: 4805311940
ISBN-13: 978-4805311943
224 Pages
$ 27.64


Shunmyo Masuno, Japan’s leading garden designer, is at once Japan’s most highly acclaimed landscape architect and an 18th-generation Zen Buddhist priest, presiding over daily ceremonies at the Kenkoji Temple in Yokohama. He is celebrated for his unique ability to blend strikingly contemporary elements with the traditional design vernacular. He has worked in ultramodern urban hotels and some of Japan’s most famous classic gardens. In each project, his work as a designer of landscape architecture is inseparable from his Buddhist practice. Each becomes a Zen garden, “a special spiritual place where the mind dwells.”

Mira Locher is an architect and professor who works in both the U.S. and Japan. She holds degrees from Smith College and the University of Pennsylvania. She worked for Team Zoo Atelier Mobile in Japan for seven years before setting up an architectural practice, Kajika Architecture, in partnership with Takayuki Murakami in the U.S. She is an Associate Professor at the College of Architecture & Planning at the University of Utah. She is the author of Traditional Japanese Architecture: An Exploration of Elements and Forms and Super Potato Design: The Complete Works of Takashi Sugimoto: Japan’s Leading Interior Designer.

Source: Amazon.com


  • Notes on Language
  • Foreword by Uchida Shigeru
  • A Pair of Straw Sandals: Zen Priest Garden Designer Shunmyo Masuno
    • Traditional Zen Gardens
      • Design and construction process
    • Contemporary Zen Gardens
      • Mondo
    • Zen Gardens outside Japan
  • Major Works: 1984 – 2011
  • Endnotes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Acknowledgements

I am always searching for more inspiration in regards to designing and understanding Japanese gardens. After reading older manuals or essays about Japanese aesthetics, I found that it was time to turn to the very recent Japanese garden design.

Tuttle published the complete works of Shunmyo Masuno in a book called “Zen gardens” which was written by Mira Locher, an author I already knew from a book about Japanese architecture. I asked the publisher if I could get a copy for reviewing purposes. They were so kind as to send me one so I am able to continue my studies and let you all take part in it.

Zen gardens is separated in three major parts: Traditional Gardens, Modern Gardens, and Gardens Outside of Japan.
In each chapter, different gardens designed by Shunmyo Masuno are described and explained. Every garden is shown with various photographs and sketches and the reader gains a good understanding of the overall look of the garden.

However, this book isn’t a mere coffee table book! While the high-quality pictures are really nice to look at, there is something to learn in the describing text for each garden. The introduction and the two interludes, design and construction process and Mondo, give insight into how Shunmyo Masuno became a garden designer in the first place and how he is able to create all these beautiful gardens in the mind of Zen.

Especially the introduction and the Mondo, the conversation between Mira Locher and Shunmyo Masuno, are most interesting.

During the introduction A Pair of Straw Sandals, Masuno talks about how he became a designer and about his studies under Saito Katsuo. One thing I take with me out of this book and what I try to do while visiting gardens now is sketching. Saito told his student Masuno: “If you don’t know the site, you can’t design the garden.” To archive the full understanding of the site he told Masuno to sit down and sketch it. Photographs wouldn’t do the work. Yes, they will help later, but not for the initial understanding.
This is also why I personally don’t write eBooks about gardens I haven’t visited.

Another very interesting paragraph is about what makes a Zen garden a true Zen garden. In Masuno’s opinion a true Zen garden can only be designed by an active practitioner of Zen. Other gardens give the initial appearance of Zen, but real Zen gardens go beyond.

I have to admit, after reading the introduction A Pair of Straw Sandals, I felt that I should start learning Zen to be able to truly understand Japanese gardens.
However, when I reached the Mondo, I asked myself if I actually can study real Zen. Shunmyo Masuno says that those who want to study Zen need to do this with all of their heart and it is impossible to do it half-hearted.
As I want to study gardens and don’t want to take my little son with me into a Zen monastery, I fear that the real way of studying Zen isn’t the right one for me. That’s why I am so grateful that Shunmyo Masuno and Mira Locher gave us insights into how a Japanese Zen garden is created and what stands behind the whole designing process. This way, they let us participate and teach us some of the important principles of Zen.

This book is for all who love nice pictures of Japanese gardens and also like to learn more about them. With the original sketches of the introduced gardens and the describing texts by Mira Locher who lets us have a look into the thoughts of Shunmyo Masuno, we were given an instrument to understand Japanese gardens even better.

See how my copy already looks like with all the markers!

Thank you Tuttle for supporting our work here on Real Japanese Gardens by sending us this reviewing copy!

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