“Except for a few archaeological sites in the region of Asuka, Nara, and Kyoto—many of them difficult to date—little remains of the gardens of early Japan, although certain texts like the eighth-century Nihon Shoki (Chronicle of Japan) provide some notion of their significance. Many of these texts mention gardens associated with the ruling class, and some authorities assume that they may have anticipated the gardens constructed on the shinden estates of the Heian Period. There must have been important religious influences on early garden design as well, given the significance of natural objects in Shinto beliefs.
Although its original meaning is somewhat obscure, one of the Japanese words for garden—niwa—came to mean a place that had been cleansed and purified in anticipation of the arrival of kami, the deified spirits of Shinto, and the Shinto reverance for great rocks, lakes, ancient trees, and other “dignitaries of nature” would exert an enduring influence on Japanese garden design. With the coming of Buddhism, Japanese gardens also began to incorporate references to the mythical mountains, islands, and seas of Hindu-Buddhist tradition, to which the gardeners of the Nara Period added evocations of the Daoist Isles of the Immortals.”
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