Japanese garden paths – Part 1  (通路)

Paths in Japanese gardens have more than one function – Not only do they lead the visitor through the garden and to the best vistas, they also influence how the visitor experiences the garden. A wide and neatly laid out path encourages a fast pace, maybe two or even three persons can walk next to each other. It would be possible for the visitors to chat or to look at the garden and the buildings while walking. On a narrow path of rough or rounded natural stones, in contrast, guests would have to go in a row while watching their footsteps carefully. The visitor’s attention would be directed from external influences towards the action of placing their feet on the stepping stones one step at a time – a completely different garden experience.

Paths are also the connection between architecture and the garden – usually, paths around the main building of a residence or temple are straight and formal and become more naturalistic and informal as they lead away from the building and into the garden.

Part 1 of the Japanese garden path series focuses on laid stone paths, while Part 2 will deal with stepping stones and smaller gardens paths.


Shin-Gyō-Sō system (真行草)
Shin-style paths (真)
Gyō-style paths (行)
Sō-style paths (草)

11 pages
45 great pictures

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Japanese garden paths – Part 2  (通路)

Stepping stones are called “tobi-ishi“ (飛石) in Japanese. The literal translation is “Flying stones” or “Skipping stones”. Walking on a stepping stone path requires much more attention than walking on a paved surface – the visitor has to make tiny jumps to get from one stone to another. This influences the way a visitor experiences the garden. While it is possible for two or more people to comfortably walk next to each other on neatly laid out paths and maybe have a conversation, a stepping stone path forces the visitors to go in line, one after the other. This is one reason why tea gardens often have stepping stones. While walking down the path to the tea house, the guests have time to “arrive” in the garden, leave their everyday life behind and prepare mentally for the tea ceremony to come.

Tea master Sen no Rikyu (千利休) is said to have introduced the tobi-ishi path – he did not like that sandals and shoes became dirty when walking on the bare soil. He also recommended that the stepping stones are 6cm higher than the ground. Other tea masters after him preferred them to be 5cm (Furuta Oribe) and 3cm (Kobori Enshu).

The first part of this eBook describes different path patterns, the second part will deal with Trump Stones (Yaku-ishi) – stones that have a specific role in the garden. The last part will introduce four Japanese gardens with beautiful stepping stones.

Choku-uchi paths (直打)
Ōmagari (大曲)
Chidori-gake (千鳥掛)
Gan-uchi, Gankake (雁打、雁掛)
Fumiwake-ishi (踏分石)
Garan-ishi (伽藍石)
Fumi-ishi (踏み石)
Kutsunugi-ishi (沓脱石)
Kyaku-ishi (客石)
Extra pages for these gardens:
Jōmyō-ji (浄妙寺)
Raikyū-ji (頼久寺)
Ōhashi-ke (大橋家庭園)
Nanzen-ji (南禅寺)

13 pages filled with information about Japanese garden paths
53 beautiful pictures of tobi-ishi and Japanese karesansui gardens

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